Sunday, September 18, 2011

Refusing Service to Same-sex Civil Unions, A Constitutional Right

























Very shortly after same-sex civil unions became legal in Illinois, a local male couple searched for options of a place to make their partnership official. These men wanted their wedding to be quaint and quiet, just like their lifestyles. In searching for a place to have their wedding, they asked two local Bed and Breakfasts if they could hold a wedding there. According to the article posted in the Chicago Tribune, both places asked said that they would not host a same-sex civil union, one for blatantly religious reasons and one because they will “just be doing traditional weddings.” The two men, Todd and Mark Wathen, are filing a lawsuit against both establishments after filing a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. The Department claimed that there was substantial evidence of a civil rights violation. The couple ended up having the ceremony in their backyard, but refuses to be quiet about their case.


Recently, with many states legalizing same-sex marriage, Americans have seen many similar conflicts arise. Most of these conflicts bring up the constitutional claim that we the people have the right to exercise our religious beliefs freely. In the past, the Supreme Court has stated that “freedom of belief is absolute, but freedom to act cannot be.” For this to be a case of discrimination, it would have to violate the state of Illinois’ Human Rights Act, which protects people that are discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. This then brings up a battle with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which essentially protects religious freedoms from intrusion by the government. As we have often mentioned in class, this opens up a can of worms, or creates a slippery slope, because claiming that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act beats the Human Rights Act is also claiming that people are allowed to discriminate based on religious convictions.


Personally, I feel that both of the Bed and Breakfasts should be allowed to deny the same-sex couple of their establishment for use of a same-sex wedding. Of course, this would have to be true for every same-sex couple. Once an exemption is made, then there would be discrimination. The reasons for my opinion align with strict separationist arguments, that practicing your religion of choice should be unhindered by the government. There is certainly a great deal of grey area here because I do not believe that a religious group or religious people should be allowed to do whatever they want. Here, the owners of the Bed and Breakfasts did not agree with same-sex marriage due to their religious beliefs, so I feel that they should be allowed to deny the couple’s request. The couple could easily find another place that would support their wedding. Also, most Bed and Breakfasts double as the owners’ homes. Don’t we have the right to disallow people we don’t want in our homes from entering them? This makes the issue even easier to decipher for me because had this been a public location, I would have much more trouble backing up the owners of the establishment.


This case reminds me of the situation of door to door promoters. If any religious group comes up to your door, you have the right to not listen to them and to not let them into your home. This can be for any reason, including religious beliefs. Since the Bed and Breakfast is private property, I feel that constitutionally the owners have the right to allow or disallow service to whomever they please.

7 comments:

Annie M said...

I completely agree with Jack. Although it must be sad for the gay couple to be turned down, they could have easily found somewhere else to get married. It is the right of the Bed and Breakfast owners to to feel comfortable in their own property. They should feel no obligation to abandon their beliefs and allow a marriage they don't agree with to take place at their business. It would have been admirable of the couple to simply walk away and respect the Bed and Breakfast owners decision.

Harry R. said...

I disagree with Jack's conclusion based primarily on the depth of the religious beliefs held by the bed and breakfast owners. After the New Jersey Methodist camp case was ruled against the camp, I feel that there is less religious justification in this instance. The bed and breakfasts are not religious establishments which gives less support for the claims of the owners. Their decisions to not have the ceremonies may not be based on religious beliefs as much as personal feelings, and due to the secular nature of their establishments, I feel that the plaintiffs have a strong case.

Ashley R said...

The B&B is private property – and is likely the home of the business owners. You have the right to deny people entry to your home for any reason. Here, the owners are following their religious convictions. The business owners are not harming anyone (N.B. there is no constitutional right to not be offended), they are simply denying services to potential customers. The owners refused this job and are therefore not going to make money off of it because to offer services to gays would violate their religious principles. For the government to demand otherwise would be a gross intrusion upon religious liberties stemming from free exercise.

Liz Petrillo said...

I agree with Jack and Annie. Although I do not believe it is the right thing to do, the bed and breakfast is a private business, and can turn down any customers they desire. I understand the couple's anger towards the bed and breakfast when they said they only hold "traditional weddings" however, the couple should have looked at public places to hold their ceremony. If they had looked at public venues, they would have probably had more luck.

Andrew Lichtenauer said...

I agree with Jack's conclusion. If the state of Illinois has legalized same-sex civil unions, then it should not be difficult for a gay couple to find a non-denominational venue to host their wedding. Also, bed and breakfast's are typically private property. When a particular property is privately owned, its owners are legally allowed by U.S. law to determine who can or cannot set foot on that property.

Mike HJ said...

From the standpoint of the free exercise clause, the couple that refused to hold the ceremony based on religious reasons definitely has a stronger case than the couple that said they would just be holding "traditional marriages." However, while it is true that people have the right to deny other entry into their home, they cannot discriminate against those in a place of business. In this case, the gay couple was not looking to be wed in these people's homes, they were looking to be wed in these places of business. I think that is what you must classify these places as in this instance, especially when they advertise these places as such (I checked their websites). When individuals open up a bed and breakfast, they are establishing a business, and they must adhere to the same laws that other businesses have to.

Sam S said...

I agree with Jack that the bed and breakfasts had the right to not allow the couple to get married because they are a private business and have the right to turn away customers for any reason. This case does bring up an issue, however, of whether we are going to follow the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or the Human Rights Act. As of right now, I feel that we will continue to put the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ahead of the Human Rights Act, but that could change in a few years.