- (Photo: Press Association via AP Images / Ben Birchall)
A judge has sided with a gay couple who were refused a double room at a Christian guesthouse.
Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy booked a double room at the Chymorvah guesthouse in Cornwall, United Kingdom, in September 2008 but were turned away upon arrival when staff realized the booking had not been made for a heterosexual married couple.
Guesthouse owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull have implemented a policy of allowing only heterosexual married couples to stay in their double rooms since they opened the guesthouse, also the family home, in 1986 and the guesthouse website gives notice of the policy on its booking page.
They were sued by civil partners Preddy and Hall on the grounds that the policy discriminated against them under the Equality Act.
The Bulls had received a letter from gay rights group Stonewall a month earlier informing them about equality legislation, prompting suspicions that they were deliberately targeted.
Earlier today, Judge Andrew Rutherford ruled that the Bulls’ policy was unlawful and that the Equality Act requires that civil partnerships are treated in the same way as marriage.
The Bulls must now pay Preddy and Hall £3,600 (around $5757) in damages.
The judge 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”.
Responding to the ruling, Hazelmary Bull said: “We are obviously disappointed with the result. Our double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage, not hostility to anybody. It was applied equally and consistently to unmarried heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, as the judge accepted.
"We are trying to live and work in accordance with our Christian faith," she added. "As a result we have been sued and ordered to pay £3,600. But many Christians have given us gifts, so thanks to them we will be able to pay the damages.”
Bull welcomed the judge's decision to grant an appeal and said she and her husband would take time to consider their options with their legal team at the Christian Institute.
While she welcomed the judge's acknowledgment that his ruling infringed on hers and her husband's human rights, she expressed disappointment over the treatment of Christians under the Equality laws.
"I do feel that Christianity is being marginalized in Britain," she said. "The same laws used against us have been used to shut down faith-based adoption agencies.
"Much is said about ‘equality and diversity’ but it seems some people are more equal than others.”
The Bulls' legal defense was funded by the Christian Institute. Spokesman Mike Judge agreed with the view that Christians are being sidelined in Britain.
“This ruling is further evidence that equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield," he said. "Peter and Hazelmary were sued with the full backing of the Government-funded Equality Commission.
"The judge recognizes that his decision has a profound impact on the religious liberty of Peter and Hazelmary.”