Bristol gay couple win Cornwall B&B bed ban case

Steven Preddy: "Nothing in this judgement attacks the beliefs of Christians"

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The owners of a hotel who refused to allow a gay couple a double room acted unlawfully, a judge has ruled.

Peter and Hazelmary Bull, of the Chymorvah Hotel, near Penzance, said as Christians they did not believe unmarried couples should share a room.

Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy, from Bristol, said the incident in September 2008 was "direct discrimination" against them.

They were awarded £1,800 each in damages at Bristol County Court.

'Sincere beliefs'

"When we booked to stay at the Chymorvah Hotel this was not, as some have suggested, a set up sponsored by a pressure group.

"We just wanted a relaxing weekend away - something thousands of other couples in Britain do every weekend," Mr Preddy said.

Analysis

Over the past five years, the law has swung decisively against Mr and Mrs Bull's expectations that their religious beliefs should influence how they run their hotel.

Everyone in British society enjoys equal protection of their right to live the way they choose.

But if your particular beliefs or actions unreasonably impinge on someone else's right to live the life that they do, then the law will find you in the wrong.

That is exactly the issue at the heart of the B&B discrimination case.

The Bulls said their double rooms were only for married couples - but Mr Hall and Mr Preddy, as civil partners, enjoy to all intents and purposes the same legal rights and protections as a married heterosexual couple.

The 2010 Equality Act has consolidated the law in this area and cleared up some grey areas.

So we may soon see more claims of sexual orientation discrimination before the courts - and probably more victories for those claiming they were treated badly.

"Because we wanted to bring our new dog we checked he would be welcome. It didn't even cross our minds that in 2008 in Britain we needed to ask if we would be."

He said that the judgement showed that civil partnerships were legally the same as marriages.

"Judge Rutherford has found that our treatment was an act of direct discrimination and therefore a breach of the law," he added.

Speaking outside court Mrs Bull said she and her husband were considering an appeal.

"We are obviously disappointed with the result," she said.

"Our double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage, not hostility to anybody."

In his ruling, Judge Rutherford said that, in the past 50 years, social attitudes in Britain had changed and it was inevitable that laws would "cut across" some people's beliefs.

"I am quite satisfied as to the genuineness of the defendants' beliefs and it is, I have no doubt, one which others also hold," he added.

"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."

Judge Rutherford granted the Bulls leave to appeal against his ruling.

'Victory for equality'

Mr Hall and Mr Preddy's case was backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

John Wadham, a director at the commission, said the hotel was a commercial enterprise and subject to community standards, rather than private ones.

Chymorvah Hotel The couple had intended to visit the Chymorvah Hotel, near Penzance

"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.

Human right's campaigner Peter Tatchell described the verdict as a "victory for equality and a defeat for discrimination".

"Although people are entitled to their religious beliefs, no one should be above the law," he said.

"People of faith should not be permitted to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against other people."

'Cloak for prejudice'

Gay equality charity Stonewall said it was delighted at the outcome.

"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," Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said.

"Religious freedom shouldn't be used as a cloak for prejudice."

Mike Judge, from the Christian Institute, which funded the Bulls' defence, said: "This ruling is further evidence that equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield.

"Peter and Hazelmary were sued with the full backing of the government-funded Equality Commission.

"Christians are being sidelined. The judge recognises that his decision has a profound impact on the religious liberty of Peter and Hazelmary."

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