The Christian owners of a guesthouse who restrict double rooms to married couples have been ordered to pay £3,600 in damages to a homosexual couple, but leave to appeal has been granted.
Watch a statement by Hazelmary Bull
Earlier today His Hon. Judge Andrew Rutherford declared it was unlawful for Peter and Hazelmary Bull to operate their policy and deny a double room to civil partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy.
The judge ruled that under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, introduced under the previous Government, civil partnerships must be treated in the same way as marriage.
However, the judge gave the Bulls permission to appeal, saying that his ruling “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.”
Reacting to the news, Mrs Bull said she is disappointed by the decision and she and her husband will discuss an appeal with their legal team.
Her husband, Peter, was unable to attend court for the judgment as he is due to undergo triple heart bypass surgery later today. Mrs Bull said: “Understandably, this is a very stressful day”.
The Bulls’ legal defence was funded by The Christian Institute. 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.”
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.”
She added: “Although we are disappointed by the decision, we are encouraged by some of the things the judge said.
“He said his decision affects our religious liberty and forces us to act against our deeply and genuinely held beliefs.
“He has therefore given us permission to appeal. We will take time to consider our position carefully with our legal team.
“In the meantime, I do feel that Christianity is being marginalised in Britain. The same laws used against us have been used to shut down faith-based adoption agencies.
“Much is said about ‘equality and diversity’ but it seems some people are more equal than others.”
Mr and Mrs Bull’s double room policy has been in place since they opened the Chymorvah guesthouse in 1986 and the policy is applied consistently to all unmarried couples whether homosexual or heterosexual.
But Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy brought a claim of sexual orientation discrimination against the Bulls after they were denied double bed accommodation in September 2008.
The claim was brought under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, each man seeking up to £5,000 in damages. The litigation was financed by the Government-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Mr and Mrs Bull contested the claim, saying that their double bed policy applies to all unmarried couples regardless of sexual orientation. They said it is based on their beliefs about marriage, not hostility to any sexual orientation.
Just days before Mr Preddy and Mr Hall arrived at the guesthouse, a letter had been sent to the establishment from homosexual lobby group, Stonewall.
The letter claimed that Mr and Mrs Bull’s double room policy was unlawful. Stonewall denies that the litigation is a ‘set up’.
In December a letter written by two Church of England bishops appeared in The Daily Telegraph in which the bishops expressed “great concern” over the case.
The letter was signed by the Bishop of Winchester, Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, and the former Bishop of Rochester, Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali.
They wrote: “Mr and Mrs Bull’s understanding of marriage is the same as that of English law and the Christian Church. Their guesthouse is also their home. Their policy may seem traditional but, of itself, there is nothing wrong with that.”
They added: “Liberty of conscience must not be confined to the mind. It is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to stand by our principles publicly.”