Gay couple win damages from Christian hoteliers

 

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The Independent Online

A gay couple who were refused a double room at a hotel run by a Christian couple have won damages after a judge ruled they were treated unlawfully.

Martyn Hall and his civil partner, Steven Preddy, were turned away from Peter and Hazelmary Bull's hotel in Cornwall in September 2008. The pair, who are from Bristol, sought up to £5,000 in damages after claiming they had been the victims of sexual discrimination. At a hearing last month, the Bulls denied the claim, arguing that they had a long-standing policy of banning all unmarried couples, both heterosexual and gay, from sharing a bed at the Chymorvah hotel in Marazion, near Penzance.

Mr Bull, 70, and his wife, 66, said the policy was based on their beliefs about marriage and did not suggest they were hostile to people's sexual orientation.

But yesterday Judge Andrew Rutherford said social attitudes and the law had changed in Britain over the last 50 years, citing the smoking ban and the decriminalisation of homosexuality as examples.

"It is inevitable that such laws will from time to time cut across deeply held beliefs of individuals and sections of society," he said. "These laws have come into being because of changes in social attitudes. The standards and principles governing our behaviour which were unquestioningly accepted in one generation may not be so accepted in the next.

"[This] is a 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."

James Dingemans QC, representing Mr and Mrs Bull, said the couple had been "vilified as objects of fun" in newspapers for only allowing married couples to stay in double rooms at their hotel. "The defendants respectfully submit that their policy is directed at sex and not to sexual orientation and is lawful," he said.

Hotel employee Bernie Quinn hinted that Mr Preddy and Mr Hall's booking had been a "set up" by the gay rights group Stonewall. He said the hotel had received a letter from the organisation criticising their stance a month before the couple made their booking. Stonewall denied the allegation, claiming it sent the letter after a gay woman alerted them to the Bulls' policy.

Mr Preddy, 38, said he and Mr Hall, 46, booked the room by phone and were unaware of the policy until they arrived and were told by Mr Quinn they would not be able to stay.

The couple said: "The judge has confirmed what we already know – our civil partnership has the same status in law as a marriage between a man and a woman, and that, regardless of each person's religious beliefs, no one is above the law."

John Wadham, of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: "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."

World's best B&B

A former manse in the Scottish Highlands has been named the best B&B in the world by the well-travelled users of website TripAdvisor. Popular with visitors to nearby Loch Ness, both of the suites at The Old Manse at Invermoriston boast four-poster beds and private lounges. Set in acres of mixed woodland replete with streams and a cascading waterfall, wildlife such as squirrels, deer and tawny owls make regular appearances. British establishments dominated the top 10, occupying six of the first eight places.