In a landmark ruling, an Illinois bed and breakfast which explicitly states on its website that it does not host civil unions or same-sex wedding ceremonies, has been fined more than $81,000 for violating the state's human rights law, the Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette reported Tuesday.
The ruling "marked the first time that the Illinois Human Rights Commission made clear that businesses in the state must serve the entire public and cannot pick and choose based on their personal religious views," the paper reported.
TimberCreek Bed-and-Breakfast was ordered to pay $30,000 to Illinois couple Todd and Mark Wathen of Tuscola for emotional distress and damages, and $50,000 in fees plus $1,218 in costs to their lawyers, after refusing to host the couple's civil union in 2011, as The Advocate previously reported.
In addition to these fees, the bed and breakfast is required to offer the couple access for a celebration of their civil union within one year, the paper reported.
"We are very happy that no other couple will have to experience what we experienced by being turned away and belittled and criticized for who we are," Todd Wathen told the News-Gazette. "In addition, the monetary award represents a recognition by the judge that Mark and I suffered a real harm — that we were embarrassed and humiliated."
The venue is owned by Jim Walder and his wife and described itself as "A Christian bed and breakfast." Despite the court order to "cease and desist" in violating the state's human rights law, at press time, TimberCreek's website still lists a preference not to host "civil union or gay marriage ceremonies and/or receptions." That text is highlighted below in the photo.
During an earlier hearing, Walder reportedly said he would never host same-sex civil unions or weddings, even if state law requires it.
On the bed and breakfast's website, the owners refer to nationwide marriage equality and pre-existing antidiscrimination laws "as a bully club" used against them.
"America was built upon a foundation of religious liberty and Judeo Christian principles," the Walders wrote on the TimberCreek's website, responding to the discrimination complaint. "But now it is under assault by well-funded homosexual activists who demand we surrender religious liberty to their new definition of marriage. President Obama has been deceived into embracing this far-left agenda."
John Knight, LGBT project director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which helped represent the couple, told the paper that he stood by the judge's decision in this case. "It is critical that the judge ordered this entity to end its unlawful practices — practices that discriminate against gay and lesbian couples," he said. "It is important that we have a clear and undiluted message that denying services to gay and lesbian couples for marriage and civil union ceremonies simply is not permitted in our state."
After being denied by another Illinois venue, the Wathens stopped looking for a place to host their civil union ceremony after receiving a follow-up email from Walder, lecturing them about the same-sex couple about their "gay lifestyle" telling them "it's not too late to change your behavior," the paper reported.
In the end, the Wathens ended up getting married in a small ceremony with 30 friends and family members in their backyard, a place where "not one can turn us away," Todd Wathen told the paper.