UK: Anti-gay Christian B&B owner takes case to Court of Appeal

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A Christian guest house owner in Berkshire who was found to have discriminated against a Cambridgeshire gay couple has taken her case to the Court of Appeal.

Susanne Wilkinson refused to let Michael Black and John Morgan share the same bed at The Swiss Bed and Breakfast in Cookham, Berkshire, during March 2010.

The Equality Act makes it illegal to refuse people goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Although the couple won their court case last October and were both awarded £1,800 by Reading County Court, Ms Wilkinson was granted an appeal.

This week her lawyer, Sarah Crowther, told Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice McCombe: “This is an appeal about whether a Christian owner of a B&B guest house was allowed not to permit persons who were not married or in a civil partnership access to a double room.”

Cambridge News reports she said: “It is not any part of her case to undermine the rights of Mr Black and Mr Morgan. But it is her case that the judge erred in failing to balance those rights against her own rights.

“Mrs Wilkinson believes that homosexual or heterosexual sexual relations outside marriage are wrong and against God’s law.

“It may be thought to be somewhat old fashioned, but we think that fact should not lead to any conclusion that those beliefs are unworthy of respect.”

Ms Crowther said her client “is not in the business of refusing rooms to homosexual individuals”, adding she will not give double rooms to unmarried couples.

She said: “This decision doesn’t provide an adequate balancing of my client’s rights with those of Mr Black and Mr Morgan.

“The net effect of this will be that Mrs Wilkinson has to stop her business.”

But Henrietta Hill, appearing for Mr Black and Mr Morgan, said: “The reason they were treated less favourably is that they were two men and they were two gay men. That is the beginning and end of it.

“The requirement that the couple must be married is necessarily linked to heterosexual orientation.

“There is no homosexual couple, whether in a civil partnership or not, who could be married. Mrs Wilkinson’s provision, criterion or practice, was to the general disadvantage of homosexual people.

“They were never asked if they were in a civil partnership; they were simply turned away. We don’t seek to impugn the beliefs of Mrs Wilkinson and her husband [however] a balance needs to be struck.”

Judges reserved their decision until a later date which is yet to be set.