The Court of Appeal has ruled that it should not be ‘direct discrimination’ against gay couples for Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) to have a ‘married couples only’ policy for double rooms.
Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson said, on 9 July, that he would prefer to treat a ‘married couples only’ policy as indirect discrimination, which can be lawful if the policy is itself justified. In this regard, the Court acknowledged that religious rights are of equal importance to sexual orientation rights.
The ruling relates to the case of B&B owner Susanne Wilkinson who said she was trying to uphold her beliefs about marriage in her family-run B&B, near Cookham in Berkshire. She was sued by a gay couple, Michael Black and John Morgan, after refusing them a double bed in March 2010.
In October 2012, a county court ruling said Mrs Wilkinson’s policy directly discriminated against gay couples, and she was ordered to pay £3,600 in damages.
In its latest ruling the Court of Appeal felt it had to follow previous rulings in similar cases, although Lord Dyson said he was ‘reluctant’ to do so.
However, in this particular case, the Court said Mrs Wilkinson’s policy would not be justified because she could convert her B&B to single bed accommodation without it having a fatal economic impact on her.
Mrs Wilkinson said, ‘I am disappointed to have lost at this stage, but I am pleased that there is hope for people like me who believe in marriage.
‘In particular, I am pleased that in his ruling Lord Dyson has stated that, in his opinion, mine ought not to be a case of direct discrimination. I am also encouraged that the three presiding High Court judges have affirmed that the human right of religious belief is intrinsically as important as that of homosexual orientation, and that neither right in principle trumps the other.
‘It’s sad that cases like this are coming to court in a country that has a great Christian heritage. However, whatever the outcome of my case, my faith is grounded in a sovereign, loving and unchanging God and his eternal plans and purposes’.
Mrs Wilkinson’s appeal to the Court of Appeal was paid for by the Christian Institute, a national charity that defends the civil liberty of Christians. Spokesman Mike Judge said, ‘I’m disappointed for Susanne that she didn’t succeed on this occasion, but I am pleased that the Court has taken a step in the right direction.
‘For the first time in cases like these, the Court has properly engaged in arguments of justification, and attempted to balance religious rights and sexual orientation rights. Balance is the key word. There should be more even-handedness for Christians who hold traditional views about marriage’.