The judge has reserved his decision in the case of the Christian owners of a guesthouse that restricts double bed accommodation to married couples only.
Watch a statement by Peter and Hazelmary Bull
A ruling is expected after Christmas, with the judge commenting that the case is the first of its kind and raises complex legal issues that need careful consideration.
Peter and Hazelmary Bull are being sued by a homosexual couple, Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall, who claim the policy is discriminatory and are seeking £5,000 in damages.
Yesterday – the opening day of the trial – around 30 people gathered in front of the court singing hymns and holding placards declaring ‘It’s their home’, a stark reminder that the guesthouse is also the Bulls’ home.
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.
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.
They are bringing a claim under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, seeking up to £5,000 for damaging their feelings. The litigation is being financed by the Government-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Mr and Mrs Bull are contesting the claim, saying that their double bed policy applies to all unmarried couples regardless of sexual orientation. They say it is based on their beliefs about marriage, not hostility to any sexual orientation.
Their legal defence is being financed by The Christian Institute, a charity that protects the religious liberty of Christians.
The Institute’s Mike Judge has said: “This Christian couple are being put on trial for their beliefs. Equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield.”
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’.
On Saturday 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.”