Bed-and-Breakfasts Refuse to Host Gay Civil Union, Sparking Lawsuit

Bed-and-breakfast Two gay men, Todd and Mark Wathen, wanted to hold their civil union ceremony in a bed-and-breakfast in Illinois. Their wish was denied, twice, because bed-and-breakfasts are pillars of straightness

The Beall Mansion in Alton told the Wathens via email that it "will just be doing traditional weddings." The owner of the Timber Creek Bed and Breakfast in Paxton wrote in an email to the couple: "We will never host same-sex civil unions. We will never host same-sex weddings even if they become legal in Illinois. We believe homosexuality is wrong and unnatural based on what the Bible says about it. If that is discrimination, I guess we unfortunately discriminate."

"After all this happened, I just didn't even want to talk about the wedding," said Todd Wathen. "It took an event we had looked forward to for years and ruined it."

After the couple filed a complaint, the state's human rights commission found "substantial evidence" of a civil rights violation. Now the couple is suing

But attorneys for the establishments say they were exercising freedom of religion. With bed-and-breakfasts becoming culture-war battlegrounds in similar disputes across the country, this case could be major - the Brown v. Board of Education of bed-and-breakfasts.

Picture 24UPDATE
: Maybe the two should just be thankful they were rejected. If the 2006 film Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror taught us anything, it's to always avoid bed-and-breakfasts run by googly-eyed homophobes. It's not just the false hospitality - it's being hunted

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  1. The Catholic church has been put out of the adoption business in Illinois because they will not serve gay men and women with the same dignity as straight men and women.

    If this public business wants to run a discriminatory practice, they should legally become a religious organization, not just claim they aspire to some religious doctrine. It's not the same.

    Personally, I wouldn't want my ceremony held at a bigotted hell-hole in Alton. And these people have a right to their beliefs what they don't have a right to is to discriminate through their business which is open to the public.

    Posted by: Bart | Sep 17, 2011 6:28:39 PM

  2. I own a bed & breakfast in Madison, Connecticut and I've had the good fortune of many gay weddings here. Come and be married!

    Posted by: Michael | Sep 17, 2011 6:49:59 PM

  3. U.K. and Canadian B&B homophobe stories 2011 and 2010 (My approach is to replace "gay" with "black or Asian" - the answer is obvious)

    Posted by: Hue-Man | Sep 17, 2011 6:53:03 PM

  4. I don't understand the litigation part.

    People keep bringing up blacks and Jews...they didn't "sue" businesses to be allowed to use them. They boycotted and protested them en masse and used the power of the marketplace to their advantage. Workplace discrimination is one thing, you have to have a job, but to sue because someone doesn't like makes zero sense when there are alternatives.

    Boycotts work.

    They work because they punish the bigots by not receiving money and they reward the people who aren't bigots by giving them money.

    Why do you want to give money to these places when the people don't like you and think horrible things about you? Forcing them to serve you means they still get your money.

    Why not give your money to NICE PEOPLE??

    There are beds and breakfasts, hotels, etc that want the money of gays and lesbians. It makes no sense at all to reward mean-spirited people with money. Yes, some sort of political victory was won, but the last laughs on you because you just paid them to hate you.

    Posted by: Rin | Sep 17, 2011 6:57:40 PM

  5. As an African American, I guess we should have just saved ourselves all the trouble and followed the advice of many of the commentators here. Just go to another restaurant, hotel, drinking fountain. No big deal.

    Posted by: Jim | Sep 17, 2011 7:01:13 PM

  6. @Jim

    Protests and sit ins worked for the Civil Rights movements and they would work today, too.

    When blacks protested during the ACM they won moral victories, changed hearts AND rewarded people who weren't bigots while punishing and making spectacles of the people that were bigots.

    No one is saying to walk on by (I don't think).

    At least, that's not what I am saying.

    By protesting the bed and breakfast or whatever business publicly you are putting their bigotry to the court of public opinion and letting others know that this is how they do business. THEN by taking your business to someone not a bigot you are showing that kindness is rewarded.

    Stick and carrot.

    Posted by: Rin | Sep 17, 2011 7:09:22 PM

  7. @RIN: Yes there were protests, but that was not all. Part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was about nondiscrimination in accommodation, so after that became law it was ILLEGAL to discriminate, not just bad business. That's why you didn't see a lot of boycotts past 1964.

    Businesses don't like to leave themselves open to lawsuits.

    They didn't change their practices just because of threat of boycott (which don't always work, by the way, especially if you're a small minority like gay people), they changed because of the LAW.

    Now this law also covers gay people in some states (though far from all). Illinois covers LGBT people for discrimination including accommodation since 2006.

    Posted by: KevinVT | Sep 17, 2011 8:29:42 PM

  8. "Letting the free market regulate civil rights issues worked so well between the Civil War and the 60s...."

    In fairness the "free market" didn't regulate "civil rights issues", government did. Segregation was enforced by state and local laws which didn't care what the beliefs of business owners were.

    Posted by: JohnAGJ | Sep 17, 2011 8:39:53 PM

  9. Public accommodations (including B&B's) must follow the public accommodations laws of their area, just as they must follow countless other rules if they want to run a business. By ignoring the law, they are opening themselves up to boycotts, bad publicity, and, yes, lawsuits, because that's what happens when you choose to discriminate.

    If I were shopping around for a B&B to host my wedding, the first thing I would research would be their gay-friendliness, so I wouldn't have to go through the hassle of dealing with anti-gay morons. B&B's can send out signals about their preferred clients, and if a place advertised as Christian-owned, a red flag would go up, just as gay-owned might send up a red flag for some devout Christian newlyweds. An owner could politely say, we may not be the best fit for you and suggest the couple go elsewhere, but expecting permission to basically hang out a Gays/Blacks/Jews/Christians/Handicapped etc. NOT ALLOWED sign doesn't fly when the laws say otherwise. Yet, the religious expect an exemption no one else gets.

    A similar situation in VT recently--Catholic owners of the Wildflower Inn refused to host a lesbian couple's festivities after the inn owners learned they were gay. They, too, are being sued. After my brother-in-law (who'd stayed there with my sister for her birthday one year) learned of the lawsuit, he wrote to tell them why he wouldn't be staying there again and would recommend that none of his friends stay there either. He wouldn't have been aware of their bigotry without the attention the lawsuit threat brought to it.

    Posted by: Ernie | Sep 17, 2011 8:44:32 PM

  10. Has anyone actually looked at the website? The place is fuckin' hideous! Victorian schmaltz decor at its BEST!

    Posted by: peterparker | Sep 17, 2011 9:15:45 PM

  11. Find a BB&B that's gay friendly. There are plenty. Stop trolling for trouble. I don't like these contrived outrages.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Sep 17, 2011 9:38:55 PM

  12. I think these lawsuits are ill advised. I understand the law but is our cause advanced by pushing our way into a Christian B and B unwanted?

    Posted by: Trasker | Sep 17, 2011 9:57:13 PM

  13. So how are we going to feel when the clothing optional gay resort is forced to admit straight Christian couples? Personally, I wouldn't want to go to a B&B that advertises as "Christian." And if I ran an Inn, I wouldn't want to be forced to rent it out to a group that planned to convene there for purposes of advancing their fundamentalist Christian theology. We'd be better off if we give people a little more leeway when they're operating a small establishment, and not bring a lawsuit for every perceived slight.

    Posted by: Will2 | Sep 18, 2011 9:31:56 AM

  14. "So how are we going to feel when the clothing optional gay resort is forced to admit straight Christian couples?"

    Welcome! If they want to be around a lot of affectionate naked gay men, come on in. (They don't get to tell inn guests how to behave.) As long as they were warned what kind of establishment they've booked at, and have no objections to the atmosphere, it's their choice. Just as it should be a gay couple's choice (a foolish one, in my opinion) whether or not they want to give their $ to a Christian-run establishment.

    The problem with many Christian establishments it that they hide their true colors, appear welcoming to all, and then expect a special exemption from public accommodations laws and public scorn because they believe their brand of bigotry is socially permissible in ways that other bigotry is not. There are plenty of ways a B&B can make its preferred clientele known, and ways to get out of hosting events they don't want to host (gee, we're fully booked that weekend, sorry!) , but proudly ignoring discrimination laws and being shocked by any consequences is stupidly asking to be put out of the hospitality business.

    Would the same B&B owners believe it would be appropriate to discriminate against a mixed-race couple, or an elderly couple, or a foreign couple, just because they didn't like them? If so, they have a philosophical difference of opinion with the laws they're expected to follow and should fight the laws or rethink their career path. But if they think it would be offensive to discriminate in those other ways, but not when it's a gay family, then they don't even have philosophical grounds for their bigotry. The religion card isn't valid here.

    Posted by: Ernie | Sep 18, 2011 12:28:07 PM

  15. The reason we fight for gay rights laws is so that, in situations like this, the injured party will have a legal remedy. To those commenters who say that we should do a publicity campaign instead of a lawsuit, I would say that there is no reason a publicity campaign couldn't proceed in addition to a suit. And furthermore, "we" are not the injured party, the couple is. They are bringing the suit to remedy a specific act of discrimination that hurt them, not to garner good PR.

    These B&Bs are not homes. They are for-profit commercial enterprises. The couple is right to sue for damages. The key issue will be the long-simmering claim by the Christian Right that religiously motivated discrimination constitutes the "free exercise of religion" protected by the US Constitution, even when such discrimination occurs in a for-profit business. Surprisingly, this claim has not yet been definitively resolved by the courts.

    Penn Bullock's juvenile post fails to identify any of the relevant legal issues and makes an ill-informed analogy to Brown v. Bd. of Ed. This is typical of the low quality writing we have come to expect from Bullock. Why Andy Towle continues to allow him to crap all over this blog is beyond me.

    Posted by: John | Sep 18, 2011 1:26:19 PM

  16. Well these bible-believin' bed'n'breakfast folks are gross. Having said that, it is not credible to say hundreds of B&Bs all over that region must be run by gay couples. Surely rather than wasting time and energy on idiots these boys can just get on with their lives--and marriage?

    Posted by: Danny | Sep 18, 2011 1:26:43 PM

  17. I recently went to a wedding with my ex in a very small town in Virginia. Shockingly, there was a gay-owned B&B there, but it was fully booked. So we stayed at another well-reviewed place even though its site made it clear that the owners were conservative and quite religious.

    So we sent them an email before making reservations saying that two guys would be sharing a bed. Their response? "We make no judgments and have no concerns about our guests as long as they are responsible."

    In other words, even though I know for certain that the husband who owned the place hated us and his wife did her best to be polite, they knew better than to turn down money or stir up a hornets' nest for no reason. Had they not been so respectful, I would have stayed elsewhere. I have to agree that there's no reason to stay at a place that despises you---much less hold something as important as a civil union (wedding) there. Why give money to people who hate you?

    And yes, I agree that their bigotry should be broadly announced.

    Posted by: Paul R | Sep 18, 2011 6:13:24 PM

  18. These cases of small businesses being sued for refusing to host gay weddings is very poor strategy on the part of the LGBT community. It is the gay's equivalent of forced busing - it simply hands the opposition points. Most people are just getting used to the idea of marriage equality being legal - being told that one has to have involvement in a ceremony or affair he may consider immoral or, how to say this politely, bizarre to him, feels totalitarian to these people. Ordinary citizens who are "on the fence" on gay issues are likely to say "they have the right to get married now. There are plenty of places that welcome them. Why have they got to force people who don't want to be involved in it?" It may not be fair, but its reality.

    Another poor idea is to publicize the discriminatory practices without suing. You should simply be ignoring these people. You say that younger people are on your side? So then in time almost all B and B owners/caterers will be willing to host gay weddings. The older owners are adapting to a circumstance that most of them didn't even ask for. They are not homophobes, but people struggling to accept social change. Make it easy for them, not difficult. Most of them are not voting out politicians who support gay rights legislation. This is already progress.

    Gay marriages should be asociated in the pubic mind with happiness - children seeing their Dads or Moms committing, loving couples whove been together (some for many years) making it official. The initial shock of seeing gay couples wed (on brief TV clips) can lead to a "hey, they actually look beautiful together!" reaction. But it can't if the "equality police" are expected to come knocking on our door.

    This is not a call for you to give up, but to use a more effective strategy. Think long term.

    Posted by: Mary | Sep 18, 2011 6:43:58 PM

  19. I think the couple should sue the bigots out of business.
    THEN move their wedding elsewhere.

    Moving their wedding to where they are wanted is just the sort of thinking the bigots want. Separate but equal is crap.

    Posted by: mmike1969 | Sep 18, 2011 8:59:47 PM

  20. "No discrimination" means no discrimination -- you people who keep saying that it's sort of okay because this is "just a mom and pop business" don't understand the idea of "public accommodations." Yes, I understand that there are aspects to suing these small businesses that will stick in the craw of many people -- but it is the small businesses that need to understand that they are also subject to the law if they want to run a public business. It's not just mom & B&B's -- there are mom & pop everything -- grocery stores and barbershops and auto mechanics and restaurants and bars. None of them has the right to say "well we're just a small business so we can discriminate." That's what people have been fighting for for the last 40 years --- don't fall into the trap of saying "well they are just a small business" --- that's where the discrimination is now-a-days.

    Posted by: buster | Sep 18, 2011 9:29:43 PM

  21. @Mary: Your "advice" to the LGBT community seems sincere, but unless you would recommend the same strategy (ignore it, let them continue discriminating with no consequences) to every other group who might be discriminated against, then you're singling out gay people as being the one group it's ok to turn away, because some people haven't gotten over their bigotry yet, poor them.

    Sorry, but every time you let business owners in a secular society ignore discrimination laws and successfully play the religion card because they think you--and others like you--will sympathize with their prejudices, you're sending the message that discrimination is permissible, as long as it's against gay people. Would you offer the same advice if a couple had been turned away because they're not white?

    Posted by: Ernie | Sep 19, 2011 10:21:48 AM

  22. No, Ernie, I wouldn't offer the same advice if a non-white couple had been turned away. But most Americans don't see gays the way they see blacks. People will argue that gays have the option of keeping their sexual orientation to themselves but that race is almost always usually visible. It won't be as easy to get the majority of "borderline" people to sympathize with gays the way they eventually game to sympathize with blacks. I'm being realistic here. I see your case that all discrimination is wrong and that these inns are serving the public, but it's a question of what strategy is advantgeous right now. Eventually people who feel uncomfortable with hosting a gay wedding will not go into businesses that cater to weddings. In the meantime it makes sense not to aggravate the public as it comes to accept gays in general, and marriage equality in particular. They have the power to cause you harm, and as you saw in Iowa, relying on judges is not the way to go because they can be removed.

    Wouldn't it make sense to think of future generations of LGBT people and the situation they will be in if there is a serious backlash? Sorry, but as a social conservative I always try to anticipate disasters and how they might be prevented. It comes with the territory! While I am not a gay marriage supporter, I believe that this cause will succeed eventually. So I'd rather see the transition made gradually and through legislative means and with as little upheaval as possible. Over the last year or so I've come to have more respect for gay people and to see how things look from their perspective. I fear that the gay community may be underestimating how difficult it will be to implement marriage equality in most states and setting up unrealistic expectations for its younger members.

    The last thing we need is a repeat of the 1960's. Culture wars of the future are likely to be far more dangerous and nasty than the culture wars of the 60's and 70's because we have a more vigorous conservative movement than we had in those years. And most people don't try to understand the opposition the way I'm doing here.

    I'm hoping that the country will eventually reach an agreeemt that all can live with on LBGT issues.

    Posted by: Mary | Sep 21, 2011 8:07:05 PM

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