Illinois Inn Fined for Refusal to Host Civil Union Ceremony

Illinois Inn Fined for Refusal to Host Civil Union Ceremony

By: M. Scott Gordon

If you want to have a civil union ceremony in Chicago, are you free to rent any location you choose, or can an establishment in the Chicago area refuse to host a civil union ceremony by claiming that “homosexuality is immoral and unnatural”? This is not simply a hypothetical question. To be sure, according to a recent article in Time Magazine, the Illinois Human Rights Commission issued a fine of $80,000 to an Illinois inn because it “refused to host a civil union ceremony for a same-sex couple.” Civil unions—and same-sex marriage, too—are legal in the state of Illinois. Why did this establishment discriminate against the couple?

Inn in Illinois Ordered to Pay Damages for LGBT Discrimination

In theory (and under the law), a same-sex couple should not have to face discrimination from hosting establishments when choosing a venue for a civil union or same-sex marriage ceremony. However, the recent situation is a reminder about the complications of same-sex unions in Illinois and across the country. How did this happen? In short, according to the article, a same-sex couple contacted the TimberCreek Bed & Breakfast to discuss the possibility of TimberCreek hosting the couple’s civil union ceremony. The facility refused to host, however. Instead, the inn’s owner responded to the same-sex couple by e-mail, informing them that “homosexuality is immoral and unnatural.”

The members of the same-sex couple filed a discrimination lawsuit. In response to the lawsuit, an administrative law judge in Illinois ordered the inn to pay damages to the couple totaling $15,000 each, according to a separate article in the Windy City Times. Those damages are intended to compensate for emotional distress. In addition, as the Time Magazine article pointed out, the Illinois Human Rights Commission has also fined the inn $80,000 for its refusal to provide services to same-sex couples.

Consequences of Violating the Illinois Human Rights Act

In addition to ordering damages, the administrative law judge also ordered the following:

  • For TimberCreek to cease and desist from violating the Illinois Human Rights Act;
  • For TimberCreek to provide access to the inn for the plaintiffs within one year for a civil union ceremony; and
  • Attorneys’ fees and costs totaling $50,000.

One of the plaintiffs in the same-sex couple, Todd Wathen, expressed his reaction to the judge’s decision: “We 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.” Wathen also underscored that the judge’s decision to award compensatory damages makes clear that he and his partner “suffered a real harm” as a result of the inn’s violation of the Human Rights Act.

It can be difficult for same-sex couples to understand their rights when it comes to civil unions and same-sex marriages, particularly since many of the laws governing these legal relationships are relatively new for Chicago area residents. If you have questions or concerns about your rights regarding a civil union or same-sex marriage, an experienced Chicago family law attorney can assist with your case. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC today to learn more about how we can help.