Court finds hotel owners discriminated against gay couple

18 January 2011

A gay couple have won their discrimination claim against the owners of a hotel in a landmark judgment today in the Bristol County Court in a case which was funded and led by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The judge's ruling in one of the first legal cases taken under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 means that people in civil partnerships will have greater protection from discrimination.

Civil partners Martyn Hall and Steve Preddy sued the owners of the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Cornwall on the grounds they were not allowed to share a double room because they were a gay couple.

The hotel owners, Peter and Hazel Bull, are devout Christians who do not allow couples who are not married to share double rooms because they do not believe in sex before marriage.

Mr and Mrs Bull maintained that their refusal to accommodate civil partners in a double room was not to do with sexual orientation but 'everything to do with sex'. The owners said the restriction applied equally to heterosexual couples who are not married.

Judge Rutherford ruled that the hotel had directly discriminated against the couple on the ground of their sexual orientation and awarded them compensation of £1,800 each.

In the ruling the judge said the right of the defendants to manifest their religion is not absolute and 'can be limited to protect the rights and freedoms of the claimants'. He described the Sexual Orientation Regulations as a 'necessary and proportionate intervention by the state to protect the rights of others'.

The judge also quashed the idea, suggested in some newspaper reports prior to the case and during the course of the hearing, that Mr Preddy and Mr Hall only booked the hotel at the instigation of the Stonewall organisation.

John Wadham, Group Director, Legal, at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“The right of an individual to practice 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 similarly 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 Preddy and Mr Hall said they were extremely pleased with the outcome of the case:

"When we booked this hotel we just wanted to do something that thousands of other couples do every weekend - take a relaxing weekend break away.

"We checked that the 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 a marriage between a man and a woman, and that regardless of each person's religious beliefs, no one is above the law."

Ends

For more press information contact the Commission's media 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

The Law

Regulation 3 of The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 provides that a person (“A”) discriminates against another (“B”) if, on the grounds of the sexual orientation of B or any other person except A, A treats B less favourably than he treats or would treat others.

On 1 October 2010 the Equality Act 2010 came into force and made marriage and civil partnership a protected characteristic.  It is now illegal for people to discriminate, harass or victimise another person because they belong to a group that the Act protects, are thought to belong to one of those groups or are associated with someone who does.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission

The 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.