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Gay couple files complaints over bed-and-breakfasts
News update posted Nov. 2, 2011
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times
2011-11-09

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A gay couple has filed complaints with the Illinois Human Rights Commission against two downstate bed-and-breakfast inns that allegedly refused to host their civil-union ceremony.

Todd and Mark Wathen of Mattoon, Ill., allege that both the Timber Creek Bed and Breakfast and Beall Mansion Bed and Breakfast discriminated against them by refusing to host their legally recognized ceremony.

The Wathen's attorneys—Betty Tsamis of Chicago, and John Knight and Harvey Grossman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois—announced the filing Nov. 2 in a news release.

In August, the Department of Human Rights announced it had found "substantial evidence" supporting their claims and gave the couple three months to file complaints.

According to the complaints, filed individually on behalf of both Mark and Todd, the Wathens inquired with the inns in February, in anticipation of having a ceremony when civil unions went into effect in June. Both of the inns turned them away, they said.

"We were thrilled that Illinois provided legal recognition to our relationship," said Todd Wathen in the statement. "It hurt to face this blatant discrimination just as the state was making such progress in treating lesbian and gay couples fairly."

The complaint alleges that Jim Belote, Beall Mansion owner, told Todd Wathen in an email that his inn was only performing "traditional weddings."

"At this time, we don't do civil unions ( same sex or opposite sex ) ," Belote wrote in an email, which is attached to the complaint. "Nor do we do wedding rehearsal dinners ( same sex or opposite sex ) ."

The email goes on to say that both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are welcome to stay at the inn.

Belote was reached by phone but declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Following their lack of success booking at the Beall Mansion, the Wathens contacted Jim Walden at Timber Creek. In an email response to their inquiry, Walden told Todd Wathen that his inn would "never" host same-sex civil unions or weddings because "we believe homosexuality is wrong and unnatural based on what the bible says about it."

According to the complaints, Walden followed his response unsolicited three days later, citing verses on how "The Creator of the Earth looks at the gay lifestyle."

"It is not too late to change your behavior," the email stated. "He is loving and kind and ready to forgive all men their trespasses, including me."

"We knew that these facilities were breaking the law by discriminating against us," said Mark Wathen in a statement. "But to keep pushing at us by continuing to send us messages about their religious beliefs made it personal and hurtful."

Currently, the Timber Creek website notes with italicized print, "We do not host civil union ceremonies or civil union receptions."

Walden could not be reached directly for comment.

A Timber Creek receptionist referred Windy City Times to The Alliance Defense Fund ( ADF ) , a self-described "Christian legal alliance defending religious liberty, sanctity of life, marriage, and the family." A 2005 Southern Poverty Law Center report listed ADF as one the top 12 most influential anti-gay groups in the country.

ADF did not respond to a request to comment in time for publication.

Citing the Illinois Human Rights Act, the Wathens have asked for monetary awards and an end to the discriminatory practice.

"When a business is open to the public in Illinois, they cannot discriminate against a couple based on their sexual orientation—that is the law," said Tsamis in the news statement. "This case is important to ensure that the State's public accommodations law reflects fairness and equality and that the law is followed by all businesses."


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