Metro Weekly

U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal from Hawaii B&B owner who turned away lesbian couple

Business owner Phyllis Young had sought a religious exemption that would allow her to refuse service to LGBTQ people

Taeko Bufford and Diane Cervelli – Photo: Lambda Legal.

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from the owner of a Hawaii bed and breakfast who refused to rent a room a lesbian couple because of her religious beliefs opposing homosexuality.

On Monday, the court decided not to hear the case of Phyllis Young, the owner of the Aloha Bed & Breakfast in Honolulu, who enlisted the help of the anti-LGBTQ legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom to demand that she be granted a religious exemption from Hawaii’s civil rights law. Hawaii’s law prohibits discrimination in public accommodations based on a person’s sexual orientation.

By choosing not to hear the case, the high court keeps in place lower court rulings that determined that Young had discriminated against Taeko “Ty” Bufford and Diane Cervelli when she refused to rent a room to the two women because they were lesbians.

Bufford and Cervelli had originally contracted Young to inquire about staying at the bed and breakfast because of its proximity to the home of a close friend who had just had a baby. But after Young turned them away, the two women filed a complaint against her.

During the investigation that followed, Young revealed that her decision to turn the couple away was motivated by her beliefs that same-sex relationships are “detestable” and “defile our land.”

The First Circuit Court of Hawaii ruled in favor of Bufford and Cervelli, finding they were victims of discrimination. Young’s lawyers subsequently appealed that decision to the Intermediate Court of Appeals and the Hawaii Supreme Court, which both upheld the lower court’s decision.

Lambda Legal Counsel Peter Renn celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision, which appeared to signal an unwillingness by the high court to issue a decision at this time that would radically undermine LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws in place in 20 states and hundreds of municipalities across the country.

“The freedom of religion does not give businesses a right to violate nondiscrimination laws that protect all individuals from harm, whether on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation,” Renn said in a statement. “The Supreme Court declined to consider carving out an exception from this basic principle when a business discriminates based on the sexual orientation of its customers. LGBT people deserve an equal right to go about their everyday life without the fear that discrimination waits for them around the corner.”

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

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