Diary notice: 13 December 2010, Bristol – trial starts of Christians sued by gay couple over double room policy
In the first case of its kind, a homosexual couple are suing the Christian owners of a guesthouse over its policy of restricting double bed accommodation to married couples only. The case will be heard at Bristol County Court on Monday 13 December and the hearing is scheduled to last for two days.
This case, which may have far-reaching ramifications for religious liberty, could determine whether Christians are permitted to operate B&Bs that restrict double bed accommodation to married couples. The case is being brought under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, introduced in 2007. The regulations have since led to all but one Roman Catholic adoption agency in England and Wales closing down or cutting off all ties with the Church. This is because, when placing children with couples, the agencies had a policy of insisting that the couples were married.
The Chymorvah guesthouse in Marazion near Penzance, Cornwall, is owned by committed Christians, Peter Bull (aged 70) and his wife Hazelmary (aged 66). Their double room policy has been in place since the business opened in 1986 and the policy is applied consistently to all unmarried couples – whether homosexual or heterosexual. The guesthouse is also the Bulls’ home.
A claim of sexual orientation discrimination is being brought by Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy. The couple were denied double bed accommodation in September 2008. They are bringing a claim under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, seeking damages of up to £5,000. The litigation is being financed by the Government-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Mr and Mrs Bull are contesting the claim. Their double bed policy applies to all unmarried couples regardless of sexual orientation. 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 said: “This case is about liberty of conscience. This guesthouse is Mr and Mrs Bull’s own home. They have rights too, and they should not be forced to act against their sincerely held religious beliefs under their own roof. Their guesthouse is not the only one in Cornwall, there is plenty of room for diversity of opinion. This Christian couple are being put on trial for their beliefs. Equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield.”
Download a fact sheet about the case here.