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.

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Emil

Mar 11, 2010 at 4:41am

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.

9 17Rating: -8

Alexandra

Mar 12, 2010 at 4:38am

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.

Tri

Mar 12, 2010 at 5:21am

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.

20 7Rating: +13

Nathaniel

Mar 12, 2010 at 10:54am

My first thought was: Grand Forks... and the couple is really surprised??!

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

Wow?? It's Grand Forks! DUH!!

T.J.

Mar 12, 2010 at 11:25am

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 <i>persecuted</i> for being <i>Christian</i>; 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.

Paul in Toronto

Mar 12, 2010 at 12:56pm

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.

17 7Rating: +10

MB

Mar 12, 2010 at 8:01pm

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.

Nathaniel

Mar 12, 2010 at 10:54pm

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!

Nathaniel

Mar 12, 2010 at 11:04pm

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...

17 8Rating: +9

whiteknight

Mar 13, 2010 at 5:17am

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.

18 9Rating: +9
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