Hawaii B&B Sues for the Right to Refuse Service to Gay Couples

The Aloha State is famous for its beautiful beaches and warm hospitality — and that’s just what Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford expected when they booked a vacation at the aptly named “Aloha B&B” in 2007. Only, it turns out the Aloha B&B wasn’t too filled with the spirit of Aloha.

The owner, Phyllis Young, announced that she wouldn’t accommodate them because they’re a lesbian couple — and the subsequent dispute been litigated ever since. Now, it could be headed for the Supreme Court, in another test of public accommodations law akin to the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

Bigots are weirdly fixated on the right to discriminate, thinking evidently that members of communities they profess vocal hatred for will flood their businesses if given license to do so via anti-discrimination protections. They typically invoke “religious beliefs” — as is the case here, suggesting that their specific interpretation of Christianity justifies denying access to public accommodations on the basis of LGBQT status.

Cases like these are typically bankrolled by conservative groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has its fingerprints all over this one, alongside the Billy Graham Evangelistic Organization and related groups.

In this case, Cervelli and Bufford weren’t looking to make waves; they just wanted a place to stay. Young claims that having lesbians in her home “violates her faith,” noting that she also doesn’t allow unmarried heterosexual couples to stay in the same room. That’s fine on her own time — but, in this case, her home is her business, and the state of Hawaii has specific legal protections that say she’s not allowed to refuse service like this.

The couple took the case to court, assisted by Lambda Legal and Hawaii’s Civil Rights Commission. They won a brief victory in 2013 when a judge found that Young had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law and must stop discriminating against LGBQT couples.

Backed by religious hate groups, however, Young appealed. When an appeals court upheld the ruling, she took it to the state’s Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, pushing her to the high court.

Young isn’t just leaning into the religious freedom angle. She’s also relying on a Jim Crow-era legal nicety known as a “Mrs. Murphy exemption,” according to Zack Ford at ThinkProgress. This exemption allows landlords to discriminate if they live onsite and a property has four or fewer families. It was a racist compromise to a push for full equal rights, and something that should have been repealed long ago –  but unfortunately, it’s part of Hawaii’s law.

The state’s housing law, that is — not its public accommodation law. And while Young is trying to pretend that this exception should apply to her in a briefing for the Supreme Court, many legal authorities aren’t buying it. She’s not a landlord renting to tenants, but a business owner running a facility used for transient stays, most of which last less than two weeks. It’s clear that her establishment isn’t designed to provide permanent housing.

Cases like this are frustrating, dangerous and scary, especially with the current makeup of the court. The attempt to use a historic bigoted law to validate a current act of discrimination is a reminder of the importance of cleaning up legal codes to eliminate loopholes like this — even though in this case, it’s not really a loophole. After all, Hawaii’s Mrs. Murphy exemption pretty clearly doesn’t apply to Young’s decision to run a lodging business out of her home.

If the case comes before the Supreme Court and it rules in Young’s favor, it could set a precedent for discrimination in Hawaii — a predominantly liberal state with robust civil rights protections — and create a ruling that might be leveraged to repress civil rights in other states, too.

The law is also a reminder of the importance of working in solidarity with other vulnerable communities, because laws legitimizing discrimination for one class of people often spill over onto other groups.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

73 comments

Vincent T
William T4 months ago

thanks for posting

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silja salonen
silja salonen4 months ago

I do not understand Hate. Dr Seuss was correct in the story of Grinch. Only when the Grinch allowed love into his life did his heart grow. Hate destroys all that is beautiful and kind

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Hannah A
Hannah A5 months ago

Thank you

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Ingrid A
Past Member 6 months ago

thanks for sharing

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pam w
pam w6 months ago

Fine--AS LONG AS they advertise their policy to refuse the business of those whose sexual orientation conflicts with their narrow values. I want to see their internet ads..."HETEROSEXUALS ONLY"....

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson6 months ago

that's horrible.

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Dr. Jan H
Dr. Jan Hill6 months ago

thanks

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Toni W
Toni W6 months ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W6 months ago

TYFS

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danii p
danii p6 months ago

Thank you

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