Bed and breakfasts are a great, romantic alternative to staying in a standard hotel. They offer couples a charming getaway, in unique locales, and the warmth of personal service. However, some B&Bs are shutting their doors to some couples with a different lifestyle. Now one of those B&Bs has been fined by the state for discrimination.
In 2011, shortly after Illinois legalized same-sex civil unions, Todd and Mark Wathen decided to celebrate with a civil union ceremony. They decided to have the ceremony at the Timber Creek Bed & Breakfast, in Paxton, Illinois. The B&B advertised itself as a wedding venue, charging anywhere up to $10,000 for couples looking to utilize the facility. However, when the Wathens tried to book the venue, B&B owner Jim Walder refused. They may have just moved on and found another venue if Walder had not later sent an unsolicited email telling them, “homosexuality is immoral and unnatural.”
Under the Illinois Human Rights Act, all individuals have the right to be free from discrimination because of their sexual orientation in connection with employment, real estate transactions, access to financial credit, and the availability of public accommodations. Public accommodations include inns, hotels, motels, or other places of lodging, such as a bed and breakfast.
The Wathens took their case to the Illinois Human Rights Commission. After an investigation, the commission ordered the B&B to pay $30,000 to the couple, in addition to more than $50,000 in legal fees and costs related to the case.
After the decision, the Wathen's spoke out in favor of the commission's decision, “We are very happy that no other couple will have to experience what we experienced by being turned away and belittled and criticized for who we are. In addition, the monetary award represents a recognition by the judge that Mark and I suffered a real harm, that we were embarrassed and humiliated."
However, the commission's decision and penalties appear to have had little impact on Jim Walder. Instead, Walder is claiming his religious freedom rights are being violated. He indicated that the B&B will continue to refuse same-sex couples from using their public accommodations, “To be absolutely clear, we cannot host a same-sex wedding, even though fines and penalties have been imposed by the Illinois Human Rights Commission. Our policy will not be changing."
As part of the ruling, the administrative law judge issued a cease and desist order to Timber Creek against violating the Illinois Human Rights law. Despite this, the Timber Creek B&B website still carries the notice, “We do not host civil union or gay marriage ceremonies and/or receptions.”
If you have been refused service based on sexual orientation, you should consider speaking with an Illinois discrimination attorney to seek justice and make sure your rights are protected. Human rights violations affect you, your family, and even your community. Our attorneys have successfully represented clients in sexual orientation discrimination claims throughout the state of Illinois. If you have suffered physical, financial or emotional injury, contact your experienced Illinois discrimination attorneys at Benassi & Benassi.