MATTOON, Ill. (STMW) — Two central Illinois bed and breakfasts cited in discrimination complaints by a couple who claim they were denied the right to hold a civil union ceremony at the facilities have yet to comment, but the couple says response to their plight has been overwhelming.
Since the story appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times last week, it has been picked up by news outlets and blogs nationwide, and the couple has been heartened by the response, so much so that one of them has now publicly made it known that he is gay.
Only Todd Wathen wanted to go public when the story originally ran because his partner was not out at his job. “He was planning on doing so after our civil union,” in order to “put me on his insurance,” Wathen said.
But his partner, Mark Wathen (Todd took Mark’s last name after a commitment ceremony eight years ago) told his work … and it was great. They are supporting us 100 percent. At least something is going right,” Todd Wathen said.
The two men, both in their mid-40s, have been together for nearly 10 years. Following passage of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, which takes effect in June, they planned for a civil union ceremony later that month.
A couple of days after Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill on Jan. 31, Todd Wathen contacted the Beall Manison in Alton and the TimberCreek B&B in Paxton, about 50 miles south of Kankakee, to book a venue for a ceremony and reception.
But 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. In an e-mail reply to Wathen, Walder wrote: “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,” owner Jim Walder wrote.
Asked about his comments, Walder told the Sun-Times Media Wire this week that he was caught off guard by public reaction to the story, but could not comment further.
“I have comments that I would like to make, but I need to speak with an attorney first. I have been thrown into this controversy without warning,” he said in an e-mail.
When originally 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.”
Three days later on Feb. 18, Walder sent an unsolicited e-mail to Wathen that included links to Bible passages. He wrote, “Hi Todd, I know you may not want to hear this, but I thought I would send along a couple of verses in Romans 1 detailing how the Creator of the Universe looks at the gay lifestyle. It’s not to late to change your behavior.”
The Beall Mansion later e-mailed back to say they did not host civil union ceremonies or receptions for either same-sex or heterosexual couples, “nor do we do many other types of events.”
Its website, however, boasts “elegant accommodations for pleasure or business, weddings and receptions … corporate retreats … anniversary parties, fund-raising events, bridal and baby showers.”
Representatives of the Beall Mansion have not replied to requests for comment.
Wathen said he was taken aback by the response from both inns.
“If they’d just sent the e-mail back and said, ‘Hey, I’m uncomfortable with this,’ or ‘I wouldn’t be the best (place) for this, but I wish you luck’,” the couple wouldn’t have minded being turned down.
But, “They don’t have a right to talk to us like that,” he said.
The Wathens are being represented by Chicago attorney Betty Tsamis.
They filed complaints with the Illinois Attorney General’s office and the Dept. of Human Rights alleging violations of the Illinois Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by businesses open to the public, Tsamis said.
The attorney general’s office is “reviewing the case to determine if these individuals may have been discriminated against over their sexual orientation,” spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said. “If so, that would be a violation of the state’s civil rights law.”
Though they had a commitment ceremony about eight years ago, “This is what we’ve been waiting for — to have the same rights and benefits as a married couple,” Wathen said.
“It seems the only place accepting of this is Chicago,” but the couple doesn’t want to make their family members travel to Chicago, and “we shouldn’t have to go through the whole state of Illinois” to find a place that would be willing to host the ceremony.
“I’m trying to plan a wedding, just like anybody else would,” Todd Wathen said. “We don’t want to go to the clerk’s office and get it done by a Justice of the Peace. We want a place to remember.”
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2011. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)