February 10, 2012

Christian hotel owners lose gay couple appeal

Peter and Hazelmary Bull. Pic: PA Mr and Mrs Bull said they did not believe unmarried couples should share rooms

Two Christian guesthouse owners who refused to allow a gay couple to stay in a double room have lost their appeal against a ruling they acted unlawfully.

Peter and Hazelmary Bull, from Cornwall, took their case to the Court of Appeal.

The couple had refused to allow civil partners Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall, from Bristol, the room at Chymorvah House in 2008.

They were ordered in January 2011 to pay £3,600 in damages.

The challenge by the couple, whose guesthouse is in Marazion, was rejected by three judges in London.

They had appealed against a conclusion by a judge at Bristol County Court that they acted unlawfully when they turned the couple away.

Judge Andrew Rutherford ruled last year that the Bulls had breached equality legislation.

The appeal judges heard that the Bulls thought any sex outside marriage was a "sin", but denied they had discriminated against Mr Hall and Mr Preddy.

Mr Bull, 72, and Mrs Bull, who is in her late 60s, were not in court for the ruling.
'Promoting a sin'
During the hearing of the appeal in November, James Dingemans QC, for the Bulls, argued that the couple were entitled to hold "outdated" religious beliefs.

Gay couple Steven Preddy (left) and Martyn Hall outside Bristol County Court Mr Preddy and Mr Hall were backed by by the Equality and Human Rights Commission

He said the Bulls operated a policy directed towards sexual practice not sexual orientation and said they believed that permitting unmarried people - whether heterosexual or homosexual - to share a double bed involved them in "promoting a sin".

Mr Dingemans said the Bulls were not trying to undermine the rights of Mr Hall and Mr Preddy and judges had to carefully balance all human rights involved.

Robin Allen QC, for Mr Hall and Mr Preddy, argued that his clients had a "lawful civil partnership" and the guesthouse should have been "open" to them in the same way it was to heterosexual married couples.

The judges heard that the Bulls' appeal was funded by the Christian Institute and Mr Hall and Mr Preddy were backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
'Penalised for beliefs'
After the ruling, John Wadham, the Commission's group legal director, said: "I have genuine sympathy for Mr and Mrs Bull, as their beliefs are clearly strongly held.

"We believe that this case will help people to better understand the law around freedom of religion.

"When offering a service, people cannot use their beliefs - religious or otherwise - to discriminate against others."

He added that the Commission has no intention of enforcing its entitlement to legal costs.

Simon Calvert, of the the Christian Institute, said: "Peter and Hazelmary have been penalised for their beliefs about marriage.

"Not everyone will agree with Peter and Hazelmary's beliefs, but a lot of people will think it is shame that the law doesn't let them live and work according to their own values under their own roof."

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