The owners of a hotel in Cornwall, who refused to allow a gay couple a double room acted unlawfully, a judge ruled yesterday.
Peter and Hazelmary Bull, of the Chymorvah Hotel, near Penzance, said that as Christians they did not believe unmarried couples should share a room.
Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy, from Bristol, said the incident in September 2008 was "direct discrimination" against them and were awarded £1,800 each in damages at Bristol County Court.
"When we booked to stay at the Chymorvah Hotel we just wanted a relaxing weekend away - something thousands of other couples in Britain do every weekend," Mr Preddy said.
Speaking outside court Mrs Bull said she and her husband were considering an appeal. "We are obviously disappointed with the result," she said. "Our double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage, not hostility to anybody."
In his ruling, Judge Rutherford said that, in the past 50 years, social attitudes in Britain had changed and it was inevitable that laws would "cut across" some people's beliefs.
"I am quite satisfied as to the genuineness of the defendants' beliefs and it is, I have no doubt, one which others also hold," he added.
"It is a very clear example of how social attitudes have changed over the years for it is not so very long ago that these beliefs of the defendants would have been those accepted as normal by society at large."Now it is the other way around."
Mr Hall and Mr Preddy's case was backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. John Wadham, a director at the commission, said the hotel was a commercial enterprise and subject to community standards, rather than private ones.
"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," he said.
Gay right's campaigner Peter Tatchell said the decision was "a victory for equality and a defeat for discrimination... Although people are entitled to their religious beliefs, no one should be above the law," he said.
Mike Judge, from the Christian Institute, which funded the Bulls' defence, said: "This ruling is further evidence that equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield. Peter and Hazelmary were sued with the full backing of the government-funded Equality Commission. He said: "Christians are being sidelined. The judge recognises that his decision has a profound impact on the religious liberty of Peter and Hazelmary."
Rev Sharon Ferguson, Chief Executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said: “This is a simple case of Equalities law being upheld. Thankfully we have laws in the UK which ensure equal treatment of all people no matter their ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on. For the judge to have ruled any differently would have meant that within the UK the only people who can argue exception from laws are those who do so on religious grounds. Equality legislation is designed to protect everyone including people of faith. There seems to be a muddying of the waters in this case, as it has been argued that the Bulls have the right to refuse entry to whosoever they wish into their own home. This is entirely correct, but the bed and breakfast accommodation they own is a business and so no longer a private residence. Therefore this argument is both irrelevant and wrong.”
Rev Ferguson added: “Peter and Hazel Bull may well have sincere convictions about the nature of marriage – this ruling does not deny them these convictions. But if you are running a business you must make your services available to all without discrimination. As a Christian organisation we understand the fears of those who see religious faith being marginalised, but often this is not in fact the case. And excluding people, especially when our scriptures are full of exhortations to welcome the stranger (the one who is different from us), is no way to defend and uphold Christian values.”
In December a letter written by two Church of England bishops, the Bishop of Winchester, Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, and the former Bishop of Rochester, Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali.appeared in The Daily Telegraph in which the bishops expressed “great concern” over the case.
They wrote: “Mr and Mrs Bull’s understanding of marriage is the same as that of English law and the Christian Church. Their guesthouse is also their home. Their policy may seem traditional but, of itself, there is nothing wrong with that.”
They added: “Liberty of conscience must not be confined to the mind. It is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to stand by our principles publicly.”