March 18, 2019 at 10:04 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Supreme Court rebuffs Hawaii B&B seeking to deny boarding to same-sex couples
The Supreme Court has refused to hear case of a Hawaii B&B seeking to refuse to same-sex couples. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday announced it has refused to hear the case of a Hawaii bed and breakfast that sought to refuse service to same-sex couples out of religious objections.

The high court indicated it had denied certiorari to Aloha Bed & Breakfast, or refused to take up its case, in an order list Monday reflecting decisions justices made during a conference on Friday.

The denial of certiorari effectively means the end to the lawsuit against Aloha Bed & Breakfast, which was found to have violated Hawaii civil rights laws for refusing boarding to Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford in 2007.

The initial lawsuit, Aloha Bed & Breakfast v. Dianne Cervelli, was filed by Lambda Legal on behalf of the same-sex couple after they were denied service. The co-plaintiff in the case was the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission.

Peter Renn, counsel for Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office, said the denial of certiorari affirms non-discrimination laws for LGBT people in face of objections based on “religious freedom” claims.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to let the lower court ruling stand reaffirms that the freedom of religion does not give businesses a right to violate nondiscrimination laws that protect all individuals from harm, whether on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation,” Renn said. “The Supreme Court declined to consider carving out an exception from this basic principle when a business discriminates based on the sexual orientation of its customers. LGBT people deserve an equal right to go about their everyday life without the fear that discrimination waits for them around the corner.”

According to the complaint, after Cerveilli emailed Phyllis Young, the owner of the Hawaii B&B about a potential room, she was initially told there was an availability. When Cervelli disclosed she was bringing a same-sex partner, Young replied, “Are you both lesbians?” The owner then refused boarding, saying she was uncomfortable with having lesbians in her home.

The Hawaii First Circuit Court ruled for the same-sex couple in April 2013. Although Aloha B&B appealed to the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals, that court affirmed the lower court ruling. Last year, the Hawaii Supreme Court refused to hear that decision.

But the Aloha Bed & Breakfast wasn’t done. In October, the business filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court, citing a First Amendment right to refuse service to same-sex couples for religious reasons.

“The Commission officially labeled her religious beliefs unlawful ‘discrimination’ despite the fact that Mrs. Young declines to rent bedrooms in her family home to any romantic partners other than a married man and women — Hawaii’s only recognized form of marriage in 2007,” the petition says. “For this ‘crime’ of being a faithful Catholic, the Commission sought punitive damages and statutory penalties that could cause Mrs. Young to lose her home.”

Aloha Bed & Breakfast also asserted a Fourteenth Amendment right to due process was violated because the establishment, which rents out 1-3 rooms in the owner’s personal home, wasn’t given fair notice Hawaii civil rights law would apply to her.

Although the anti-LGBT legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom initially served as counsel for Aloha Bed & Breakfast, a private attorney, James Hochberg, filed the petition before the Supreme Court. Hochberg didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on Monday.

In a filing last month responding to the the petition, Lambda Legal disputed Aloha Bed & Breakfast suffered harm under the First Amendment.

“Aloha B&B’s accusation that the Commission engaged in a ten-year campaign of religious hostility is a work of pure fiction,” the filing says. “To begin, it completely ignores that it was Ms. Cervelli and Ms. Bufford — private parties — who suffered discrimination by Aloha B&B and thereafter filed this civil action. And, unlike the authority relied upon by Aloha B&B, it was a circuit court — not the Commission — that found Aloha B&B liable for violating the public accommodations law.”

The Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari to Aloha Bed & Breakfast comes nearly a year after justices issued a narrow ruling for Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who was penalized under Colorado law for refusing service to a same-sex couple. Although the Supreme Court didn’t issue a First Amendment right to discriminate as Phillips requested, the court ruled for baker based on the narrow facts of the case, finding anti-religion bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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