ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo.Last month, St. Louis County residents Beverly Nance and her wife, Mary Walsh, filed a federal lawsuit against Friendship Village, a retirement community in Sunset Hills, after being refused housing on the basis of religious objections because they are a same-sex couple. On Friday, the couple shared their story with the New York Times.

 

Nance and Walsh, who were legally married nine years ago in Provincetown, Mass. and have been together for 40 years, decided to speak out so that others don't have to suffer the same discrimination. Their suit alleges sex discrimination in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act.

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“We’d met other people from the community [living at the facility], and they were very friendly,” Walsh, 72, a retired manager for AT&T, told the New York Times. “I was feeling good about it.”


That was until they received the news that they were being denied residency because they were a gay couple.


Friendship Village is a “a faith-based but nondenominational nonprofit” offering independent living, assisted living, and a nursing home on its 52-acre campus complete with a calendar of activities, a pool, fitness center, and other desirable amenities.


The facility seemed to meet all of Nance and Walsh's needs, especially the ability to quickly switch to assisted living — if one of them needed it in the future — which would allow them to still share meals together in the evenings.


“We wanted to be together, no matter what happened,” Walsh recalled in the New York Times.


Friendship Village appeared eager to have the couple move there as well, offering to lower the entrance fee if they would sign an agreement promptly. Accordingly, they paid a $2,000 deposit on a two bedroom unit which costs $235,000.


Nance and Walsh then notified their homeowners association that they would be putting their Shrewsbury house up for sale and even cancelled an upcoming vacation because the move would take place within 90 days. Walsh contacted a realtor and began packing.


Everything was in place. Then Walsh received an unexpected call from Friendship Village's residence director asking about the nature of her relationship with Nance, 68, a retired professor (and former teacher of Bravo's Andy Cohen who's since come to the couple's defense.)


“I said, ‘We’ve been married since 2009,’” Walsh told the New York Times. “She said, ‘I’m going to need to call you back."


The couple were soon mailed a letter from Friendship Village turning down their application, including a copy of its cohabitation policy, which limits shared units to siblings, parents and children, or spouses.


“The term ‘marriage’ as used in this policy means the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible,” the policy stated.


Presently, neither federal nor Missouri law explicitly protects sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodation, but both outlaw discrimination based on sex.

 

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