(Photo: Reuters/Andrew Winning)
A British court rejected an appeal Friday from two Christian hotel owners who were sued after turning away a gay couple from their establishment because of their beliefs regarding pre-marital sex.
Peter and Hazelmary Bull from Cornwall, England, were ordered in Jan. 2011 to pay nearly $6,000 in damages to Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall after the gay couple was denied a stay at the Bull's Chymorvah Private Hotel.
The Bulls said they were not discriminating against Preddy and Hall's sexual orientation, but told the court they have a longstanding policy of rejecting all unmarried couples. The hotel owners told the appellate court they believe sex outside of marriage is amoral and that renting a room with one bed to an unmarried couple would be "promoting a sin."
But lawyers for Preddy and Hall said that by only allowing married couples to stay in their hotel, the Bulls were indeed discriminating against gay couples because same-sex marriage is not legal in the U.K.
"The restriction operates to confer a benefit only on married persons and no others," Queen's Counsel Robin Allen said at the appeal. "For [the hoteliers'] purposes this only means heterosexual persons. For this reason alone it is directly discriminatory."
Preddy and Hall were originally awarded compensation under the Equality Act Regulations of 2007, which made it a crime in the U.K. to discriminate against someone based on their sexual preference.
Simon Calvert of The Christian Institute – an organization that helped fund the Bulls' appeal – said after Friday's ruling that the septuagenarian couple had been wrongfully convicted and their values compromised.
"Peter and Hazelmary have been penalized for their beliefs about marriage," Calvert told reporters. "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.
"Something has gone badly wrong with our equality laws when good, decent people like Peter and Hazelmary are penalized but extremist hate preachers are protected."
The Bulls and their defense team were not the only ones to take exception to the ruling.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, said it was an injustice to rule against the couple for defending their right to believe what they wish.
"This was the wrong decision," Williams said in a statement. "A number of judgments have now elevated sexual orientation rights above historic freedom of belief. This was never the intention of Parliament, and has no democratic mandate."
"Bed and breakfast owners have now become another category of people in the U.K. who will be penalized if they try to serve the public without compromising their religious beliefs," Williams added.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) defended Preddy and Hall in the Court of Appeals and said although they believe justice was served, the group does recognize the Bulls' concern.
"I have genuine sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Bull, as their beliefs are clearly strongly held," John Wadham, EHRC Group Director said in a statement. "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."
The group said it would not pursue compensation for legal costs from the Bulls.