US Supreme Court rebuffs Hawaii B&B that turned away lesbian couple
U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a new dispute involving gay and religious rights, leaving in place a lower court ruling against a Hawaii bed and breakfast owner who turned away a lesbian couple, citing Christian beliefs.

The justices refused to hear an appeal by Phyllis Young, who runs the three-room Aloha Bed & Breakfast in Honolulu, of the ruling that she violated a state anti-discrimination law by refusing to rent a room to Diane Cervilli and Taeko Bufford in 2007.

A state court ruled that Young ran afoul of Hawaii’s public accommodation law, which among other things bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Litigation will now continue to determine what penalty Young might face.

Young said her decision to turn away the same-sex couple was protected by her right to free exercise of religion under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

The case was appealed to the nine justices in the wake of the high court’s narrow 2018 decision siding with a baker from Colorado who refused based on his Christian beliefs to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. That decision did not resolve the question of whether business owners can claim religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

The justices merely decided that a Colorado state commission did not handle the case against the baker appropriately and sent the dispute back for further proceedings. In October, the commission threw out its case against the baker.

The Supreme Court in that case also did not address important claims including whether baking a cake is a kind of expressive act protected by the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee, a question not raised in the Hawaii case.

The conservative-majority court has a separate appeal pending involving a different bakery, in Oregon, that refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

In the Hawaii case, Cervilli and Bufford sued in 2011 and were joined in the litigation by the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, a state agency. They are no longer a couple.

Young is Catholic and “the only romantic partners allowed to share a bedroom are a married man and woman,” her lawyers said in court papers. Young argued among other things that she could not be sanctioned because private homes that rent fewer than four rooms are exempt from Hawaii’s housing laws. Young appealed to the Supreme Court after the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled against her in 2018.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham