Hawaii’s Supreme Court rejects religious excuse for discrimination against lesbians

Bufford-and-Cervelli

Taeko Bufford (left) and Diane Cervelli archive

The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from the Aloha B&B, letting a ruling in favor of equality stand.

A lesbian couple tried to stay at the Aloha B&B in 2007, but the owner told them that homosexuality was “detestable” and that two women sharing a bed would have “defiled the land.”

Earlier this year, an appeals court sided with Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford, the couple, rejecting the business owner’s arguments that she had a right to discriminate since she was a Christian who didn’t want gay people in her home.

Since the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court isn’t going to hear the case, the court is effectively affirming that religion is not an excuse for discrimination in Hawaiʻi.

“In letting the existing decision stand, Hawaiʻi 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 attorney Peter Renn said.

In 2007, the couple, who is from southern California, wanted to visit their friend in Hawaiʻi who had just had a baby. The baby was having health problems, so their friend would not have had the time to drive them around, and the couple didn’t have money to rent a car. So they tried to get a room at the nearby Aloha B&B.

They called Young to reserve a room, but when she understood that Cervelli and Bufford were a lesbian couple, she said that gay people made her “very uncomfortable.” She cited her religious beliefs in her refusal to let them stay.

The couple stayed at a condo that was farther away, and their friend needed to drive to pick them up, so they didn’t see their friend much on their trip.

That year, they filed a complaint with the Hawaiʻi Civil Rights Commission, which found in its investigation that Young openly admitted to discriminating against gay people. She believed that she could discriminate since her business is located in her home.

In 2011, the Commission found that Young had probably discriminated against Cervelli and Bufford. They filed a lawsuit that year and won their trial in 2013 – a B&B is subject to state and local regulations even if the owner lives in it.

Young appealed, and the couple won the appeal in earlier this year.

Another judge will determine monetary damages.

“This has never been a case about the money,” said Jennifer Pizer of Lambda Legal. “It’s really been about a civil rights law that needs to protect everyone, it needs to be real and it needs to be followed. When people come for a vacation or other reasons to visit in Hawaiʻi, everyone should be treated equally.”

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