Metro Weekly

Hawaii Supreme Court rejects appeal from B&B that refused to rent to a lesbian couple

Business violated the state nondiscrimination law when they refused to rent Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford a room

Taeko Bufford and Diane Cervelli – Photo: Lambda Legal.

The Hawaii Supreme Court has rejected a complaint from a bed and breakfast that broke Hawaii’s nondiscrimination laws by refusing to rent a room to a lesbian couple.

Aloha Bed & Breakfast wanted to challenge a lower court’s ruling that they violated the state’s nondiscrimination law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Phyllis Young, a Catholic and the owner of Aloha, enlisted the help of the anti-LGBT legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, claiming that her personal religious beliefs should be exempt from the state’s nondiscrimination law.

Taeko “Ty” Bufford and Diane Cervelli had originally contacted the bed and breakfast because it was near the home of a close friend who had just had a baby. But Young refused to rent the couple a room when she learned they were lesbians. Bufford and Cervelli lodged a complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, which found, during a subsequent investigation that Young admitted to turning away the couple because she believes same-sex relationships are “detestable” and “defile our land.”

The First Circuit Court of Hawaii ruled in favor of the couple, finding they had been unlawfully discriminated against. Young’s lawyers appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, which upheld the First Circuit’s ruling in a February decision, which found that Young had discriminated against Bufford and Cervelli when she refused to rent them a room.

“In letting the existing decision stand Hawaii today joined a long line of states across the country that understand how pernicious and damaging a religious license to discriminate would be,” Peter Renn, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “In fact, since the U.S. Supreme Court’s narrow ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop in early June, three state courts — in Arizona, Oregon and now Hawaii — have either ruled against or refused to review rulings against business owners who have claimed religious justifications to discriminate.

“That is the just and proper understanding of the U.S. Constitution,” Renn added. “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 Aloha Bed & Breakfast case is the latest involving a dispute between LGBTQ advocates, who demand equal access to all public accommodations open to their straight counterparts, and business owners who claim their religious beliefs supersede any laws.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling reversing a finding by the Colorado Supreme Court that Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, had discriminated against a same-sex couple by refusing to bake them a wedding cake.

The Supreme Court claimed that a comment by one member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had demonstrated a “bias” against religion and had unduly influenced the commission’s ruling against Masterpiece. They then sent the case back to the commission for another ruling.

The high court also reversed and remanded a similar case involving a Washington florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, despite no evidence of bias in that case.

However, shortly after the Masterpiece ruling, an Arizona appellate court ruled against a stationery store that sought an exemption to Phoenix’s nondiscriminaton ordinance. Similarly, the Oregon Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. That baker has since announced he will appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court for review.

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