Metro Weekly

Missouri lesbian couple sues senior living community for sex discrimination

Senior living facility rejected couple based on religious beliefs regarding the "Biblical definition" of marriage

Mary Walsh and Beverly Nance – Photo courtesy of Mary Walsh.

A married lesbian couple in Missouri has filed a lawsuit against a St. Louis senior housing community for discriminating against them on the basis of sex.

Mary Walsh, 72, and Bev Nance, 68, claim they were turned away by Friendship Village Sunset Hills because the living community follows the “Biblical definition” of marriage, meaning “between a man and a woman.”

But Friendship Village is not affiliated with or operated by any religious or religiously-affiliated organization, and purports not to inquire about the religious beliefs or affiliations of residents.

Walsh and Nance have both lived in St. Louis since childhood and have been in a committed relationship since 1978. They first heard about Friendship Village from friends who lived there, and recommended that the couple move into the community. 

Before making a final decision, 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 the money they spent on non-refundable airfare, because Friendship Village told them they could get advantageous rates if they signed all of their paperwork quickly and moved in within a short time frame. That’s why they were so shocked to be denied housing because they are a same-sex couple.

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,” Mary Walsh said in a statement. “We want to grow older here by each other’s side. We should not be prevented from accessing the housing and care we need.”

The couple enlisted the help of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, the law firm of Relman, Dane & Colfax, and St. Louis attorney Arlene Zarembka to bring suit against Friendship Village.

The lawsuit seeks to argue that discrimination based on sexual orientation is inherently a form of sex discrimination, which is prohibited by both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act.

“Mary and Bev were denied housing for one reason and one reason only — because they were married to each other rather than to men. This is exactly the type of sex discrimination the Fair Housing Act prohibits,” Julie Wilensky, a senior staff attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement. “Their story demonstrates the kind of exclusion and discrimination still facing same-sex couples of all ages.”

“Missouri seniors should not be subjected to the pain and discrimination faced by Mary and Bev,” ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert said in a statement. “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.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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