Hawai`i Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case of B&B That Denied Room to Lesbian Couple

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July 11, 2018

The Hawai`i Supreme Court today rejected a petition from a Hawai`i bed & breakfast seeking review of a lower court ruling that the business had violated Hawai’i’s anti-discrimination statute when it denied a room to a lesbian couple because of their sexual orientation.

Aloha Bed & Breakfast, whose owner says same-sex relationships “defile our land,” is represented by the anti-LGBT legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which claimed a religious justification for the discrimination. In February, the Intermediate Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court ruling, and today the Hawai`i Supreme Court declined to review that decision.

“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,” Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn said.

“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 Hawai`i – 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.”

In December 2011, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit in the First Circuit Court of Hawai`i on behalf of Diane Cervelli and Taeko (Ty) Bufford, a lesbian couple who had been denied a room at Aloha Bed & Breakfast in Hawai`i Kai. The couple had contacted the B&B because it was near the home of a close friend who had just had a baby.

However, when the B&B owner learned Diane and Ty were a same-sex couple, she refused to rent them a room. Diane and Ty contacted the Hawai`i Civil Rights Commission (HCRC), and in the course of the subsequent HCRC investigation, the owner admitted that she turned the couple away because they were lesbians, stating that she believed same-sex relationships are “detestable” and that they “defile our land.”

The First Circuit Court ruled for Cervelli and Bufford in April 2013, and Aloha B&B then appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court ruling in February of this year.

In early June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling reversing the Colorado Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on grounds that the Commission had purportedly demonstrated a bias about religion in its ruling against the Cakeshop, which had refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The U.S. Supreme Court then reversed and remanded back to the Washington Supreme Court a ruling against a Washington florist who had refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

However, shortly after the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, an Arizona appellate court ruled that a Phoenix stationery store could not exempt itself from the city non-discrimination ordinance, and the Oregon Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a Gresham baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The Gresham baker has announced he will seek U.S. Supreme Court review in his case.

Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn is representing Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford with co-counsel Lindsay McAneeley of Carlsmith Ball LLP. The Executive Director of the Hawai`i Civil Rights Commission also joined the case, and he is represented by HCRC Chief Counsel Robin Wurtzel.