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Court Rules Hawaii B&B Owner Discriminated Against Lesbian Couple

Lesbian couple

The decision in the case, in which the  business owner cited her religious beliefs, came down ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the gay wedding cake case.

A Hawaii appeals court confirmed last week that the owner of the Aloha Bed & Breakfast in Honolulu, who denied a room to a lesbian couple back in 2007 based on her religious beliefs, in fact discriminated against them.

The B&B's owner, Phyllis Young, who is Catholic and said she believes that being gay is wrong, argued that she should be allowed to deny service to same-sex couples based on her religious views, according to the Associated Press.

The couple, Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford of Long Beach, Calif., attempted to book a room at the B&B because it was close to the home of a friend they were visiting. They filed complaints with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission after Young refused to book a room with a single bed for two women. The commission found that Young had discriminated against the women and issued them "right to sue" notices. Represented by Lambda Legal, in 2011 they filed suit that resulted in a 2013 ruling by the First Circuit Court of Hawaii in which Young was ordered to cease discriminating against same-sex couples. It took five years, but the Intermediate Court of Appeals affirmed the 2013 ruling.

"As a really practical matter, the profound harm that the business inflicted her is in the form of stigma and humiliation," Lambda Legal attorney Peter Renn told the AP following the appeals court ruling. "There's no amount of money that can really make you feel whole again after you've been stripped of your dignity like this and told we don't serve your kind here."

But Renn's comments didn't end there. He floated the possibility that Young could attempt to take her case to the state Supreme Court. And if it refused to hear her case, she could, based on her First Amendment argument, go as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in December in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission , the roots of which began in 2012 when Lakewood-based baker Jack Phillips, citing religious reasons, refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, David Mullins and Charlie Craig.

The civil rights commission determined that the baker had violated a state law that prohibits businesses from refusing service due to a person's sexual orientation. Phillips appealed the decision, arguing that cake decorating is his "creative expression," and the case went on to wend its way through the courts until it made it to the highest in the land.

"This is an issue that we're seeing nationwide where businesses are claiming that a religious motivation somehow gives them excuse to violate the law," Renn said. "And this court very clearly said no, it doesn't."

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in late spring.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist