Freedom of Religion is Not Freedom to Discriminate Against Gay Customers

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August 4, 2014
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Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford

Lambda Legal and the Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission today urged the Intermediate Court of Appeals of the State of Hawai`i to reject a new argument that the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores allows a commercial business operating a bed and breakfast to refuse accommodation to a lesbian couple, and thereby violate Hawai`i’s antidiscrimination law, by invoking the business owner’s religious beliefs as a defense.

Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Peter Renn said:

The ink on the Hobby Lobby case isn’t even dry, and already we’re seeing misguided attempts to do exactly what nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court agreed was forbidden:  to use religion as a shield for discrimination. While the Hobby Lobby ruling is very troubling, the Court made clear that it wasn’t handing businesses a license to discriminate.  It still holds true in Hawai`i that when you enter the commercial world, you take on an obligation not to discriminate against customers, no matter what the color of their skin, what religion they practice, or whom they love.

Lambda Legal joined by co-counsel from the Hawai’i-based firm of Carlsmith Ball LLP represents Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford, a lesbian couple who were denied public accommodation because of their sexual orientation by Aloha Bed & Breakfast, located in Hawai‘i Kai. The Executive Director of the Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission joined the lawsuit to protect and enforce the state public accommodations law.

In April 2013, the First Circuit Court of Hawai`i ruled in favor of Cervelli and Bufford, and Aloha Bed & Breakfast appealed the ruling to the Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawai`i.

Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission Executive Director William Hoshijo said:

The Hobby Lobby case does not affect our state laws prohibiting discrimination on bases like race, sex, and sexual orientation, in employment, public accommodations, and housing. Our state civil rights protections are of paramount importance, and the HCRC will continue to vigorously enforce them and oppose efforts to erode or diminish those protections.

Cervelli and Bufford were traveling to visit a close friend and her newborn baby in Hawai‘i Kai. When they contacted the business, the owner wanted to know whether Cervelli and Bufford were lesbians. When they answered truthfully, the owner refused to provide accommodations because they were a lesbian couple. During a 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.” 

Read the press release.