A few days ago, Kristen Stewart (not that one), a manager at the University Club reception hall in Moline, Illinois, turned away a potential customer because she didn’t approve of her sexual orientation.
It was the same story we’re used to by this point: The owner or employee begins to tell the customer about the facility over the phone, finds out that the customer’s partner is of the same gender, and then flatly denies service to them.
Taylor Shumaker says she called the University Club on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 to inquire about the place. She says bar manager Kristen Stewart offered to give Shumaker a tour and asked if her fiance would be coming.
“And she asked if ‘he’ would be coming and I just said, ‘No, it’s not actually a ‘he’, it’s a ‘she.’ And she said, ‘Excuse me?’” recounted Shumaker.
“I said, ‘It’s a woman,’ and she said, ‘Oh, we don’t rent to homosexual couples’”
When interviewed by the local news, Stewart was unapologetic:
I am a biblical Christian and I do not believe in homosexual marriage, that’s correct. And because marriage is a covenant that God created for man and woman, as a biblical Christian, I cannot help them into or celebrate that sin.
Stewart’s husband Perry (whose family apparently doesn’t hold the same views as his wife) is the president of the University Club and he issued a statement saying that his wife “mis-spoke,” adding that he was very sorry this happened.
I have attended a wedding reception at the University Club in the past. It’s a lovely place. It is also a “public accommodation.” Contrary to what the name might suggest, it is not a private club, so it is therefore subject to non-discrimination laws like the Illinois Human Rights Act. Because the business is open to the public, and because the law specifically prohibits refusal of service on the basis of sexual orientation, Kristen Stewart’s actions were probably illegal.
From the articles I’ve read, it appears that Perry Stewart had every reason to know how his wife would react to this sort of situation, and he still allowed her to handle the bookings. (He has said that she will no longer do so.) He insists that the establishment has an “open door policy.”
One report even says Perry Stewart will make a donation to a gay and lesbian organization as a way to make amends.
It doesn’t look like Taylor Shumaker intends to sue, but she would probably be successful if she did. Several other establishments have offered the use of their facilities for free. Great PR move on their part, I think.
There has been a lot of debate about whether this sort of thing violates an owner’s free exercise of religion… mostly from people who don’t understand that free exercise is not an absolute right. If they want to ban gay people, they must not hold their doors open to the public. It’s as simple as that.
These rules come from our priorities as a society. I personally think that it’s far preferable to punish discrimination with punitive damages than to protect religious exercise in a person’s business practices. No one is saying Kristen Stewart can’t go to church, or donate to an anti-gay organization, or patronize Chik-Fil-A, but discrimination against people in a protected class is just not a protected right. And that’s good.
***Update***: According to an email statement put out by the University Club, Kristen Stewart has resigned:
In the statement, Mr. Stewart said he first wanted to express the University Club’s “deepest apologies” to Taylor Shumaker of Davenport, the woman who had inquired about renting the venue.
The apology also was extended to “the entire community, for all the deep hurt that was caused by Kristen’s mistake by expressing her own personal beliefs while representing the University Club.
“The University Club has and always will have an open door policy in which all are welcome.”