Notice to all American businesses: From now on you will not get away with discriminating against gay couples, so why not just stop? You don’t (I hope) discriminate against blacks and Latinos, so it’s time to take gays off the list of acceptable types of clientele to turn away. Those signs that say “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” are fine to deal with drunks and streakers; not gays. But the Beall Manison and the TimberCreek B&B in Mattoon, Illinois, south of Chicago, haven’t learned this lesson. They allegedly refused to let Todd Wathen and his partner host their civil union ceremony. Too bad: The Illinois Attorney General is now involved.
Turning to the Bible to explain “traditional weddings,” one owner of the venues Wathen tried booking simply told him that gay unions were wrong.
The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, which legalized civil unions for gays, goes into effect in June; Wathen and his partner (who isn’t identified because he’s not fully out) plan to celebrate later that month. But things went awry when they started calling around to see who could host it.
A couple of days after Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill on Jan. 31, Wathen contacted the Beall Manison in Alton and the TimberCreek B&B in Paxton, about 50 miles south of Kankakee, to book a venue for a ceremony and reception. But in an e-mail reply from the Beall Mansion, Wathen was told, “At this point we will just be doing traditional weddings.” Beall’s definition of traditional weddings: “Weddings as opposed to civil unions.” The inn later e-mailed back to say they did not host civil union ceremonies or receptions for either same-sex or heterosexual couples, “nor do we do many other types of events.” Its website, however, boasts “elegant accommodations for pleasure or business, weddings and receptions … corporate retreats … anniversary parties, fund-raising events, bridal and baby showers.”
While the Beall treid to avoid the issue, Timber Creek was more emphatic in its denial. In an e-mail reply to Wathen, Jim A. Walder of the TimberCreek Bed & Breakfast wrote: “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 wrote. When informed of the new law, Walder replied, “The Bible does not state opinions, but facts. It contains the highest laws pertinent to man. It trumps Illinois law, United States law, and global law should there ever be any.”
Know what that is? An admission of violating the Illinois Human Rights Act, which bars sexual orientation discrimination. It should go a long way with the couple’s complaints filed with the state AG and the Department of Human Rights. Maybe the settlement will be enough to, say, pay for a wedding?