Christian hoteliers lose double room for gays case
Published 18/01/2011 | 10:23
Christian hotel owners who refused a gay couple a double room acted unlawfully, a judge ruled today.
Peter and Hazelmary Bull were breaking the law when they denied Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy a room at their hotel in Cornwall in September 2008.
Judge Andrew Rutherford made the ruling in a written judgment at Bristol County Court as he awarded the couple £1,800 each in damages.
Mr Hall and Mr Preddy, from Bristol, were seeking up to £5,000 damages claiming sexual orientation discrimination under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.
At a hearing last month, the Bulls denied the claim, saying they have a long-standing policy of banning all unmarried couples both heterosexual and gay from sharing a bed at the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Marazion near Penzance.
Mr Bull, 70, and his wife, 66, said their policy, operated since they bought the hotel in 1986, is based on their beliefs about marriage and not a hostility to sexual orientation.
Mrs Bull told the court: "We accept that the Bible is the holy living word of God and we endeavour to follow it as far as we are able.
"We have a kind of routine we go through with folk. It is never our intention to offend so we try to make it as gracious and as helpful as we can."
James Dingemans QC, representing Mr and Mrs Bull, said they had been "vilified as objects of fun" in newspapers for only allowing married couples to stay in double rooms at their hotel.
He said: "The defendants respectfully submit that their policy is directed at sex and not to sexual orientation and is lawful.
"Without the protection of the law they will simply not be able to operate their business."
Hotel employee Bernie Quinn hinted that Mr Preddy and Mr Hall's booking was a set-up.
"It is not beyond the realms of possibility. I have no proof other than the phone call," he said.
Mr Preddy, 38, said he and Mr Hall, 46, had booked the hotel room over the phone and were not aware of the policy until they arrived and were told by Mr Quinn they would not be able to stay.
The semi-detached Chymorvah Private Hotel has seven rooms in total three doubles, one family room, two twins and single with the Bulls living on the ground floor.
The Bulls legal defence was supported by the Christian Institute while Mr Hall and Mr Preddy were backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
In his ruling, Judge Rutherford said that, in the last 50 years, social attitudes in Britain had changed.
"We live today in a parliamentary democracy. Our laws are made by the Queen in Parliament," the judge said.
"It is inevitable that such laws will from time to time cut across deeply held beliefs of individuals and sections of society for they reflect the social attitudes and morals prevailing at the time that they are made.
"In the last 50 years there have been many such instances - the abolition of capital punishment; the abolition of corporal punishment in schools; the decriminalisation of homosexuality and of suicide; and on a more mundane level the ban on hunting and on smoking in public places.
"All of these - and they are only examples - have offended sections of the population and in some cases cut across traditional religious beliefs.
"These laws have come into being because of changes in social attitudes. The standards and principles governing our behaviour which were unquestioningly accepted in one generation may not be so accepted in the next.
"I am quite satisfied as to the genuineness of the defendants' beliefs and it is, I have no doubt, one which others also hold.
"It is a very clear example of how social attitudes have changed over the years for it is not so very long ago that these beliefs of the defendants would have been those accepted as normal by society at large. Now it is the other way around."
John Wadham, from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, welcomed the ruling.
"The right of an individual to practise their religion and live out their beliefs is one of the most fundamental rights a person can have, but so is the right not to be turned away by a hotel just because you are gay," he said.
"The law works both ways. Hotel owners would similarly not be able to turn away people whose religious beliefs they disagreed with.
"When Mr and Mrs Bull chose to open their home as a hotel, their private home became a commercial enterprise.
"This decision means that community standards, not private ones, must be upheld."
Mr Preddy and Mr Hall said they were extremely pleased with the outcome of the case.
"When we booked this hotel we just wanted to do something that thousands of other couples do every weekend - take a relaxing weekend break away," they said.
"We checked that the hotel would allow us to bring our dog, but it didn't even cross our minds that in 2008 we would have to check whether we would be welcome ourselves.
"We're really pleased that the judge has confirmed what we already know - that in these circumstances our civil partnership has the same status in law as a marriage between a man and a woman, and that, regardless of each person's religious beliefs, no- one is above the law."
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of equality campaign group Stonewall, also welcomed the ruling.
He said: "We're delighted with the outcome of this test case.
"You can't turn away people from a hotel because they're black or Jewish and in 2011 you shouldn't be able to demean them by turning them away because they're gay either.
"Religious freedom shouldn't be used as a cloak for prejudice.
"For the estimated £30,000 that this court case cost Mr and Mrs Bull and their supporters during the last month, Oxfam or Save the Children could have vaccinated 100,000 people against meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa.
"That would have been a more Christian way to spend their money during the festive season."