* Illinois ACLU…
The Illinois Human Rights Commission has declined review and adopted the report and recommendation of an administrative law judge, ruling against a Paxton Bed & Breakfast after its owners denied a downstate couple – Mark and Todd Wathen – access to the facility to celebrate their civil union in 2011. Today’s action comes after an administrative law judge found that the denial of the use of the facility was because the Wathens are gay – a violation of Illinois law. The judge also previously ordered the Bed & Breakfast to pay $30,000 to the Wathens for their emotional distress, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. Most importantly, the owners of the Bed & Breakfast were ordered to cease discriminating against same-sex couples by denying them use of the facilities for marriage and civil union ceremonies.
The Illinois Human Rights Commission refused the Bed & Breakfast’s request to review the administrative law judge’s recommended orders, which makes them the final orders of the Commission.
The following can be attributed to John Knight of the ACLU of Illinois, who along with Betty Tsamis of the Tsamis Law Office and Clay Tillack and Robert A. H. Middleton of Schiff Hardin served as counsel to the Wathens:
The Commission’s decision once again sends a clear message that denying couples the use of a public wedding venue in Illinois because they are gay or lesbian is simply not permitted. Business owners cannot pick-and-choose to follow laws simply because they personally disagree with same-sex couples’ decision to marry.
Fortunately, we have not seen many examples of this type of blatant discrimination since the same-sex couples have had the freedom to marry in Illinois.
The judge’s ruling is here. More background is here.
* Law Bulletin…
Section 5-102(A) of the Human Rights Act states that it is a civil rights violation to deny “the full and equal enjoyment of the facilities, goods, and services” on the basis of race, color, religion, sexual orientation and other categories at a “public place of accommodation” — defined as restaurants, theaters, parks and a broad collection of other types of businesses aimed at convenience and enjoyment.
Robinson found that, because the inn really only declined services to others if, for instance, they couldn’t afford them, that the inn qualified as a public place of accommodation under the law.
He also said the inn owners did not factually back up their defense under the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act — which says that “the government may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it proves a narrowly tailored, compelling interest for doing so.
That defense should be resolved by an appellate court, Robinson wrote. But he added that Timber Creek did not explain how allowing a same-sex ceremony on its premises, especially when its employees were not required to be present at such an event, was “somehow a sub silencio endorsement of anything goes on during that event.”
That logic was spelled out in Robinson’s initial decision in the case on Sept. 15, 2015. His rationale on damages was spelled out in his March order, in which he also briefly contemplated the notion that the Wathens might be “testers” — activists less interested in justice for themselves than in creating legal precedents.
* Associated Press…
Jason Craddock, an attorney for the bed and breakfast owners, said he plans to fight the decision. The owners have been ordered to pay about $80,000 in damages and legal fees and allow same-sex couples access to their facilities. Timber Creek’s website still notes that they do “not host civil union or gay marriage ceremonies and/or receptions.”
Craddock said he wasn’t surprised by the panel’s move and was prepared to ask the whole commission to consider the case and, if necessary, take it beyond the agency to an Illinois appellate court.
[The B&B’s co-owner, Jim Walder] called the panel’s decision “disappointing,” but he added that “it will not change our policy.” Walder was referring to a policy that remains explicitly stated on the TimberCreek B&B’s website, saying the business “cannot host civil unions or gay marriages” because “we cannot be part of what God condemns.”
“For thousands of years homosexuality has been considered sodomy and gay marriage an abomination — civilly and Biblically,” Walder said Tuesday. “We choose to remain consistent in obeying long-held civil understanding and biblical teaching on both.”