Panel backs Paxton B&B penalty
SPRINGFIELD — A three-member panel of the Illinois Human Rights Commission has declined to contest an administrative law judge's finding that the owner of a bed-and-breakfast west of Paxton discriminated against a same-sex couple seeking to hold their civil-union ceremony there.
Commissioners Duke Alden, Terry Cosgrove and Patricia Bakalis-Yadgir entered an order saying they have "declined further review" of the "recommended order and decision" that administrative law judge Michael Robinson entered in March against the B&B — and the $80,000 in fines and other penalties that come with it.
"The parties are hereby notified that the administrative law judge's recommended order and decision, entered on March 22, 2016, has become the order of the commission," reads the one-page document, which was sent to attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants.
In fall 2015, Robinson ruled that the B&B's co-owner, Jim Walder, violated the civil rights of Todd and Mark Wathen, formerly of Mattoon and now of Tuscola, by denying them access to the facility based on their sexual orientation. The landmark ruling marked the first time that the Human Rights Commission made clear that businesses in Illinois must serve the entire public and cannot pick and choose based on their personal religious views.
Last March, Robinson recommended penalties that included the B&B paying $30,000 to the couple for their emotional distress; paying the Wathens' attorneys $50,000 in fees and $1,218 in costs; ceasing and desisting from violating the Human Rights Act; and offering the Wathens access to the facility, within one year, for an event celebrating their civil union.
Despite the panel's decision, the matter could still be appealed to the full commission by Walder's attorney, Jason Craddock of Chicago. Another possible scenario is that the decision will be appealed in an Illinois appellate court.
"It is certainly possible," Walder said in an email Tuesday regarding the latter option. "We will be conferring with counsel to decide on a path forward."
Walder called the panel's decision "disappointing," but he added that "it will not change our policy." Walder was referring to a policy that remains explicitly stated on the TimberCreek B&B's website, saying the business "cannot host civil unions or gay marriages" because "we cannot be part of what God condemns."
"For thousands of years homosexuality has been considered sodomy and gay marriage an abomination — civilly and Biblically," Walder said Tuesday. "We choose to remain consistent in obeying long-held civil understanding and biblical teaching on both."
John Knight, an attorney for the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement Tuesday that the commissioners' decision "once again sends a clear message that denying couples the use of a public wedding venue in Illinois because they are gay or lesbian is simply not permitted.
"Business owners cannot pick and choose to follow laws simply because they personally disagree with same-sex couples' decision to marry," said Knight, the director of the LGBT & HIV Project at the ACLU of Illinois. "Fortunately, we have not seen many examples of this type of blatant discrimination since the same-sex couples have had the freedom to marry in Illinois."
Will Brumleve is editor of the Ford County Record, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit fordcountyrecord.com.