British B&B owners and self-avowed devout Christians Hazel and Peter Bull have failed in their attempt to overturn a ruling that said they had unlawfully discriminated by denying a gay couple a double room at their public guest house.
The court of appeals, in a unanimous decision, declared last week that a Bristol judge was right in ruling that the Bulls, owners of the Chymorvah Private Hotel near Penzance, Cornwall, had indeed violated the rights of gay couple Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy when they denied the couple a double room, citing that Britiain’s equality laws mean that while the hoteliers are allowed their private religious beliefs, those beliefs are not suitable justification for discrimination in the public sector.
Delivering judgment, Lady Justice Rafferty said: “Whilst the appellants’ beliefs about sexual practice may not find the acceptance that once they did, nevertheless a democratic society must ensure that their espousal and expression remain open to those who hold them.
“It would be unfortunate to replace legal oppression of one community (homosexual couples) with legal oppression of another (those sharing the appellants’ beliefs).
“However, in a pluralist society it is inevitable that from time to time, as here, views, beliefs and rights of some are not compatible with those of others. As I have made plain, I do not consider that the appellants face any difficulty in manifesting their religious beliefs. They are merely prohibited from so doing in the commercial context they have chosen.”
The Bulls had refused a double room to Hall and Preddy citing that they had a strict policy, and had since the time of opening their home as a seven bedroom hotel, that double rooms would only be available for married couples. This, they claimed, was not about the couple’s sexual orientation as they would have denied the room to an unmarried straight couple in the same way. The Bulls also said that an oversight during the booking procedure had meant they had not made that policy clear over the phone.
Gay couple Hall and Preddy, who are civil partners, claimed that this was a de facto ban on same-sex couples as they can not marry and therefore are automatically excluded by the Bulls’ rooming policy.
Bristol Judge Andrew Rutherford agreed, concluding last year that while the law must be seen to uphold the rights of religious freedom of speech, the right to manifest one’s religious views is not absolute and must be limited in the public sphere “to protect the rights and freedoms” of the public.
The ruling affirmed the Bulls had the right to hold their own private views, but as soon as those views were introduced into hotel policy they became subject to equality laws and as such were in breach of Britain’s Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations of 2007 which says civil partnerships – recognized in Britain under the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 – must be treated the same as marriages.
As such, Mr and Mrs Bull were ordered to pay a total of £3,600 to Hall and Preddy. However, the judge granted Mr and Mrs Bull leave to appeal.
John Wadham, Group Director Legal, Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) who represented Hall and Preddy said in a statement, “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.”
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute, which backed the Bulls’ legal fight, said in a statement: “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.”
It is unclear at this time whether Mr and Mrs Bull will attempt to take their appeal case further.
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