Devout Christian hotel owners who refused to allow a gay couple to share a double room acted unlawfully, a judge at Bristol county court ruled today.
Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, who are civil partners, won their landmark claim for discrimination in a case funded and supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The ruling, one of the first made under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, is likely to provide those in partnerships with greater protection from discrimination.
The owners of the Chymorvah private hotel in Cornwall, Peter and Hazel Bull, do not allow couples who are not married to share double rooms because they do not believe in sex before marriage.
The Bulls asserted that their refusal to accommodate civil partners in a double room was not to do with sexual orientation but “everything to do with sex”. The restriction, the owners said, applied equally to heterosexual couples who are not married.
In his ruling, Judge Andrew Rutherford said the hotel had directly discriminated against the couple on the grounds of their sexual orientation and awarded them compensation of £1,800 each.
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”.
He described the sexual orientation regulations as a “necessary and proportionate intervention by the state to protect the rights of others”.
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.”
Preddy and Hall said they were pleased with the outcome of the case: “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.”