U.S Supreme Court gives victory to lesbian couple in Hawaii discrimination case

Lesbian Couple Hawaii Discrimination

Taeko Bufford, right, and Diane Cervelli, a Long Beach lesbian couple, won a victory last week when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on a lower court ruling against a Hawaii bed and breakfast owner who violated that state’s anti-discrimination law. Photo: Taeko Bufford and Diane Cervelli.

A Long Beach lesbian couple won another major victory when the U.S. Supreme Court left in place lower court rulings that found a Hawaii bed and breakfast owner violated that state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to rent a room to the couple.


The justices refused to hear an appeal last week from Aloha Bed & Breakfast owner Phyllis Young, who argued that she should have the right to refuse service to LGBTQ couples because it conflicts with her religious beliefs.

“Mrs. Young will rent a bedroom in her home to anyone, including those who are LGBT, but will not rent to any romantic partners other than a husband and wife,” her attorney, James Hochberg, said in a statement.

He said the court’s ruling was an example of (drum roll, please) “governmental coercion.”

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Businesses can’t violate the law

Attorney Peter Renn, who represented the lesbian couple, was thrilled with the ruling.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

The case

Long Beach residents Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford wanted to book a room at the Honolulu-based Aloha Bed & Breakfast in 2007 while they were visiting a friend.

When they specified they would need just one bed, Young told them she was uncomfortable reserving a room for lesbians and canceled the reservation.

Cervelli and Bufford filed complaints with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. Young told the commission she is Catholic and believes that homosexuality is wrong, according to court documents.

‘Right to sue’

The commission said the business illegally discriminated against the couple and issued Cervelli and Bufford “right to sue” notices.

They filed their lawsuit in 2011.

Last year, the Hawaii Supreme Court rejected Young’s appeal of a lower court ruling that ordered her to stop discriminating against same-sex couples.

“LGBT people deserve an equal right to go about their everyday life,” Renn said, “without the fear that discrimination waits for them around the corner.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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