A young newlywed couple turned away by the Padre Hotel on their wedding night have been invited to stay at the vintage downtown hotel at a later date -- on the hotel's dime.
The embarrassing Friday night incident, which has turned up on Twitter, Facebook and in traditional news media, quickly turned into a public relations nightmare for the upscale Bakersfield hotel.
It didn't help the Padre's image that 18-year-old Hillary Martin was wearing her wedding dress and her groom, Jason Martin, was decked out in his U.S. Marine Corps dress blues.
Comments on social media sites varied but many reflected outrage over the way the newlyweds were treated.
Hillary's mother had reserved the room, but on the morning of the wedding, Hillary went to the Padre to see if she could get early access to the room so the couple could leave their luggage inside.
She was told the room was not yet ready, but no one asked about her age or informed her of the policy, she said.
Later that night, the bride said she was in tears as they left to search for a hotel that would welcome them.
Her husband, on the other hand, was just glad to be somewhere other than a Marine barracks.
"Jason reacted a lot different from me," Mrs. Martin said. "He was just glad to be home."
Jason, who along with Hillary was part of the class of 2010 at Foothill High School, had been in boot camp and training since August and was home on a 10-day leave, Hillary said. By Tuesday, he was at his combat training base in San Diego.
By Thursday, the Padre was trying to repair the damage.
After first saying Padre employees were just following policy, hotel management struck a more apologetic tone Thursday.
"I am ashamed and deeply saddened by the events that occurred at The Padre Hotel last (weekend)," hotel co-owner Brett Miller said in a statement. "Upon checking their identification, our staff became aware that both bride and groom were under the age of 21. Although it is our company policy not to reserve rooms to younger guests for liability reasons, an exception should have been made for this very special occasion."
Miller spoke with Hillary Martin to apologize -- and to offer the couple complimentary accommodations at a time of their choosing, she said.
"He was very sincere," Hillary said. "I'm still upset about how the employees treated us, but this did a lot to make up for it."
Miller did not return a reporter's call for comment Thursday. Questions still remain about whether the incident will bring about a change in hotel policy or procedure.
A similar incident six years ago in Michigan involving an Iraq war veteran prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the parent company of Holiday Inn for age discrimination, according to the Detroit Free Press. The lawsuit did not ask for a monetary award, but sought instead to stop the hotel from turning away adults younger than 21.
The hotel chain countered that abuses are common when hotels rent rooms to people under the age of 21. Underage drinking often occurs and inherent liabilities to the hotel are incurred, they argued.
A spokesman for the ACLU of Southern California said there was not enough time Thursday afternoon to thoroughly research the legal aspects of the Padre incident. But Legal Director Hector Villagra said in an e-mail he was puzzled by the hotel's initial response.
"It is hard to understand how this young man is old enough to enlist in the military, to say he is willing to die for his country," he wrote, "yet apparently not old enough to rent a hotel room."