An Illinois state panel says it has found "substantial evidence" that two businesses discriminated against a gay couple looking for a venue for their civil union ceremony.
Mark and Todd Wathen, like many same-sex couples in Illinois, were excited at the prospect of legal recognition when the state passed its civil unions law this winter. The partners, who live in downstate Mattoon, Illinois, began looking for places to hold their civil union ceremony.
They contacted two quaint bed-and-breakfasts in the area: the Beall Mansion in Alton, Illinois, near St. Louis, and the TimberCreek Bed and Breakfast in Paxton. Both, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, refused to host them.
CBS Chicago shared some of the email correspondence between the couple and the venues:
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.”
TimberCreek, was more emphatic in its denial. An e-mail reply from Jim Walder stated: “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.”
When informed by Todd Wathen of the new law, Walder replied in an e-mail, “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.”
After receiving the emails, Mark and Todd promptly filed complaints with the Illinois Attorney General's office and the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the Windy City Times reported at the time. The Illinois Human Rights Act forbids businesses open to the public to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
The IDHR issued a ruling in their favor this month, which the couple's lawyer Betty Tsamis released to the media this week. It found that “there is substantial evidence that a civil rights violation has been committed,” the Paxton Record reports.
It's not a final decision, but rather a recommendation that the case be handled before the state's Human Rights Commission or a court of law.
The couple is "elated" that the case is moving forward, and their attorney believes that if the case goes to court, her clients could be "entitled to damages, for emotional distress, attorney fees and punitive damages possibly," she told the Record.
The attorney general's office is still reviewing the case.
Meanwhile, Mark and Todd Wathen ended up holding their ceremony in their backyard on June 4, three days after the civil union law went into effect.