Gay couple clashes with Christian bed and breakfast owners over right to stay

Does freedom of religion trump the right not to be discriminated against due to sexual orientation?

This question is at the core of a complaint before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. It involves a Christian couple, two gay lovers, and the use of a home-based bed-and-breakfast.

In a March 3, 2010, written decision that paves the way for a hearing by denying an application for dismissal, tribunal member Murray Geiger-Adams recounted the background of the dispute based on the submissions made by the parties.

Shaun Eadie and Brian Thomas wanted to book the Swan Room of the Riverbend Bed and Breakfast. The B & B is at the home of Les and Susan Molnar in Grand Forks, a community in the southern Interior. The Molnars are Protestants and evangelical Christians.

On June 18, 2009, Eadie reserved the room through a telephone conversation with Susan Molnar. A few minutes later, Les Molnar called Eadie and asked whether or not he and Thomas were a couple.

In their complaint, Eadie and Thomas stated that after hearing Eadie confirm that they were together, Les told him: “Then this is not going to work out.” Les claimed that he said: “I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s going to work out.”

“Wow,” Eadie responded and hung up. No further discussions followed. Eadie and Thomas subsequently filed their complaint.

Les doesn’t deny that he rejected the reservation because to “allow a gay couple to share a bed in my Christian home would violate my Christian beliefs and cause me and my wife great distress”.

The Molnars asserted that “our private dwelling house should have a modified standard” under the B.C. Human Rights Code “because of our religious (moral) beliefs”.

For their part, Eadie and Thomas claimed that they belong to a group protected under the code and that their sexual orientation was directly linked to the denial of their reservation at the Molnars’ B & B.

However, the Molnars believe that their actions are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the freedoms of religion and association.

Geiger-Adams wrote that he understood the Molnars’ contention that they were “responding in good faith to their perception of what would make all their guests and themselves comfortable”, and that they didn’t intend ill will.

But he noted that “it is not a respondent’s intention, but the effect of their conduct on a complainant, which is relevant in considering whether discrimination has occurred.”

The Molnars wanted the tribunal to dismiss the complaint without a hearing. However, Geiger-Adams dismissed their application.

Citing a couple of past cases involving the conflict between religious beliefs and protection from discrimination, Geiger-Adams wrote that “balancing competing rights is a legally and factually complicated exercise, for which the Tribunal requires detailed evidence.”

One of these cases was decided by a tribunal panel in a decision released on November 29, 2005. It arose after Tracey Smith and Deborah Chymyshyn were denied the use of a Lower Mainland hall they’d rented from the Knights of Columbus. The Catholic organization did so after learning that the hall was to be used for a reception following a same-sex marriage.

The Knights argued that they opposed same-sex weddings and that this is at the core of their religious beliefs.

Ruling in favour of Smith and Chymyshyn, the panel relied on the “concept of undue hardship”.

“Although we have accepted that the Knights could refuse access to the Hall to the complainants because of their core religious beliefs, in the Panel’s view, in making this decision they had to consider the effect their actions would have on the complainants,” the panel stated in the decision.

They were not required to find another hall for the complainants but they could have offered a formal apology, immediately reimbursed the complainants, or helped them find another venue.

“This type of accommodation would not have required them to act contrary to their core religious beliefs and, according to the evidence of Ms. Smith, would have been understood by the complainants and respected,” the panel noted.

With regard to the complaint filed by Eadie and Thomas, the respondents themselves, according to Geiger-Adams’s account, acknowledged that the gay couple felt distress and anger at the way they were treated.

Comments (53) Add New Comment
Emil
Aww the gay couple felt distress and anger at the way they were treated The poor dears HEY other people have rights too!!! But they are shrinking more and more each day.
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Alexandra
To Emil:

Yes, gay people have rights! Just like black people, the disabled, and EVERYONE ELSE. So I'm guessing you're a homophobic biggot who doen't want them to have rights? It's not their fault government took away other people's rights. But I'm sure if they were black, you wouldn't have that attitude about it, would you? You need to get over your own petty feelings and see the bigger picture. If this was done to you, you would probably have a cow. Ever heard this little poem?

In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Just some food for thought, ya jerk.
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Tri
Emil wrote

"Aww the gay couple felt distress and anger at the way they were treated The poor dears HEY other people have rights too!!! But they are shrinking more and more each day."

Rights to what? Discriminate? Maybe when a Muslim goes to bed and breakfast, he/she should be turned away because it's in "contravention of Protestant teachings"? How about Buddhists, atheists, Hindus, Jewish?

People like the knucklehead Emil should learn to keep up with the times or they will be looked at like some sort of troglodytes in his/her own country.
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Nathaniel
My first thought was: Grand Forks... and the couple is really surprised??!

'“Wow,” Eadie responded and hung up.'

Wow?? It's Grand Forks! DUH!!
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T.J.
I think it's illegal, since Riverbend Bed and Breakfast is most emphatically a public business. Running a B & B just for the Molnars and their like-minded friends wouldn't be very profitable.

I think the gay couple will win in the courts, but...I honestly don't think that will change anything. All the legal success of the gay couple will do is make the fundie couple feel even more strongly that a) they're being persecuted for being Christian; b) that the modern world is drifting ever further from what God wants (and fundies are always very certain that they know EXACTLY what God wants); and c) that they and others like them have to try harder than ever to bring America back to the religious right, so that all fundies can discriminate legally, according to Leviticus. Because they will never admit that America is not a theocracy, or that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, rather than the Bible.

On the other hand, if the gay couple didn't sue in court, that would just send a tacit message that the fundies had the right to discriminate against customers in their business, which they don't. And that would send entirely the wrong message.

That's what I mean when I say that there's no way to win this one. Either you do nothing and give them silent permission to be discriminatory, or you fight them and reinforce their private view of themselves as righteous Christian martyrs being victimized by the evil, corrupt world which is ever so eager to take away their rights. Either way, there's no way to get fundies to stop, and there's no way to make them see that they're doing anything wrong.
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Paul in Toronto
So, allowing a gay couple to stay in their (publically registered) B&B would be in conflict with their Christian religious views.... what Christian religious views.... are they the same ones Jesus would espound? Don't think so Mulnars - you're not religious, or Christian.. just run-of-the-mill, backwoods bigots.
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MB
There is also an element of disclosure in advertising. Could a gay couple know they were not welcome to make a reservation? It seems not. It might me nice to know all the types of people any one b&b does not want. If disclosure was the name of the game, then they would only have other insular petty Chirstian types as guests.
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Nathaniel
Seriously. It's Grand Forks.

Have any of you ever even been there?

I totally agree, it's wrong for the B&B to turn this couple away. But it's pure idealism. We live in the *REAL WORLD* where small towns are usually extremely conservative. If this had happened around Vancouver, I'd be shocked... but Grand Forks? Population of 4000, in the heart of the BC bible belt. No surprise!
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Nathaniel
Let the money talk. Go to gay-friendly B&B's who advertise as such, and the unfriendly B&B's will lose business. That *will* actually change something, much unlike suing a Ma and Pa with hopes of proving a point.

B&B's are public businesses? Really? Does the government own them? Come on. You're bending the meaning of "public" and "private". Should women be allowed in gay bathhouses as well? Technically, yes.. but you can guess how well that would turn out...
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whiteknight
The B&B should have the right to turn away any would be customers for any reason without having to explain themselves to you me or the kangaroo court that is human right commision. It is thier house, on thier private property. To Alexandra I like your analogy of the Nazi's but you fail to realize that first it is the government prying into these people's private property then mine and soon enough government regulation will come knocking at your door. Out to T.J wich stock market is the public B&B on I have not been able to locate it. Oh probably because its PRIVATE, on what PRIVATE PROPERTY.
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Paul in SLO
I have a question. If an non married couple want to book a room and sleep in the same bed would they be told that they could not stay there because it goes aginst their Christian beliefs? I thought the Bible taught us to open are hearts and homes and that all are welcome.
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Freedom?. Nope.
Goes to show, the Xtians are closed minded backwards and prejudice. Which is why I dont like churches or any religions for that matter.
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Stevo
Yes, some religious people will point to this and scream "Persecution!" to high heaven. As one blogger has already spun it, "HOMOSEXUALS ... TERRORIZE CHRISTIAN B&B OWNERS"!

Truth is, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal in our society. The B&B owners admit they discriminate but claim a higher authority, their personal religious belief (perhaps based on the Bible or church teaching). In the end we'll see if they take responsibility for their civil disobedience or undermine social order by claiming to be above the law.

But in the long run, this conflict (gays against the gospel, according to the blogger) is temporary. Eventually people who hold traditional, discriminatory beliefs will change their minds. It's already happening, even among the most conservative Christians. For example, Stephen Harper (Christian Missionary Alliance) condemns the proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda which was inspired by even more fundamentalist believers.

If Tutu was right, that the arc of history bends toward justice, then bigotry will give way, over time, to tolerance and equality. But only if we're willing to stand up against injustice, even in the small things. Even in Grand Forks.
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LOL @ religious bigots
At first blush, this case seems extremely easy to adjudicate.
If you're running a public service, you have to provide it to the public. (Within reason: no one is required to rent to a drunk with needles hanging out of their arms, and/or Lindsay Lohan.)
But then, there are all sorts of exceptions -- schools organized among gender or religious lines, for example.
I think there has to be some common sense. I would like it if bigots would take a cue from the gays and hang a small flag outside their business (e.g. the Confederate battle flag, or a swastika) to indicate that their place is only for morons like themselves.
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Nestor B. Schmutzer
One cannot help but wonder why these pious inn-keepers have not posted a big disclaimer on both their website and their property reading "No Sodomists Welcome" long ago, seeing as the thought of two people in love who happen to be of the same sex occupying one of their rooms apparently causes them such distress. In fact, had they been kind enough to indicate that their establishment was run in accordance with strict evangelical mores, people who do not share their delusions might have had the chance to steer clear of it in the first place.
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Pegasez
What, was their money the wrong colour?
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TheGayManifesto
You know it's too bad the owners of the manger didn't discriminate against pregnant virgins...

www.TheGayManifesto.com
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electro
Religious hard-asses shouldnt run lodging style businesses anyway. I bet if a child molester or the KKK knocked on their door it would be ok to stay.
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win them over with...
I wholly disagree with the Molnar's decision, but I think we have a lot to learn from people like MLK Jr, Desmond Tutu, and even Jesus, for that matter, as to how to respond to unkind people.

The Molnar's rejection of the gay couple is obviously fear-based, that the couple would somehow "contaminate" their "sacred space". Brother.
Well, as ridiculous and ironically un-christian as their action was, the likelihood that the Molnar's actually wish the gay couple harm is very, very low.
So, what's the response? How do we show backwoods people that gay people are kind, thoughtful, intelligent and gracious? Well, maybe by taking the high road from time to time.

NOT that we should accept true abuse, but in the case of dealing with someone who's simply afraid, like a lot of christians are, maybe an approach other than the typical 'freaking out and suing' would be a wise one.

So like I say, look at who truly changed history: Jesus, Ghandi, Tutu, MLK Jr, Mandela, to name a few.
Let's stick up for ourselves, by all means, but in the process of standing up for rights, be kind and respectful to those who oppose us.
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April
As a long time resident of Grand Forks, I resent the awful comments about Grand Forks residents being intolerant. I have lived here for over 20 years and never found this to be true.

To Nathaniel who said :"Seriously. It's Grand Forks. Have any of you ever even been there?...Population of 4000, in the heart of the BC bible belt. No surprise!"

You are sorely misinformed and your own ignorance is showing. Most of the people in this town are friendly, tolerant and open-minded. I would never colour a whole town with the actions of TWO of its residents. Think straight.
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