Hawaii Supreme Court hands anti-LGBTQ hate group a post-‘Masterpiece Cakeshop’ defeat

Reverse discrimination is not a winning argument.

Hawaii Supreme Court hands anti-LGBTQ hate group a post-'Masterpiece Cakeshop' defeat. Above: The couple at the center of the case, Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford. (Photo credit: Lambda Legal)
Hawaii Supreme Court hands anti-LGBTQ hate group a post-'Masterpiece Cakeshop' defeat. Above: The couple at the center of the case, Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford. (Photo credit: Lambda Legal)

The Hawaii Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from a bed & breakfast that refused to serve a same-sex couple nearly six years ago. It’s the latest defeat for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the anti-LGBTQ hate group that defended the baker at the center of Masterpiece Cakeshop who refused to serve a same-sex couple.

The case dates all the way back to 2012, when Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford, a same-sex couple, sought lodging from the Aloha B&B. Its owner, Phyllis Young, refused to let them stay there because she believes homosexuality — and allowing a same-sex couple to stay together — violated her religious beliefs. The couple sued because Hawaii prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and in 2013, a state judge ruled against Young.

Represented by ADF, Young appealed, but it wasn’t until this past February that a Hawaii appeals court issued a ruling — once more in the couple’s favor. Young subsequently appealed the decision a second time, and the Hawaii Supreme Court announced this week it was not taking the case, leaving the February decision against the owner in place.

It’s the second consecutive defeat ADF has faced since it claimed victory in the U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop last month, even though the Court punted in that instance, granting a victory on a unique technicality. Days later, an Arizona appeals court ruled against a pair of calligraphers represented by ADF who are challenging Phoenix’s nondiscrimination protections. ADF has since filed an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court, falsely claiming the court ignored Masterpiece Cakeshop, even though the court cited the decision extensively and still ruled against ADF’s anti-gay clients.


ADF typically responds to all decisions in cases it represents, usually with a promise to appeal, but curiously, it has been silent about the developments in the Aloha B&B case. Indeed, ADF’s page dedicated to the case hasn’t even been updated with the February decision.

This could be because the case doesn’t fit ADF’s strategy of focusing on anti-gay wedding vendors, who they regularly claim “serve all customers” but who just don’t want to provide services related to same-sex couples’ weddings. Refusing to serve all customers the same menu is still discrimination, but they insist, for example, that a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding is somehow a different product — even if it’s identically designed. Young, however, threaded no such needle when she told Cervelli and Bufford that they couldn’t stay at Aloha B&B specifically because of their sexual orientation.

But ADF did represent Young, and offered a variety of different arguments as to why her discrimination should be legal. They tried to claim, for example, that a law applying to landlords should apply instead, because the housing discrimination law doesn’t apply to homes with four or fewer rooms. But Aloha B&B is not an apartment building, Young is not a landlord, and Young’s customers don’t sign leases when they stay there.

ADF also argued that requiring Young to abide by the nondiscrimination law violated her rights to privacy, intimate association, and free exercise of religion.

The Court was rather pointed in rejecting these arguments. Responding to the privacy claim, the Court pointed out that, “to the extent that Young has chosen to operate her bed and breakfast business from her home, she has voluntarily given up the right to be left alone.” Likewise, Young operates Aloha B&B to make money, not to develop “deep attachments and commitments to its customers.”


The “religious liberty” argument didn’t prevail any better. The Court highlighted the fact that “Young’s religious beliefs do not compel her to operate a bed and breakfast business.” Moreover, if she wanted to profit off those rooms, she could actually rent them out as long-term housing and qualify for the “Mrs. Murphy” exemption. The state’s compelling interest in protecting people from discrimination supersedes Young’s desire to discriminate.

The case is a compelling reminder that ADF’s goal is to allow all forms of discrimination against LGBTQ people, even if their narrative these days focuses on wedding vendors.