Lambda Legal and the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission Monday urged the Intermediate Court of Appeals of the State of Hawaii to reject a new argument that the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores allows a commercial business operating a bed and breakfast to refuse accommodation to a lesbian couple, and thereby violate Hawaii’s anti-discrimination law, by invoking the business owner’s religious beliefs as a defense.
“The ink on the Hobby Lobby case isn’t even dry, and already we’re seeing misguided attempts to do exactly what nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court agreed was forbidden: to use religion as a shield for discrimination,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Peter Renn said. “While the Hobby Lobby ruling is very troubling, the Court made clear that it wasn’t handing businesses a license to discriminate. It still holds true in Hawaii that when you enter the commercial world, you take on an obligation not to discriminate against customers, no matter what the color of their skin, what religion they practice, or whom they love.”
Lambda Legal joined by co-counsel from the Hawaii-based firm of Carlsmith Ball LLP represents Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford, a lesbian couple who were denied public accommodation because of their sexual orientation by Aloha Bed & Breakfast, located in Hawaii Kai. The Executive Director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission joined the lawsuit to protect and enforce the state public accommodations law. In April 2013, the First Circuit Court of Hawaii ruled in favor of Cervelli and Bufford, and Aloha Bed & Breakfast appealed the ruling to the Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawaii.
“The Hobby Lobby case does not affect our state laws prohibiting discrimination on bases like race, sex, and sexual orientation, in employment, public accommodations, and housing,” Hawaii Civil Rights Commission Executive Director William Hoshijo said. “Our state civil rights protections are of paramount importance, and the HCRC will continue to vigorously enforce them and oppose efforts to erode or diminish those protections.”
Cervelli and Bufford were traveling to visit a close friend and her newborn baby in Hawaii Kai. When they contacted the business, the owner wanted to know whether Cervelli and Bufford were lesbians. When they answered truthfully, the owner refused to provide accommodations because they were a lesbian couple. During a subsequent HCRC investigation, the owner admitted that she turned the couple away because they were lesbians, stating that she believed same-sex relationships are “detestable” and that they “defile our land.”
Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Peter Renn is representing Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford with co-counsel Jay Handlin and Lindsay McAneeley of Carlsmith Ball LLP. Robin Wurtzel and Shirley Garcia are the enforcement attorneys representing the Executive Director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. The case is Cervelli & Bufford v. Aloha Bed & Breakfast.
Read the letter here.