B&B owner loses gay bias challenge
A bed and breakfast owner has lost her appeal against a ruling that she unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple when she refused to let them stay in a double room.
Committed Christian Susanne Wilkinson declined to let Michael Black, 64, and partner John Morgan, 59, have the room at the Swiss Bed and Breakfast in Cookham, Berkshire, in March 2010.
A judge at Reading County Court heard that the pair, from Brampton, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, who had made a reservation and paid a deposit, protested at their treatment but Mrs Wilkinson made it clear that it was against her religious convictions to allow two men to share a bed.
On Tuesday, Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice McCombe, in the Court of Appeal in London, dismissed Mrs Wilkinson's challenge, but gave her permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. The appeal, on October 9, will be heard at the same time as that of Peter and Hazelmary Bull, who refused to let Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy share a bedroom at their seaside guesthouse in Cornwall.
Lord Dyson said Mrs Wilkinson's policy, so far as practicable, was to restrict the use of her double rooms to married heterosexual couples. She never allowed couples of the same sex to share a double room and never knowingly allowed an unmarried heterosexual couple to do so either.
In her evidence, Mrs Wilkinson, who was not in court, said she tried to live her life and carry out her work in accordance with her deeply held beliefs. The business, which had been operating since 2007, provided a special degree of care and attention to guests, who were invited into her home and treated as members of the family.
Lord Dyson concluded that the decision in the Preddy case, where the court decided there was direct discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, compelled the conclusion that, by her policy of only offering double rooms to married couples, Mrs Wilkinson directly discriminated against homosexual couples on the ground of their sexual orientation.
James Welch, of Liberty, said: "Hopefully today's ruling will mark the end of out-of-date 'no gays' policies which are as intolerable as those referring to a person's race, gender or religion. Of course Liberty fiercely protects people's right to hold and express their religious beliefs. But refusing to accommodate customers simply because they're gay is unacceptable and our clients should never have faced such discrimination."
Mrs Wilkinson, who is abroad on holiday, said in a statement: "I am disappointed to have lost at this stage, but I am pleased that there is hope for people like me who believe in marriage."
She added: "It's sad that cases like this are coming to court in a country that has a great Christian heritage. However, whatever the outcome of my case, my faith is grounded in a sovereign, loving and unchanging God and his eternal plans and purposes."