Canadian B&B Shutters Rather than Accommodate Gays

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday June 10, 2010

A Canadian couple unwilling to rent a room in their bed and breakfast inn to gays because of their religious faith has shut down the business rather than "violate their religious beliefs" by following anti-discrimination laws on public accommodation, according to a June 10 article in the Vancouver Sun.

The retired couple had renovated their home in British Columbia for the sake of the bed and breakfast, but they decided to shut down the business rather than "violate their religious beliefs" by following public accommodation laws that forbid turning people away because they are gay. After telling a same-sex couple that they could not stay in the room they had already booked because it "wouldn't work out" due to the proprietors' religious beliefs, Lee and Susan Molnar found themselves in the thick of a "firestorm."

"We've been harassed so bad" that they have decided to go out of business altogether, Lee Molnar told the media.

Ronald Smith, the Molnars' attorney, told the press that his clients were "devastated" over their decision to close the B&B's doors rather than be compelled to house gays. "They're just a retired couple in Grand Forks who thought they would open their home to guests and here they are in the centre of a firestorm," Smith told the press. "They're a lovely couple. They don't want to be thought of as discriminating, but they're Christians who don't feel they can violate their religious beliefs."

The Molnars and the couple they turned away were due in court this week over the matter, but the hearing was put off due to the gay couple's lawyer having come down sick.

Shaun Eadie and Brian Thomas booked a room with Susan Molnar last June 18, but after taking the reservation, Lee Molnar called Eadie back to ask whether he and Brian were gay. When Shaun said they were, Molnar told him than, "this is not going to work out."

The gay couple filed a complaint the following month. Lee Molnar responded by seeking to have the complaint tossed out on the grounds that the Molnars are religious people, and "to allow a gay couple to share a bed in my Christian home would violate my Christian beliefs and would cause me and my wife great distress." The B&B had been started in 2002, the article reported, but the Molnars shut the business down last fall because, said Smith, "they don't know what kind of behavior they can say no to in their home. They don't want another human-rights complaint."

The article noted that the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal ruled in favor of Catholic organization the Knights of Columbus five years ago after the K. of C. refused to allow a lesbian couple to rent its hall for their wedding.

"It's the same argument that on religious grounds (the Knights of Columbus) had the right to refuse to rent to them," Smith told the press. "But the other side will argue you still have to accommodate them. So the question becomes, where does one right end and the other right begin?"

The case bears striking similarities to a case in the U.K. that unfolded earlier this year. Susanne Wilkinson, owner of the Swiss B&B in Cookham, England, reportedly told Michael Black and his partner John Morgan that it was "against her convictions" to allow the men to share a room and refused them accommodations--even though Britain's anti-discrimination laws forbid denial of goods and services based on sexual orientation.

The men, residents of Cambridgeshire, arrived at the B&B on March 19 after having booked their room in advance, only to be turned away, reported U.K. newspaper the Daily Express on March 22. Black told the media that, "when we got out of the car she was immediately distant and unfriendly and then she said, 'It's a double room,' and we said, 'Yes.' She said, 'It's a large double bed in a double room,' and we said, 'Yes,' and then she said it was against her convictions to let us stay."

The men protested being turned away and cited the anti-discrimination law, the article said. Wilkinson responded that the house was private property. "She said she was sorry and she was polite in a cold way and she was not abusive," said Black, "so we asked our money back and she gave it to us."

"They gave me no prior warning and I couldn't offer them another room as I was fully booked," Wilkinson told the press. "I don't see why I should change my mind and my beliefs I've held for years just because the Government should force it on me."

"We were very shocked, and of course angry, that it happened. Neither of us has ever experienced homophobia before and I have been out since 1974," Black said. "We felt we were treated like lepers and not fit to be under the same roof as her." As for Wilkinson's statement that she should have had "prior warning" that the men were a same-sex couple, Black said, "It would be like saying to someone who runs a guest house, 'I'm black or Muslim or blue-eyed,' just in case they have a problem with it. There is no reason why we had to make it clear we were two men in this day and age." Added Black, "We have stayed in plenty of guest houses in Britain and abroad and have never had a problem."

"In open-and-shut cases of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation the law's quite clear," said Derek Munn, the director of public affairs for GLBT advocacy group Stonewall. "It's illegal for businesses to turn away gay customers or discriminate against them when providing goods or services, and this can't be overridden by personal prejudice."

"We are Christians and we believe our rights don't have to be subordinated," said Wilkinson's husband, Francis. "We have religious freedom and we are not judging that, but we are not prepared to have that sort of activity under our roof." Mr. Wilkinson said that he and his wife had "already been inundated with abusive calls and emails. It is really sad that people act like that."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.