Gay Couple Wins Discrimination Case Against Hoteliers Who Refused them a Room

Hoteliers who denied a gay couple a double room were breaking the law, a judge ruled on Tuesday in a landmark case involving Britain’s tough equality laws.  

Ban on Gay Couples Sparks Court Case

In 2008, couple Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, who are civil partners, were denied a double room at a hotel in Cornwall owned by self-described devout Christians Peter and Hazel Bull.

Mr and Mrs Bull denied the couple a double room, they said, not because of the couple’s sexual orientation but because they had a strict no sex before marriage policy, something which had been in place since they had opened their home as a hotel in 1986. They pointed out that the rule applied to heterosexual couples as well, as was in keeping with how they interpreted their faith.

Seeing this as an unlawful de facto ban on gay partners, Hall and Preddy launched a legal challenge under Britain’s Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations of 2007 which state that civil partnerships must be treated in the same way as marriages. The gay couple were supported from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). In turn, the owners of the hotel found support from the Christian Institute.

During the case, Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy’s lawyer Catherine Casserley told the court that, “The defendants have entered into a civil partnership, booked into a room at a hotel but were not able to occupy it because they were not in a heterosexual partnership. If you are an unmarried couple you could lie and get a double room, but this is not an option open to same-sex couples. We say the claimants were treated differently to a married couple, and the only difference between them was their sexual orientation.”

Owner Mrs Bull told the court during a hearing in December how, due to an oversight, she had failed to explain the hotel’s married-couples only policy for double rooms when the booking was made:

She explained that she took Preddy’s booking over the telephone when she was ill and so failed to explain the hotel’s policy. “There is no way I would have let them make the journey only to be disappointed,” she said. “We were very surprised when the two gentlemen turned up the next day.

“This is our home; it’s not some large corporation. We feel that under the eyes of God we need to feel comfortable there – and that includes sleeping arrangements.

“We feel that our faith and conscience means we are responsible for what happens under our roof and that the teachings of the Christian faith are opposed to sex outside of marriage.”

Mr and Mrs Bull also said they may close their business should the judge rule against them because their religious convictions, they claim, prevent them from treating gay couples in civil partnerships the same way as they would treat married heterosexual couples.
Judge Finds Gay Couple Were Discriminated Against

In Tuesday’s ruling, Bristol county court judge Andrew Rutherford determined that the hoteliers had directly discriminated against Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy and that, while the law must be seen to uphold the rights of religious freedom of speech and expression, the right to manifest one’s religious views must be limited “to protect the rights and freedoms of the claimants”. As such, Rutherford awarded the two men £1,800 each in damages.

The EHRC, however, was keen to point out that the equality laws work to protect all, including those practicing religion. 

From The Guardian

John Wadham, the legal director of the EHRC, said: “The right of an individual to practise their religion and live out their beliefs is one of the most fundamental rights a person can have, but so is the right not to be turned away by a hotel just because you are gay.

“The law works both ways. Hotel owners would similarly not be able to turn away people whose religious beliefs they disagreed with.

“When Mr and Mrs Bull chose to open their home as a hotel, their private home became a commercial enterprise. This decision means that community standards, not private ones, must be upheld.”

Judge Rutherford granted the Bulls leave to appeal against his ruling, noting that it  “does affect 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”. At the time of writing, Mr and Mrs Bull have not disclosed whether they will be taking action to appeal the decision.

A spokesperson for the Christian Institute that supported Mr and Mrs Bull during the case is quoted as saying: “This ruling is further evidence that equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield.”

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights group Stonewall, was happy with the decision however, commenting, “You can’t turn away people from a hotel because they’re black or Jewish and in 2011 you shouldn’t be able to demean them by turning them away because they’re gay either. Religious freedom shouldn’t be used as a cloak for prejudice.”

Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to antonella.beccaria.


Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

Good. Glad to see the case work out this way.

Mrs. Bull's comments were polite and I'm sure she's a nice old lady who doesn't understand why she should have to surrender her rules in "her house", but what she doesn't see is that by opening her house as a hotel, she made it a public establishment that must abide by public law. It's hard for older people to accept the way the world is changing, but the world marches on, whether with you, or over you.

Diane L.
Diane L7 years ago

If the owners keep a business as being open to the public, then they shouldn't be allowed to discriminate, providing the rules are not violating civil rights for everyone. They couldn't, for instance, openly say that only BLONDE MEN who are handsome, or red headed women be allowed to stay there. They can have a "no pets" rule, or "no children" rule, but they can't say "No Blacks". Not sure where this one falls. I think they should have just let the couple stay and not made a big deal about it. How many gay couples check in other hotels and stay without a word being said? How many men travel together for business and for financial reasons, stay in the same suite? I stayed in a motel with my daughter after she was an adult, and nobody asked us if we were lesbians!

Debbie Shinn
Debbie Shinn7 years ago

I have no problem at all with gay people, and to sound like a cliche, some of my best friends are gay/lesbian, however I DO object to this couple going into what is basically someone else's HOME, not just their business premises, and telling them what they should allow in their own home! It has been widely dis~credited over here as a put~up job; these poor people were picked on deliberately and held up for public scrutiny and humiliation for their religoius beliefs.

Now if this was done to say a Muslim couple, there would be Hell to pay (no pun intended), but because these people are practising Christians, it's meant to be ok to dis~respect their beliefs. However old fashioned you may feel them to be, they are simply living their lives by their moral standards, and just because a large number of people no longer live by such principles, it doesn't mean that the ones who DO are wrong.

I feel sorry for the people who have had their livelihoods jeapordised and their religious views hung out for ridicule by this vindictive, nasty couple who were planted to try and cause a stir.

I hope they're proud of themselves, with their smug little victory, but they certainly do the gay community no favours at all.

My sympathies lie completely with the hoteliers, and I hope that they manage to overcome the nastiness that they've had to endure, and go on to run their business in a way THEY see fit.

Petra Luna
Petra Luna7 years ago

Good for the couple.

David Reed
David Reed7 years ago

"@"SALLY LLOYD Stop laughing Exclusions do apply, that is what the so-called "Equality Laws" do! We all discriminate
- you would discriminate in favour of a gay couple WHO COULD HAVE GONE ELSEWHERE over another couples right TO RESPECT & DIGNITY IN THEIR LIFE CHOICE ! - They could have avoided this hotel asyou would wish me to avoid gay hotels. Though I don't see why I should, I am NOT anti-gay. Ah, but here is the crux, not for gay "rights" at evry turn at the expense of others rights then you MUST be anti-gay, er...NO! And let's be clear here, the majority of people in the UK would have voted gainst same-sex unions if they had been given a choice! And again the majority of those in favour are against using the word marriage in this context! In fact the law as it know stands gives same-sex couples more rights than married couples or related family. I'm glad you call yourself a Christian though I am not sure your stance is actually "liberal" in the true sense of the word, however I wonder why you choose to think of me as a narrow minded Christian bigot! I will take he fact you think me a Christian as a compliment but unlike you and many people who are obviously non-believers I would not choose to tell someone how they should practise their faith, and to be a bigot I would have to be against gay rights per se, I am not, I don't see why they trump other peoples rights in this case, it's not er..very liberal!

Nik M.
Nik M.7 years ago

Lika, a civil partnership in the UK has the same legal status as a marriage. It's really a fudge by the last government - they should never have given it a different name. Is it too much to hope for that the new caring government should change the wording to make it crystal clear even to dense hoteliers? Any English MPs reading this, please think about it.

Sally Lloyd
Sally Lloyd7 years ago

@David Reed I want a TRULY liberal and tolerant society which means including EVERYBODY. - Please dont makes me laugh. It would be a case of Exclusions apply. Have the majority of British people been discriminating against people because of race, religion or sexual orientation, - so just because its a minority its alright then.

If this is the way you want society to work when er...wake up and make the coffee before you find these legislators banging on your door and telling you what you should be doing with your life and business because they will! WE ALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO RESPECT & DIGNITY IN OUR LIFE CHOICES ! - They already do. That is why the case was brought in the first place. As for the gay hotels, well if you know that they are gay hotels you can avoid them.
And no I have no problem with them, what I do have a problem with is a couple who do not accept the idea of a civil partnership as being married because the couple were gay. I am a Christain and I am happy to be seen as a liberal. Much rather that than a narrow minded Christian bigot.

Sakura l.
Yu L7 years ago

"If these young men have entered into a civil union that they consider to be the equal of marriage, then they deserve to be treated as any married couple." Amen, Kathlene. I'm so happy the couple won the discrimination case.

Lika S.
Lika P7 years ago

Being gay is not a choice. On one hand if the couple has had this rule of no sex before marriage, I'm not so sure if it was discrimination. But until gays can get married or have civil unions or domestic partnerships together and have it recognized across the board, it's still discriminating against gays because most still can't legally marry. It's a slippery slope, don't you think?

Carolyn Mah
Carolyn M7 years ago

--Of course, you may say God did make men homosexual and He did not put those verses in the Bible, to which I say, if you do not believe the Bible verses you are certainly not a Christian and God help you.--

God made man.. Man wrote the Bible.. I am not a "Christian" yet God blesses me every day of my life.

I love each and every one of my fellow man, gay straight black white Christian Muslim atheist all of them equally. While I have not accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, I do my utmost to live according to the intent of his teachings.

Who's the better Christian here? The one spouting bigotry and discrimination or the nonchristian touting compassion equality and love for all? You might want to rethink who needs God's help.