Owners of U.K. Hotel Fined for Turning Away Gay Couple
In a decision widely hailed by gay rights groups here and in the United Kingdom -- and just as roundly condemned by some religious groups -- a judge ordered a devoutly Christian couple to pay a fine of £1,800 to two gay men who were refused a room at their bed-and-breakfast.
The judge in Bristol ruled under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 the (U.K.) Guardian reported. The law was meant to grant equal protections to same-sex couples.
In 2008, Martyn Hall and Steve Preddy checked out the charming little hotel in Cornwall, in the far southwest of England, for everything including whether it allowed dogs. But it never occurred to them that the owners, Peter and Hazel Bull, wouldn’t allow them to share a room.
The Bulls, however, don’t believe in sex before marriage -- and that includes their guests. So they denied the men a room together, even though they have a civil partnership. In Britain, a civil partnership is the equivalent of marriage in everything but name.
Judge Andrew Rutherford said the defendants gave up the right to impose their religious beliefs when they opened a commercial establishment.
"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.
"The law works both ways. Hotel owners would similarly not be able to turn away people whose religious beliefs they disagreed with.
"When Mr and Mrs Bull chose to open their home as a hotel, their private home became a commercial enterprise. This decision means that community standards, not private ones, must be upheld," said John Wadham, director of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission.
"The law works both ways. Hotel owners would similarly not be able to turn away people whose religious beliefs they disagreed with," he added. "When Mr and Mrs Bull chose to open their home as a hotel, their private home became a commercial enterprise. This decision means that community standards, not private ones, must be upheld."
Not everyone is happy with the decision.
"Our double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage, not hostility to anybody," Hazel Bull said. "It was applied equally and consistently to unmarried heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, as the judge accepted."
"Human rights law needs to face up to its current lack of fairness and inability to decide even-handedly where rights clash," a spokesman for the Evangelical Alliance told Catholic website Lifesite News. "This applies particularly to religious conscience and practice in public life."
Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).