The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a challenge to a lower court ruling that found that the owner of a Hawaii Bed & Breakfast who refused to rent a room to a lesbian couple, on the basis of her Christian beliefs, violated Hawaii's anti-discrimination laws. As NBC News reports, the ruling means that the case against Phyllis Young will continue, and she will eventually learn what punishment she will face.
Back in 2007, Diane Cervilli and Taeko Bufford traveled to Hawaii believing they would be staying at Young's Aloha Bed & Breakfast. However, when they arrived, Young refused to rent to them, citing her Christian beliefs. Specifically, according to Hawaii News Now, she later told investigators that she believed homosexuality is "detestable" and "defiled the land."
In 2011, the couple sued, claiming that Young's actions violated Hawaii's public accommodations law, which according to Q Voice News, prohibits establishments that provide lodging to transient guests from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, race, color, ancestry, religion, disability, and sex —including gender identity or expression.
Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn, who is representing the women, said that freedom of religion should not be used as a weapon against protected minorities.
"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."The case has been winding its way through state and federal courts since then, with multiple lower courts all finding that Young violated the law. Young has continued to appeal, all the way to the Supreme Court.
With Monday's action, the court essentially put an end to Young's appeals in refusing to hear the case. That means that the case will return to a lower court, which will eventually decide what punishment Young will receive.
However, the court did not specifically rule on whether or not a business owner can cite the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of religion to deny business to a gay couple. Indeed, the court has had similar cases come before it, such as the cases of bakers who have refused to provide wedding cakes for gay weddings. In all such cases, the court has not actually ruled on the constitutionality of such a practice.
Bufford, for her part, tells The Honolulu Star Advertiser that Young's actions that day still sting, almost 12 years later.
"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. You don't have to change your beliefs, but you do have to follow the law just as everyone else does."