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Illinois Hotel Fined For Turning Away Same-Sex Couple Won't Change Policy

By Mae Rice in News on Mar 31, 2016 4:07PM

An lllinois Human Rights Commission judge has ruled that in Illinois, it's illegal, and a fineable offense, for a public business to deny service to same-sex couples due to religious beliefs. Not that fines will be enough to change the policy at TimberCreek Bed & Breakfast, an Illinois establishment recently fined more than $80,000 for refusing to host a same-sex couple's civil union in 2011. (Located in Paxton, the bed and breakfast self-describes as "Christian" in the first sentence of copy on its website.)

"[W]e cannot host a same-sex wedding even though fines and penalties have been imposed by the IL Human Rights Commission," TimberCreek owner Jim Walder said in a statement, published in full below. "Our policy will not be changing."

The couple Walder turned away in 2011—Todd and Mark Wathen, of Tuscola, IL—reported the incident to the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and the Human Rights Commission took the case to court.

Key evidence in the case was Walder's email to the couple, quoted most extensively by the Tribune: "We will never host same-sex civil unions. We will never host same-sex weddings even if they become legal in Illinois. We believe homosexuality is wrong and unnatural based on what the Bible says about it. If that is discrimination, I guess we unfortunately discriminate." (Walder also incorporated some Bible verses into this email.)

"It was such a slap in the face to be turned down like that," Todd Wathen told the Tribune. "We just wanted to make sure that this didn't happen to anyone else."

Though Walder's attorneys argued, among other things, that applying the Human Rights Act to this case was a violation of the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, they did so to no avail, the Tribune reports. Walder has been ordered by the judge in the case—Administrative Law Judge Michael R. Robinson—to pay $15,000 each to Todd and Mark Wathen for emotional distress. Walder must also pay $50,000 in legal fees and more than $1,000 in costs.

According to Towleroad, Todd Wathen released a statement about the judge's ruling, saying that he and Mark are “very happy that no other couple will have to experience what we experienced by being turned away and belittled and criticized for who we are.” Though Walder will continue to turn away same-sex couples who want to host weddings at his bed and breakfast, the case is still a landmark one for Illinois.

"We've seen this in other states, but this is now the clear interpretation of Illinois public accommodation laws," Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said in a statement. "We hope that no other bed-and-breakfast and no other business in Illinois would be so bold as to discriminate given this ruling."

Here's Walder's statement in its entirety:

Evidently religious freedom does not exist within the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act or the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.

In our opinion, neither the State of Illinois nor the U. S. Supreme Court has the authority to tamper with the definition of marriage. God alone created marriage and declared thousands of years ago that it was to be between a man and a woman. Not two men. Not two women. We may be out of step with an increasingly anti-Christian culture, but we are in compliance with God’s design and that is what ultimately matters.

To be absolutely clear, we cannot host a same-sex wedding even though fines and penalties have been imposed by the IL Human Rights Commission. Our policy will not be changing. We are not looking for a fight, but when immoral laws are purposely passed (or deemed constitutional) that blatantly conflict with God’s Word and when the heavy hand of government tries to force us as Christians to embrace sinful behavior, we have a moral obligation to resist and stand for Biblical truth. “It is better to obey God than men”. Acts 5:29.