A gay couple have won a landmark discrimination case against the Christian owners of a seaside guesthouse who banned them from sharing a double bed.
Devout Peter and Hazelmary Bull refused to let civil partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy use a double room because it was against their ”Christian conscience”.
They operate a strict policy which only allows married heterosexual couples to share rooms at their B&B in Cornwall.
But the gay couple claimed the snub was a direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and took civil legal action.
And yesterday at Bristol County Court His Honour Judge Andrew Rutherford ruled that the Bulls had breached the Equality Act by committing a ”direct discrimination”.
He awarded Mr Hall, 46, and Mr Preddy, 38, £1,800 each in compensation for the hurt and embarassment they suffered.
However, he said both sides held ”perfectly honourable and respectable, albeit wholly contrary, views” and left the door open for the Christian couple to appeal.
Speaking outside court, Mr Hall and Mr Preddy said the ruling upholds the principle that a civil partnership has the same status in law as marriage between a man and a woman.
But the Bulls claimed the result was further evidence that Christianity is being ”marginalised” in modern Britain.
In his written ruling, Judge Rutherford said: ”I am also acutely aware of the importance of this case to both sides and the deeply held views on both sides.
”Both can legitimately claim the right to have their private and family life respected.
”The claimants are a family in the eyes of the law just as much as are the married defendants.
”Both are entitled not to be discriminated against and the defendants have the right to manifest their religion or beliefs.
”It is clearly in my view the case that each side hold perfectly honourable and respectable, albeit wholly contrary, views.
”It seems to me that a correct analysis of the position of the defendants is that they discriminate on the basis of marital status.
”There is no material difference between marriage and a civil partnership. If that is right then upon what basis do the defendants draw a distinction if it is not on sexual orientation?
”I have reached to clear conclusion that on a proper analysis of the defendants’ position on the facts of this particular case the only conclusion which can be drawn 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.”
Mr Hall and Mr Preddy booked two nights in a double room for £92 at the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Marazion near Penzance, on September 4 2008.
Mrs Bull, 66, took the telephone booking and assumed the couple to be heterosexual.
But when they arrived the next day and it became apparent they were gay, guesthouse manager Bernie Quinn said they could not have the double room because of the house rules.
During the two-day hearing at Bristol County Court on December 13 and 14, he speculated that the incident could have been a ”set up” – a claim dismissed by the claimants.
Mr Preddy and Mr Hall, who live together in Brislington, Bristol, told the guesthouse it was acting illegally before reporting the incident to police.
Mr Bull, 70, and his wife, who have run the guesthouse since 1986, say they enforce the ban because of their strong belief in God and marriage.
The guesthouse owners claim the rules are in place to prevent unmarried sex in their establishment, regardless of sexual orientation, which Judge Rutherford accepted in his ruling.
But Catherine Casserley, a human rights lawyer for the claimants, told the earlier hearing: ”If you are an unmarried couple you could lie and get a double room, but this is not an option open to same sex couples.
”We say the claimants were treated differently to a married couple and the only difference between them was their sexual orientation.”
Mrs Bull attended yesterday’s hearing without husband Peter, who was in hospital waiting to undergo a triple heart bypass operation
In a strongly-worded statement outside court, she claimed the law was making some people more equal than others.
She said: ”We feel Christianity is being marginalised in Britain.
”We have felt it before with Christian adoption agencies. A lot has been said about the equality laws but it seems that some people are more equal than others.
”We are disappointed with the result. The judge acknowledged our double bedroom policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage and has given us the right of appeal.
”At Chymorvah we have been trying to live and work in accordance with our faith – but we have been fined £3,600 for it.
”Chymorvah Guesthouse is not just a lovely hotel – it’s our home. We don’t expect everyone to agree with our beliefs, but we want them to live in accordance with our values under our own roof.
”The decision affects our religious liberty.”
Mr Hall and Mr Preddy released a joint statement saying they were ”extremely pleased”
with the decision.
It said: ”When we booked this hotel it was not a set-up, we just wanted to do something that thousands of couples do every weekend – take a relaxing weekend break away.
”We checked that hotel would allow us to bring our dog, but it didn’t even cross our minds that in 2008 we would have to check whether we would be welcome ourselves.
”We’re really pleased that the judge has confirmed what we already know – that in these circumstances our civil partnership has the same status in law as marriage between a man and a woman, and that regardless of each person’s religious beliefs, no one is above the law.”
The case was brought against the guesthouse under the 2007 Equality Act Regulations – and the gay couple could have won up to £5,000 in damages.
The ruling will make any guesthouse owners who restrict double bed accommodation to married couples liable to legal action.
Mr Preddy and Mr Hall’s legal fees are being paid for by the Government-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Group director John Wadham said: ”The right of an individual to practise their religion and live out their beliefs is one of the most fundamental rights a person can have, but so is the right not to be turned away by a hotel just because you are gay.
”The law works both ways. Hotel owners would not be able to turn away people whose religious beliefs they disagreed with.
”When Mr and Mrs Bull chose to open their home as a hotel, their private home became a commercial enterprise.
”This decision means that community standards, not private ones, must be upheld.”
Mr and Mrs Bull’s legal defence was financed by The Christian Institute, a charity that protects the religious liberty of Christians.
Spokesman Mike Judge said: ”This ruling is further evidence that equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield.
”Christians are being sidelined. The judge recognises that his decision has a profound impact on the religious liberty of Peter and Hazelmary.”
Mrs Bull said she will consult with her legal team before deciding whether to appeal.