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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Christian hoteliers lose gay discrimination case

A gay couple have won their case against the owners of a hotel after being refused a double room.
Martin Hall and Steven Preddy, who are civil partners, sued devout Christians Peter and Hazelmary Bull for sexual orientation discrimination.
Judge Rutherford, at Bristol crown court, ruled that the Bulls had directly discriminated against the gay couple on the ground of their sexual orientation.
Mr Hall and Mr Preddy were awarded compensation of £1,800 each.
They began their case after the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Cornwall, owned by the Bulls, denied them a double room on the basis that they were a gay couple.
Mr and Mrs Bull argued that they barred all unmarried couples from sharing rooms but the gay couple claimed that a straight couple could pretend to be married.
The hotel states on its website that it only offers double bed accommodation to heterosexual married couples.
Mr Hall and Mr Preddy’s case was funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They were each seeking up to £5,000 in damages.
In the ruling the judge said the right of the defendants to manifest their religion is not absolute and “can be limited to protect the rights and freedoms of the claimants”.
Mr Preddy and Mr Hall said they were pleased with the ruling,
They said: “When we booked this hotel we just wanted to do something that thousands of other couples do every weekend – take a relaxing weekend break away.
“We checked that the hotel would allow us to bring our dog, but it didn’t even cross our minds that in 2008 we would have to check whether we would be welcome ourselves.
“We’re really pleased that the judge has confirmed what we already know – that in these circumstances our civil partnership has the same status in law as a marriage between a man and a woman, and that regardless of each person’s religious beliefs, no one is above the law.”
Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of gay lobby group Stonewall, said: “We’re delighted with the outcome of this test case. 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.
He added: “Religious freedom shouldn’t be used as a cloak for prejudice.
“For the estimated £30,000 that this court case cost Mr and Mrs Bull and their supporters during the last month, Oxfam or Save the Children could have vaccinated 100,000 people against meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa. That would have been a more Christian way to spend their money during the festive season.”
Mr and Mrs Bull have been given leave to appeal the ruling.
Mrs Bull said: “We are obviously disappointed with the result. Our double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage, not hostility to anybody.
“It was applied equally and consistently to unmarried heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, as the judge accepted.
“We are trying to live and work in accordance with our Christian faith. As a result we have been sued and ordered to pay £3,600. But many Christians have given us gifts, so thanks to them we will be able to pay the damages.”
The couple’s defence was funded by the Christian Institute and spokesman Mike Judge said: “This ruling is further evidence that equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield.
“Peter and Hazelmary were sued with the full backing of the government-funded Equality Commission. Christians are being sidelined.
“The judge recognises that his decision has a profound impact on the religious liberty of Peter and Hazelmary.”

from Peter Tatchell's Facebook page -

“This is a victory for equality and a defeat for discrimination. Although people are entitled to their religious beliefs, no one should be above the law. People of faith should not be permitted to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against other people,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

He was commenting on today’s landmark court ruling by judge Andrew Rutherford that the Christian hoteliers, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, had acted unlawfully when they refused to allow gay civil partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy share a room at their hotel in Cornwall in 2008.

“Peter and Hazelmary were offering a service to the public by providing hotel accommodation. Everyone who provides services to the public should do so without discrimination. That’s the law. People of faith cannot legitimately claim exemption from equality laws that apply to everyone else.

“If the court had ruled that the Bull’s were allowed to ban gay couples from sleeping together in the same room, it would have opened the floodgates to a deluge of similar religious-motivated claims for exemption from the equality laws.

“We could have ended up with some Jewish supermarket workers demanding the right to not handle pork, Muslim restaurant staff refusing to serve alcohol and Christian solicitors declining to represent gay or cohabiting heterosexual couples.

“Businesses would grind to a halt, and social cohesion decline, as religious fundamentalists of all hues claimed the right to discriminate on faith grounds. Our equality laws would soon be in shreds. Discrimination would become rampant again. It would be hugely damaging to harmonious community relations,” said Mr Tatchell.


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