Supreme Court Rejects Appeal of Christian B&B Owner Who Refused to Rent Room to Same-Sex Couple

Bufford Cervelli Supreme Court upheld discrimination
Photo: Lambda Legal

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a bed & breakfast owner who was charged with discriminatory business practices for refusing to rent a room to a lesbian couple back in 2007. The justices’ decision finally puts the ruling of the case to rest after Phyllis Young, owner of Aloha Bed & Breakfast in Honolulu, Hawaii, first appealed the charges pressed against her establishment by Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford in 2011. “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,” said one of the plaintiffs to AP News. “You don’t have to change your beliefs, but you do have to follow the law just as everyone else does.”

Young has claimed that renting her room to a same-sex couple would infringe upon her First Amendment rights of religious liberty. Her lawyers described that she “believes that she is morally responsible for the sexual activity that takes place under her roof,” the same rationale she used to forbid her daughter and daughter’s boyfriend from sharing a bed under her roof — meaning, she only believes that a marriage recognized by God would permit a couple from sharing a bed. “[If] she allows [sinful] activity to happen in her home, she participates in the sin,” explained her counsel.

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Young believed that she was entitled to refuse whomever she pleased if their character caused her to fear for her safety under an exemption to the Fair Housing Act called “Mrs. Murphy,” which essentially gives the owner of a modestly-sized home control over with whom they are sharing their living quarters. Meaning, if you own a three-bedroom house and are looking to rent out an extra bedroom, you are not legally obligated to rent it out to someone who freaks you out and makes you feel like your safety is at risk. ThinkProgress pointed out that the legislation is a vestige of the Jim Crow era and was initially used to justify discrimination on the basis of race. Young, it seems, feared God’s wrath or at least the wrath of fellow devout Christians.

The case does not settle the issue of whether businesses can refuse services or goods to people based on their religious beliefs. Another judge will determine the damages awarded to the plaintiffs.