It’s the latest win for LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections since the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling. The Hawaii Supreme Court has rejected a petition to review a ruling against a bed and breakfast that refused a room to a lesbian couple.
Aloha Bed & Breakfast has repeatedly appealed rulings in the case brought against it by Lambda Legal.
The case dates back to 2007 when Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford tried to book a room at Aloha so they could visit a friend and her newborn. According to court documents, when Cervelli called owner Diane Young to book a room for her and Bufford, Young asked if they were lesbians.
When Cervelli replied they were, Young told Cervelli she would be uncomfortable having them stay in her house.
Bufford called back and asked, “Is it because we are lesbians that you will not rent to us?”
“Yes,” Young replied.
Young reiterated her belief that she could turn away the couple in a conversation later that day, court documents say. The two were forced to stay in a condo far away from their friend. They were also profoundly hurt by the experience, according to court records.
“Diane cried throughout the day, found it difficult to function at work, and experienced chest and stomach pain,” their complaint says. “Taeko also felt distressed and wondered whether they would encounter similar discrimination once they arrived in Hawaii.”
Represented by anti-LGBTQ hate group the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Young did not deny discriminating against the couple. Rather, she argued that because she and her husband rented rooms out of her own house, she was not a public accommodation and therefore could not be held to the non-discrimination laws governing businesses.
“Even if Aloha were subject to Public Accommodations Law, applying that statute to compel Ms. Young to rent a room to an unwanted guest would violate myriad state and federal constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, intimate association, and free exercise of religion,” Young’s attorneys argued in court documents.
Both the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission and the Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the couple. Last week the Hawaii Supreme Court declined to the review the case.
“That is the just and proper understanding of the U.S. Constitution,” said Lambda Legal Attorney Peter Renn, in a statement. “Religious freedom is protected, but it cannot to be used as a justification for discrimination. If you operate a business, you are open to all.”
The case is significant not just for Hawaii but because it marks another victory for anti-discrimination protections after the U.S. Court punted on the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling in early June. In that case, the narrow ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple left unanswered questions about the future of LGBTQ protections. That’s because the court didn’t take up the issue of discrimination but instead ruled that a lower court displayed anti-religious bias in ruling against the baker.
Since then, lower courts have reinforced anti-discrimination protections for queer people. In late June, the Oregon Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Sweet Cakes Bakery, which infamously turned away a same-sex couple. Earlier in the month, an Arizona appellate court also ruled against a calligraphy studio seeking to turn away LGBTQ people.
The question remains, however, about the future of such protections as anti-LGBTQ activists leverage the Masterpiece ruling to chip away at rights.
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