Judge Dismisses Lesbian Couple's Lawsuit Against Retirement Home That Rejected Them

Bev Nance and Mary Walsh say they were turned away by Missouri's Friendship Village because of a cohabitation policy forbidding same-sex couples.
Mary Walsh (left) and Bev Nance at their 2009 wedding in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Mary Walsh (left) and Bev Nance at their 2009 wedding in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

A Missouri couple is considering next steps after a federal judge dismissed their discrimination lawsuit against a local senior community this week. 

Bev Nance, 68, and Mary Walsh, 72, of Shrewsbury, Missouri, filed the lawsuit against Friendship Village in July 2018. The women, who have been married since 2009, claimed in the suit that the nearby senior living community had rejected their application for a unit after they’d paid a $2,000 deposit because of a “longstanding cohabitation policy” defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.”

In a 10-page ruling issued Wednesday, however, U.S. District Judge Jean C. Hamilton noted that sexuality “is not explicitly a protected characteristic” under the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status and national origin.

“At no time do Plaintiffs assert that had they been men involved in a same-sex relationship or marriage, they would have been admitted as residents in Friendship Village,” the ruling, which can be found here, continued. “Under these circumstances, the Court finds the claims boil down to those of discrimination based on sexual orientation rather than sex alone.”

It went on to note, “The court recognizes that several federal courts have held otherwise in recent opinions, concluding that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.” However, the opinion said, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, which is the immediate appeals court above Hamilton’s own, “has not changed its position on the issue, and so the court must dismiss.”

One of the couple’s attorneys, however, argued that the discrimination that her clients experienced is a form of gender discrimination, and therefore prohibited under law.

“Planning for senior housing is a big decision, and Mary and Bev chose Friendship Village because it was in their community, they had friends there, and it offered services that would allow them to stay together there for the rest of their lives,” attorney Julie Wilensky of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told HuffPost in an emailed statement. “The discrimination they experienced was very hurtful.”

She added, “If Mary were a man married to Bev, instead of a woman married to Bev, Friendship Village would not have turned them away. This is a very straightforward example of discrimination ‘because of sex.’”

SAGE, a national LGBTQ senior advocacy group, agreed, calling Friendship Village’s rejection of the couple’s application “blatant discrimination.”

“Mary Walsh and Bev Nance were discriminatorily denied admission to the Friendship Village retirement community for one reason only ― because they are two women in a committed relationship rather than a woman and a man,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams told McKnight’s Senior Living