2 min

Case pits gay rights vs religious freedom

Evangelical B&B owners refused to rent a room to gay couple

The BC Human Rights Tribunal will hear a complaint from a gay couple who say they were discriminated against by a Grand Forks, BC, bed and breakfast.

But the owners of the bed and breakfast say their religious freedom allowed them to refuse to rent a room with a single bed to Shaun Eadie and Brian Thomas.

The information is detailed in a decision by tribunal member Murray Geiger-Adams, who ordered the case to proceed on March 3.

The bed and breakfast owners had applied for the case to be dismissed.

In a call to the Riverbend Bed and Breakfast on June 18, 2009, Eadie reserved a room through Susan Molnar for June 19 and 20.

However, several minutes later, the decision says Les Molnar called and asked if Eadie and Thomas were a gay couple. Eadie confirmed they were.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s going to work out,” Eadie alleges Molnar told him, according to court documents.

The couple did not stay with the Molnars, who are Protestant evangelical Christians.

Les Molnar acknowledges denying the couple the accommodation they reserved.

Geiger-Thomas quotes Molnar as saying that 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” and would be “encouraging something which I believe to be wrong according to my religious beliefs and understanding of scripture.”

The Molnars submit their “private dwelling house should have a modified standard under the BC Human Rights Code under specific restrictive circumstances because of our religious (moral) beliefs.”

They say they’re protected by their Charter rights to freedom of religion and association. They say that right must prevail over the complainants’ rights to be protected from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Geiger-Adams cites a number of cases, specifically Smith and Chymyshyn v. Knights of Columbus and others.

In that November 2005 case, the BC Human Rights Tribunal upheld the Knights of Columbus’ religious freedom when it ruled they didn’t have to rent their hall to a lesbian wedding that would run contrary to their core beliefs.

Geiger-Adams notes the Molnars may have been acting in good faith. But, he adds, discrimination does not require intention to violate the code. “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,” he writes.

He notes the Molnars call the complaint “trifling and wanting in substance.”

However, he notes Eadie and Thomas experienced “distress and anger” as a result of the situation.

“Proceeding with the complaint may further the purposes of the Code, which include preventing discrimination and providing a means of redress for those who experience it,” Geiger-Adams concluded.

The case is set to be heard May 4 and 5 in Kelowna.