Oct 18, 3:30pm
The BC Human Rights Tribunal concluded hearings into a complaint filed by Shaun Eadie and Brian Thomas, a gay couple who say they were discriminated against by a Grand Forks bed and breakfast based on their sexual orientation.
Closing statements by the attorneys for the gay couple and the Christian owners of the Riverbend Bed and Breakfast were the focus of the final day’s proceedings.
In her closing statement, the gay couple’s attorney, Devyn Cousineau, asked the tribunal to uphold the purposes of the BC Human Rights Code, as well as the complainants’ right to participate in a marketplace free from discrimination.
“I think at the end of the day the complainants asked that this not be a case where we take a giant step backwards in the protection of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and other people who experience discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Cousineau said. “It’s taken a long time to get here, and enough is enough. The code protects gay people accessing a service made available to the public, and they are not to be denied that service on the basis of sexual orientation in the absence of some proof of undue hardship, not hardship.”
The B&B owners’ attorney, Ron Smith, argued that Les and Susan Molnar should not have been able to deny accommodations based on sexual orientation if they had owned a motel or a hotel that was separate from their place of residence, which he said is different from a business in both society and law.
“Assume that the Molnars were not operating a bed and breakfast but renting a suite in their home,” tribunal member Enid Marion posited. “Would you then say that the same factors apply and that they would be able to refuse accommodation to a same-sex couple based on their sincerely held religious beliefs?”
“Now you’re in Section 10 of the Act,” replied Smith, referring to the section of the code dealing with discrimination in tenancy premises. “I’ve not done any research on that.”
“But I’m also talking about the concept of the activity taking place in one’s home, which is where you’re drawing the distinction,” Marion said.
“Our position is clear,” said Smith. “Given the unique purpose of this home and its dedication for Christian worship, the Molnars could not allow activities in their home that would offend what they believe is their God and their church.” He pointed out that Les and Susan Molnar’s home was not only a place of business but also where they lived, ministered and held religious fellowship meetings and that the property had been blessed by clergy on two occasions.
Cousineau argued that Section 8 of the code, which deals with discrimination in accommodation, service and facility, makes no exemption for businesses operated in homes and that the Molnars could not change the scope of the Code for their business because it was located in their home. “This isn’t a case where the state or anyone else compelled them to enter a business into their home,” she said. “In making that decision, they knew they were required to comply with the laws of the province, and one of those paramount laws is the Human Rights Code. If people are not prepared to run a business in accordance with the Human Rights Code, or if they feel they cannot do so, then the business might not be for them.”
Smith balked at that suggestion, saying it amounted to the state coercing religious people to violate their beliefs.
“How is the state coercing the Molnars?” Marion asked.
“If this tribunal finds they must either allow same-sex couples to have sexual intercourse in their bed and breakfast or close down their bed and breakfast, then that is in our submission a coercion to violate their deeply felt religious beliefs. Either deny your deeply felt religious beliefs or close down your bed and breakfast,” Smith contended.
Smith drew comparisons between this case and the 2005 Knights of Columbus case in which the BC Human Rights Tribunal upheld the Knights of Columbus’s religious freedom when it ruled they didn’t have to rent their hall for a lesbian wedding, contrary to their core beliefs.
“In that case, like this, the Knights had no written policy in place that the hall could be rented out for certain purposes,” said Smith. “There was no external signage that could limit what the hall could be used for. The hall was, in effect, a commercial venture available to the public as a whole. The purpose was not to further a religious purpose but to provide revenue for charitable purposes.”
But Cousineau pointed out that the Molnars were two private individuals operating a business, not a religious institution. “This case is not our case,” she said. “In the Knights of Columbus case, the hall was owned by the archdiocese, operated by the Knights of Columbus with a mandate to promote teachings of the church. Allowing the celebration of a same-sex marriage would have created a serious rupture between the Catholic Church and the Knights. There is no evidence that allowing a same-sex couple to stay in the [Molnars’] business would create a rupture in their church, or that their church would even find out about it.”
As the hearings concluded, Marion informed both sides that they would not have the decision for “probably a little while,” due to a backlog. “It may be several months,” she said.
“I would expect three or four months before a decision is issued because the members have a number of outstanding decisions that we need to address. I will endeavour to get to this as soon as possible, as I know you have been waiting for some time,” Marion concluded.
The BC Human Rights Tribunbal began hearings in Kelowna on Oct 17 into a complaint filed by Shaun Eadie and Brian Thomas, a gay couple who say they were discriminated against by a Grand Forks bed and breakfast that refused to rent them a room with one bed.
Eadie and Thomas seek a ruling that calls on the owners to stop the alleged violation of the BC Human Rights Code, that they refrain from committing the same in the future, and that the tribunal finds the owners’ conduct discriminatory. They also seek financial reimbursement for expenses they incur as a result of the hearings, as well as “somewhere in the region of $2,500 each” for infringement to their dignity, the couple’s attorney, Devyn Cousineau, said.
In June 2009, Eadie spoke with Riverbend Bed and Breakfast co-owner Susan Molnar to book a room for himself and Thomas in advance of a visit to Eadie’s aunt, who lived nearby.
Eadie said that five minutes after he made the booking, co-owner Les Molnar called him back and asked him if he and Thomas were a gay couple. When Eadie informed him that they were, he said that Molnar told him, “This is not going to work out.” Eadie said he replied with a “wow” before hanging up. Molnar told the tribunal he said, “I’m sorry,” and described Eadie’s “wow” as angry. “I said to my wife, ‘Maybe I should phone them back, invite them for breakfast and talk about this.’ She said that he sounded angry and ‘I don’t think we should aggravate him anymore.'”
“It was quite disturbing,” said Eadie. “I just felt when it happened it brought me back to my childhood, where I felt like a second-class citizen, and it was like not being picked for a team and having that outcast feeling again that really touched base. I was just really shocked [that] at this time and age, this would be happening again. I thought I was already past that and wouldn’t have to go through this as an adult.”
Eadie and Thomas filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal the same day.
“Strides have been made for equal rights and you feel stronger, you feel that you belong, and that’s important to people. Some people join churches so they feel like they belong,” said Thomas, pointing to Susan Molnar. “So that’s why I filed a complaint the same day. I don’t tolerate this type of activity, this bigotry. The world’s in a sad state. We don’t need this stuff to carry on.”
But Les Molnar said he had “no issue” with sexual orientation. “It’s the behaviour that the person has, behaviour that is objectionable to our Lord and God, to ourselves and our conscience,” he testified.
“It would be fine if they came and you didn’t have to know that they were gay?” Cousineau asked.
“That’s right,” replied Molnar. He also agreed with Cousineau’s statement that booking two separate rooms might have been the only workable solution.
The Molnars, who describe themselves as conservative evangelical Christians, are members of The Gospel Chapel, a Mennonite Brethren Church in Grand Forks.
“I believe marriage is one woman and one man in a committed relationship, and that God created male and female in the beginning for the sanctity of marriage, and tying it to the production and building of his church,” explained Susan Molnar when her lawyer, Ron Smith, asked what her beliefs about marriage were. She also deemed all sexual behaviour outside of marriage as “sin.”
Regarding room bookings, Susan Molnar said they looked for husbands and wives in a committed relationship, as well as single people. When people contacted them for room bookings, she said, she would ask for the names of the callers’ spouses, if applicable. “It’s part of my standard conversation,” she said.
She testified that she had rented rooms to two people of the same sex in the past, including two travelling nurses, as well as a mother and daughter. Les Molnar recalled renting a room to two men who told him that they had wives in “Victoria or somewhere.” In these three instances, the guests booked rooms with two separate beds.
The Molnars said they had no policies specifically excluding people of different faiths or sexual orientation, but they had expectations about behaviour.
“We would pray on a regular basis [about] behaviours in our home that we might be offended by or our Lord might be offended by,” Les Molnar said. “Drugs, drunkenness, pornography — anything like that which would not go well in our home for the Lord — we would not want it there, so we would pray against it.” His wife testified that she believes her home is a gift from God and is to be used for “his ministry.”
“We had our home blessed by our pastor and his wife when we purchased in 2002 for good works for the Lord, and that ourselves and any activity or behaviour in the home we dedicated to the Lord,” she added. Accordingly, the Molnars included an ichthys, more commonly known as a “Jesus fish,” on their brochures and signage. Les Molnar said it was put on the brochure to identify with other Christians.
But Eadie said he found the business online and there was no indication on any of the websites that the owners were evangelical Christians. Susan Molnar said that the sites on which she put her ads did not allow for religious symbols.
The Molnars testified that they opened their business in April 2007 and shut it down on Sept 5, 2009. They cite the human rights complaint as the reason.
“We wanted to see this issue through,” said Susan Molnar. “It’s never our intent to do anything that would be contrary to a code or anything. And also from the emails I was receiving, it became apparent that there would be no resolution to it.”
Thomas described the alleged discrimination as an affront to his and Eadie’s dignity and said that the tribunal was the only avenue for redress. “I don’t begrudge people difference; if everyone was the same, the world would be a boring place,” he said. “It’s diversity that creates strengths and community. To be a person, or a business, who undermines the very fabric of what makes a community is patently unacceptable to me, and I’ll stand where I have to stand to fight that bigotry in all its forms, especially when it’s done to my person or my partner’s person.”
The hearing continues Oct 18 at 9am.