Hawaii Supreme Court rejects appeal from B&B owner who discriminated against lesbian couple

The Hawaii Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from the owner of a Bed & Breakfast who turned away a lesbian couple because of their “detestable” relationship.

Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford were turned away from the Aloha Bed & Breakfast in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 2011.

B&B owner Phyllis Young told the couple she was uncomfortable having gay people in her house, subsequently saying she thinks homosexual relationships are “detestable” and “defiled the land.”

Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford

It is illegal in Hawaii to deny public accommodation to anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation, along with their race, gender identity, religion or disability, but in the long-running court battle Young argued that forcing her to serve gay people violates her religious freedom.

The Hawaii Supreme Court this week declined to hear an appeal on behalf of Young, after a lower court ruled that the B&B owner had been discriminatory by refusing them a room based on sexual orientation.

Peter Renn, Senior Attorney at pro-LGBT law firm Lambda Legal, said: “In letting the existing decision stand, Hawai‘i today joined a long line of states across the country that understand how pernicious and damaging a religious license to discriminate would be.

“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.”

Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford

“That is the just and proper understanding of the U.S. Constitution. 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.”

Young was represented by anti-LGBT conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom, that has filed a string of cases seeking to systematically undermine LGBT anti-discrimination protections across the US.

The ADF argued that Young was entitled to discriminate against the same-sex couple on the grounds of religious freedom.

Opening up about being rejected from the B&B, Ms Cervelli recalled:”[The owner] asked me point-blank, ‘are you a lesbian?’

“I answered truthfully, and the next thing out of her mouth was ‘you can’t stay here’.”

Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford

Ms Bufford added: “I was in disbelief, because this has never happened to me before, even as an African-American. So now I’m facing discrimination just by being with someone I love.

“Some people continue to use their religious beliefs to discriminate and find ways around it. It’s really important that we are protected and we have our rights.”

Ms Cervelli added: “In my past experiences in Hawaii, people have been so friendly. It was just hurtful [to be turned away]. It made me feel we weren’t good enough.”