LGBTQ Rights Scores Major Victory in Hawaii ‘Religious Freedom’ Case

· Updated on May 28, 2018

A Hawaii appeals court has upheld a prior ruling claiming a lesbian couple was unlawfully discriminated against when a B owner turned them away due to her religious beliefs.

In 2007, Aloha Bed & Breakfast Owner Phyllis Young refused a room to Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford, a lesbian couple from California in town visiting a friend giving birth. Young, who is Catholic, claimed that allowing them to share a single bed would amount to endorsing a relationship condemned by her faith.

She further referred to same-sex behavior as “detestable” and claimed LGBTQ people “defile our land.”

Cervelli and Bufford filed a complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, which found that the couple had a right to sue Young in court. That lawsuit was originally filed in 2011, and a lower court judge ruled in favor of the couple two years later. The decision would later be appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

The state court claimed in a Monday ruling that refusing services to same-sex couples in the name of faith is prohibited by the state’s nondiscrimination laws.

“Discrimination in public accommodations results in ‘stigmatizing injury’ that ‘deprives persons of their dignity’ and injures their ‘sense of self-worth and personal integrity,’” the court said in a written opinion, adding that the law is “narrowly tailored to achieve Hawaii’s compelling interest in prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations.”

Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ advocacy group which represented the couple in court, claimed the verdict was a major victory for queer and trans rights.

“The court today affirmed that there is no excuse for discrimination,” Senior Attorney Peter Renn said in a statement. “Hawaii law is crystal clear: If you operate a business, you are open to all. […] The court saw this case for what it was and rightly refused to allow the business owner to use religion as a fig leaf for discrimination.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, the right-wing legal firm which argued Young’s case, has not responded to requests for comment from media.

The outcome of the Hawaii ruling may, however, be impacted by another ADF case over “religious liberty.” The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in December. Jack Phillips, a Christian baker in Lakewood, Color., denied to bake a cake for a gay wedding due to his “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The nation’s highest bench is set to issue its final ruling in June, and a number of similar cases across the U.S. have been met with divided outcomes.

In February, a California judge ruled in favor of a Christian cakeshop owner who turned away a lesbian couple, while the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a Mississippi law permitting sweeping discrimination against LGBTQ people to stand in a June 2017 ruling.

The ADF has not indicated whether it plans to appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

But while next steps are determined, the lesbian couple at the center of the case believes the verdict from the Intermediate Court sends an important message.

“We thought the days when business owners would say, ‘we’re open to the public but not to you,’ was a thing of the past,” Bufford said in a press release. “You don’t have to change your beliefs, but you do have to follow the law just as everyone else does.”

Photo via Getty Images/ilbusca

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