Christian guesthouse owners ordered to pay compensation
A judge has ruled that the Christian owners of a guesthouse have acted unlawfully for restricting their bookings policy for double rooms to married couples only.
Judge Andrew Rutherford has ruled that committed Christians Peter and Hazelmary Bull, who are being funded by The Christian Institute, acted unlawfully when they denied two homosexuals, Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, a room at their hotel in Cornwall in September 2008.
The homosexual couple claimed that the refusal to allow them to share a bed was a “direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation”. Their legal fees were paid by the Government-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The judge made his ruling in a written judgment at Bristol County Court and ordered the payment of £3,600 in damages to the homosexual couple. He stated that under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, introduced under the Labour Government, it was unlawful for Mr and Mrs Bulls to restrict the use of double room accommodation to married couples only and deny a double room to two homosexual civil partners.
The judge has given the Bulls leave to appeal his decision in the High Court as he explained that his ruling affects “the human rights of the defendants to manifest their religion and forces them to act in a manner contrary to their deeply and genuinely held beliefs.”
Mr Bull and his wife say that their marriage-only policy, which has been in operation since they bought the guesthouse in 1986, is based on their beliefs about marriage and not hostility to sexual orientation. The terms of the policy are well advertised on the internet and on all booking forms, and are applied consistently to unmarried couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The bedrooms in the guesthouse feature open Bibles and Christian leaflets.
In August 2008 a letter was sent to the guesthouse by Stonewall, a homosexual lobby group, claiming that its double room policy was illegal.
On 19 September 2008, Mr and Mrs Bull received correspondence from Devon and Cornwall Police stating that an allegation had been made that the guesthouse policy was homophobic and went against current civil legislation. The police stated that the matter had been recorded as a “non-crime homophobic incident”.
A spokesman for The Christian Institute commented that:
“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.”
Mrs Bull commented:
“We are obviously disappointed with the result. Our double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage, not hostility to anybody.
“It was applied equally and consistently to unmarried heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, as the judge accepted. We are trying to live and work in accordance with our Christian faith. As a result we have been sued and ordered to pay £3,600.
“Although we are disappointed by the decision, we are encouraged by some of the things the judge said. He said his decision affects our religious liberty and forces us to act against our deeply and genuinely held beliefs.
“He has therefore given us permission to appeal. We will take time to consider our position carefully with our legal team. In the meantime, I do feel that Christianity is being marginalised in Britain. The same laws used against us have been used to shut down faith-based adoption agencies. Much is said about ‘equality and diversity’ but it seems some people are more equal than others.
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.
“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,” he said.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Bed and breakfast owners have now become another category of people in the UK who will be penalised if they try to serve the public without compromising their religious conscience. Under the guise of equality, the restrictions on Christians in the public sphere keep getting tighter. We are heading towards a two-tier society where only those who subscribe to secular, humanistic values will be able to operate in many areas in the public sphere.”
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, a homosexual lobby group, said he is “delighted with the outcome of this test case”.
A draft judgment can be read here.
The Times (subscription required)