Christian hoteliers lose gay room ban appeal

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The Court of Appeal has today upheld a landmark court ruling in favour of a gay couple refused a room by the religious owners of Cornwall hotel.

Martin Hall and Steven Preddy, civil partners, had successfully sued devout Christians Peter and Hazelmary Bull for sexual orientation discrimination.

They had been turned away from the Chymorvah Hotel near Penzance in 2008 under the Bulls’ policy of not allowing unmarried couples to share rooms.

In January 2011 a judge at Bristol County Court ruled that the Bulls’ behaviour amounted to direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and awarded a total of £3,600 damages to Mr Hall and Mr Preddy.

The hotel owners were given leave to appeal and the case was heard at the Court of Appeal in London by Sir Andrew Morritt, Chancellor of the High Court, Lord Justice Hooper and Lady Justice Rafferty.

Robin Allen QC argued on behalf of Mr Hall and Mr Preddy: “The restriction operates to confer a benefit only on married persons and no others”.

“For [the hoteliers’] purposes this only means heterosexual persons. For this reason alone it is directly discriminatory.”

The court upheld the Bristol judge’s decision today. Mr Hall and Mr Preddy were defended by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

John Wadham, Group Director Legal, Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “I have genuine sympathy for Mr and Mrs Bull, as their beliefs are clearly strongly held. We believe that this case will help people to better understand the law around freedom of religion. When offering a service, people cannot use their beliefs – religious or otherwise – to discriminate against others.

“As the discrimination ruling has been upheld, Mr Preddy and Mr Hall are entitled to the compensation ordered by the County Court. However, the Commission has no intention of enforcing its entitlement to legal costs.”

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive, said: “We’re delighted that the Court upheld the judgment. The Court’s decision vindicates Stonewall’s hard lobbying to make it illegal to deny goods or services to someone just because they happen to be gay. That obviously includes hotel rooms for many gay holidaymakers, which can only be a good thing in a Jubilee year.

“I hope Mr and Mrs Bull will now feel content to go home to do God’s good work as Easter approaches, instead of relentlessly pursuing a happy couple through the courts.”

The Christian Institute had funded the Bulls’ appeal.

Spokesman Simon Calvert said: “Peter and Hazelmary have been penalised for their beliefs about marriage.

“Not everyone will agree with Peter and Hazelmary’s beliefs, but a lot of people will think it is shame that the law doesn’t let them live and work according to their own values under their own roof.

“Something has gone badly wrong with our equality laws when good, decent people like Peter and Hazelmary are penalised but extremist hate preachers are protected.”