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Judge Dismisses LGBTQ Discrimination Lawsuit Against Retirement Community

Beverly Nance and Mary Walsh pose for a portrait at their home in Shrewsbury on August 28, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Beverly Nance and Mary Walsh pose for a portrait at their home in Shrewsbury on August 28, 2018.

A district judge dismissed a lawsuit against a Sunset Hills retirement community today.

Mary Walsh and Beverly Nance took Friendship Village to federal court for sex discrimination in July, after the senior-living facility denied the same-sex couple’s housing application. Friendship Village cited its ‘Cohabitation Policy’ as the reason for the rejection. The policy defines marriage as between one man and one woman, as “marriage is understood in the Bible.”

"We are disappointed by the court’s decision,” Walsh said in a statement. “Bev and I are considering our next steps, and will discuss this with our attorneys.”

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against renters or homebuyers due to “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.”

The ACLU of Missouri and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represents the plaintiffs in the case, argued that Friendship Village discriminated against the couple on the basis of sex.

“Friendship Village’s denial of housing to Mary and Bev because they are two women, and not a man and a woman, is discrimination ‘because of sex’ in the most literal sense,” said Arlene Zarembka, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “That Mary and Bev are lesbians doesn’t change this analysis.”

U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton disagreed, dismissing the case this afternoon.

In a memorandum, Hamilton wrote, “the Court finds the claims boil down to those of discrimination based on sexual orientation rather than sex alone.”

The distinction is an important one, because neither the Fair Housing Act nor the Missouri Human Rights Act explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The law firm representing Friendship Village, Husch Blackwell, did not respond to a request for comment.

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

Shahla Farzan is a PhD ecologist and science podcast editor at American Public Media. She was previously a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.