CHICAGO — An appeals court has dismissed claims by a downstate Bed & Breakfast owner that the owner's discrimination against a gay couple seeking to use the facility for their civil union ceremony was justified by religious beliefs. The full Illinois Human Rights Commission ruled last year that the owners of Timber Creek Bed and Breakfast had violated Illinois law and discriminated against Mark and Todd Wathen in denying the Wathens' use of the facility in 2011.
The owners of the facility, who argued they were protected against discrimination charges on the basis of their religious beliefs, had responded to the Wathens' request to host their civil union ceremony at Timber Creek by describing the Wathens' long-term relationship as "unseemly" and "vile." The Human Rights Commission rejected the owner's claims of religious liberty and found Timber Creek in violation of Illinois law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Timber Creek appealed the Commission's ruling to the Illinois appellate court, which rejected the claims as well.
"We are thrilled by the court's ruling," said Todd Wathen of downstate Illinois. "We hope that this brings an end to this matter and sends a very clear signal to all businesses in Illinois that they must follow our state's laws."
"It is important that the Illinois Human Rights Commission's final order stands," added John Knight of the ACLU of Illinois who helped represent the Wathens in the case. "With this ruling, Illinois joins court decisions from New Mexico, Washington and New York clarifying that business owners serving the public may not refuse to serve lesbians and gay men because of their religious beliefs."
"Today marks the end of a long struggle to redress the blatant and profound discrimination that Mark and Todd suffered at the hands of this owner," said Betty Tsamis of the Tsamis Law Firm who worked on the case. "The message is now clear — no couple can be denied the use of a public wedding venue because they are gay or lesbian."
"This was a long process, but the issue was critical to resolve," added Clay Tillack, cooperating counsel in the case and a lawyer in the Chicago office of Schiff Hardin LLP. "There can be no doubt about the state of the law in Illinois after this matter has been resolved — discrimination in publicly available venues simply is not permitted."
The Commission's final order requires Timber Creek to never again turn away a same-sex couple who wish to host a celebration of their relationship at the facility and to pay damages and attorneys' fees to the Wathens. That order now is final after the appellate court's rejection of the owners' appeal.