This is an interesting story from the United Kingdom. Two Christian hoteliers have been ordered by a court to pay damages after discriminating against a gay couple.
The hoteliers, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, have a had a long-standing policy at their hotel of banning all unmarried couples from sharing a bed, founded on their Christian beliefs. So to Mr and Mrs Bull it was consistent with that policy to deny Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy a room with a shared bed one evening in 2008, since the men were an unmarried couple. At least, that’s what Mr and Mrs Bulls claimed.
The court disagreed. In UK law, the civil partnership of Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy has the same status as a marriage between a man and a woman. Therefore, despite the Bulls’ denial, the Judge Andrew Rutherford supported the claim of Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy that they were discriminated against because they were they gay. “The only conclusion which can be drawn,” the judge said, “is that the refusal to allow them to occupy the double room which they had booked was because of their sexual orientation… and that this is direct discrimination.”
Another consideration in the judge’s verdict was that Peter and Hazelmary Bulls were offering a service to the public by providing hotel accommodation. Everyone who provides services to the public has to do so without discrimination under the law. The Bulls cannot legitimately claim exemption from equality laws that apply to everyone, even if they have a stated policy of only allowing heterosexual couples to share beds. If the court had ruled in the Bulls’ favour, it may have legitimized similar religiously-motivated claims for exemption from the equality laws.
Judge Andrew Rutherford, however, granted the Bulls leave to appeal, noting 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.” The ruling certainly does seem to do so.
This is a challenging case. The right to equal treatment under the law has to take precedence over someone’s right to hold beliefs and treat them unequally on the basis of those beliefs.
For different perspectives on this case, see the following: