Civil partners win against gay discrimination appeal

10 February 2012

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has successfully defended an appeal in the Court of Appeal against a ruling in the County Court which found that hotel owners had directly discriminated against a gay couple.

Mr and Mrs Bull appealed against the County Court’s decision that they were wrong to refuse Mr Preddy and Mr Hall a double room for the night in their hotel. The owners said that their hotel rule, based on their Christian faith, was that no unmarried couples could share a double room.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the County Court that the hotel’s rule directly discriminated against civil partners Mr Preddy and Mr Hall. The couple were treated differently because of their sexual orientation as it is not possible for a gay couple to marry.

In the appeal ruling the judges noted that both sides recognised the strongly held views of the other, and the Commission went to great lengths to reassure Mr and Mrs Bull that their beliefs were not under question.

The judges took into consideration the fact that discrimination law had changed and that Mr and Mrs Bull had been running their hotel along Christian principles for decades. They noted the owners’ right to manifest their religion and protection from religious discrimination.

However, the judges ruled that religious belief does not offer an exemption from laws that everyone running a business has to follow. Equality law already has exemptions for religious organisations, which the judges noted the hotel was not.

The court dismissed the Bull’s claim that their right to a private life would be compromised by allowing gay couples to sleep in a double room. The Bulls could manifest their beliefs in many ways outside of their business interests, including in their home which is separate from the hotel.

John Wadham, Group Director Legal, Equality and Human Rights Commission, 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.

“As the discrimination ruling has been upheld, Mr Preddy and Mr Hall are entitled to the compensation ordered by the County Court. However the Commission has no intention of enforcing its entitlement to legal costs."


Ends

For interviews with Mr Preddy and Mr Hall or an EHRC spokesperson and for more press information contact the Commission’s press office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to editors

Mr Preddy and Mr Hall brought a claim for discrimination based on their sexual orientation under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation Regulations) 2007. This law is now part of the Equality Act 2010. They were successful in their County Court claim and the Court of Appeal has upheld that decision. They were awarded £1,800 each in compensation.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission funded both Mr Preddy and Mr Hall’s discrimination claim and their defence to Mr and Mrs Bull’s appeal. It supported thier case to establish an important principle of law and the litigation was taken purely in the public interest. As a publicly funded body the Equality and Human Rights Commission has a duty to protect public funds but given the circumstances it intends to seek the authority not to recover its costs in this case.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.