An appeals court has ruled in favor of a lesbian couple who were denied a room at a Honolulu bed and breakfast because of the owner’s religious beliefs.
In 2007, California couple Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford tried to book a room at the Aloha Bed & Breakfast in the east Honolulu neighborhood of Hawaii Kai. But when they requested a room with one bed, owner Phyllis Young canceled the reservation, telling them she was Catholic and believed homosexuality was wrong.
Hawaii law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, so Cervelli and Bufford filed a complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. The commission agreed Young had discriminated against the couple and issued them a “right to sue” notice.
“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 statement. “You don’t have to change your beliefs, but you do have to follow the law just as everyone else does.”
In 2013 a lower court ruled against Young, but she appealed, arguing that she should be allowed to turn away gay couples as an expression of her First Amendment rights. Last week, the court upheld the 2013 decision.
“As a really practical matter, the profound harm that the business inflicted here is in the form of stigma and humiliation,” Peter Renn of Lambda Legal, which represented Cervelli and Bufford, told the AP. “There’s no amount of money that can really make you feel whole again after you’ve been stripped of your dignity like this and told we don’t serve your kind here.”
Should Young, who is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, continue to fight, she’ll have to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is currently deliberating a similar case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights, involving a California bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.