The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, and co-counsel filed a lawsuit on July 25 on behalf of married lesbian couple Mary Walsh, age 72, and Bev Nance, age 68, against St. Louis senior housing community Friendship Village Sunset Hills. The complaint alleges that Friendship Village violated the federal Fair Housing Act and Missouri Human Rights Act by discriminating against Walsh and Nance on the basis of sex, denying them a unit because they are a same-sex married couple.
Friendship Village told Walsh and Nance that it would not accept them because it followed the “Biblical definition” of marriage and “defined marriage as between a man and a woman.” Friendship Village is not affiliated with or operated by any religion or religious order; it is open to the public and does not inquire about the religious beliefs or affiliations of residents. Walsh and Nance considered seeking housing elsewhere, but Friendship Village is the only senior housing community in St. Louis that can provide increased levels of care without an increased monthly cost to residents.
“We’ve been together for nearly 40 years and have spent our lives in St. Louis. We want to grow older here by each other’s side,” says plaintiff Walsh. “We should not be prevented from accessing the housing and care we need.”
Before deciding on Friendship Village, Walsh and Nance made multiple visits, had extensive conversations with staff, and paid a $2,000 deposit. They even canceled a long-planned vacation, losing their nonrefundable airfare, because Friendship Village told them they could get advantageous rates if they signed all of their paperwork quickly and moved within a short time frame.
“Friendship Village was repeatedly advised for several years by its former management company to abandon their discriminatory policy but refused to do so,” says Counsel Joseph Wardenski. “By bringing this lawsuit, Mary and Bev will help ensure that other same-sex couples are not subjected to illegal housing discrimination.”
“Missouri seniors should not be subjected to the pain and discrimination faced by Mary and Bev,” said ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert. “Mary and Bev were financially and otherwise qualified for residency in the Friendship Village community. Their exclusion from this community is the result of discrimination alone.”