Civil partners Steve Preddy and Martyn Hall were turned away from the hotel because the owners said due to their religious beliefs they did not allow unmarried couples to share double rooms. They did not recognise the couple’s civil partnership as being equivalent to marriage.
Mr Preddy and Mr Hall, supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, won their original County Court claim for direct discrimination based on their sexual orientation under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation Regulations) 2007, now incorporated into the Equality Act 2010. The Commission later successfully defended an appeal by Mr and Mrs Bull in the Court of Appeal.
The Bulls, who were backed by the Christian Institute, made a further appeal to the Supreme Court arguing that British equality law interfered with their right to live according to their religious beliefs under the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bulls’ religious beliefs did not entitle them to discriminate against civil partners. The Court confirmed that, although the right of citizens to practice their religion and live out their beliefs is a fundamental one, it can be limited where necessary to protect the rights of others.
The Court dismissed the Bulls’ appeal, saying: “Parliament has created the institution of civil partnership in order that same sex partners can enjoy the same legal rights as partners of the opposite sex. They are also worthy of the same respect and esteem.”
The Court added that if people were permitted to discriminate because of their belief that civil partnerships are not equivalent to marriage, this would “create a class of people who were exempt from the discrimination legislation” and added “ we do not normally allow people to behave in a way which the law prohibits because they disagree with the law.”
Wendy Hewitt, deputy legal director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:“The Courts have been very clear throughout this long-running case that same-sex couples should not be subjected to discrimination when accessing services. This is what Parliament intended when it approved the 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations and then passed the Equality Act 2010, well aware that gay men and lesbians have long suffered discrimination when seeking to stay away from home as a couple.
“As the Supreme Court noted: ‘if Mr Preddy and Mr Hall were hotel keepers who had refused a room to Mr and Mrs Bull, because they were Christians (or even because they were an opposite sex couple), the Commission would have been just as ready to support Mr and Mrs Bull in their claim. Each of these parties has the same right to be protected against discrimination by the other.’”