A gay British couple has won a lawsuit against the owner of a bed and breakfast after she refused to let them stay because of her religious beliefs.
Michael Black, 64, and John Morgan, 69, were awarded £1,800 each at Reading County Court for ‘injury to feelings’.
The couple, who booked by email and paid a deposit, were turned away by Christian owner Susanne Wilkinson when they arrived at the Swiss Bed and Breakfast in Cookham, Berkshire in March 2010.
Despite protestations from Black that it was unlawful discrimination, the owner refused to allow the couple to stay as it was ‘against her convictions.’
However, the judge found that Black and Morgan suffered direct discrimination and also made clear that, even if she had not found direct discrimination, she would have found that the owner’s professed policy of only giving double rooms to married couples was indirectly discriminatory.
The judge dismissed the owner’s argument that she had not acted in a discriminatory way because she objected to homosexual sexual behaviour rather than homosexual sexual orientation.
It was also found that, although the refusal of a room could be seen as a manifestation of the owner’s religious beliefs, her right to manifest these beliefs was not unfairly limited by the Equality Act – which requires that service providers do not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation.
‘Naturally, my husband and I are disappointed to have lost the case and to have been ordered to pay £3,600 in damages for injury to feeling,’ said Wilkinson in response to the ruling.
‘We believe a person should be free to act upon their sincere beliefs about marriage under their own roof without living in fear of the law. Equality laws have gone too far when they start to intrude into a family home.’
Lawyers from human rights organization Liberty took up the case.
James Welch, legal director of Liberty, said: ‘Liberty defends the rights of religious groups to manifest their beliefs, even when we disagree with them. But it is simply unacceptable for people running a business to refuse to provide a service because of someone’s sexual orientation.
‘Hopefully today’s ruling signals the death knell of such ‘no gays’ policies – policies that would never be tolerated if they referred to a person’s race, gender or religion.’
UK-based gay rights group, Stonewall, applauded the ruling.
The charity’s chief executive Ben Summerskill said: ‘This judgement vindicates Stonewall’s hard work to make sure businesses can’t turn people away simply because they happen to be gay.
‘It’s a shame tens of thousands of pounds have been wasted reiterating this well-established principle, when any good Christian would surely prefer to have seen that money spent on relieving poverty or tackling hunger.’