British B&B owners and self-avowed devout Christians Hazel and Peter Bull have been granted a case review by the UK’s Supreme Court after the couple were told by two lower courts that equality laws mean they cannot deny same-sex couples a double room when running a public establishment.
This comes after the court of appeals, in a unanimous decision earlier this year, declared that a Bristol judge was right in ruling in 2011 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 based on the couple’s sexuality. The appeals court noted that while Britiain’s equality laws grant license for private religious beliefs, those beliefs are not suitable justification for discrimination in the public sector.
The Bulls maintain that they refused a double room to Hall and Preddy based on a strict policy, in place since the time of opening their home as a seven bedroom hotel, that double rooms would only be available for married couples. They said that this therefore meant they were not discriminating on grounds of the couple’s sexual orientation, but rather because the pair were unmarried. The Bulls also said that an oversight during the booking procedure had meant they had not made that policy clear over the phone.
However, Gay couple Hall and Preddy, who are civil partners, claimed that the ban was about their sexual orientation because they are automatically excluded by the Bulls’ rooming policy for the fact that, under current English law, they are not allowed to get married.
The 2011 ruling ordered Mr and Mrs Bull to pay a total of £3,600 in damages to Hall and Preddy.
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute, which backed the Bulls’ legal fight, said in a statement released at the time of losing at the appeals court: “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.”
This case is being earmarked as one of several important tests for British equality laws that place the immutable characteristic of sexuality above the choice of private religious belief when squared in the public sector.
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