Gay couple Michael Black and John Morgan win B&B battle

 

A gay couple have won their legal case against the owner of bed and breakfast accommodation who refused to let them stay in a double room because of her religious views, according to human rights pressure group Liberty.

Michael Black, 64, and partner John Morgan, 59, sought damages from Susanne Wilkinson after she declined to let them have the room at the Swiss Bed and Breakfast in Cookham, Berkshire, in March 2010.

Following the case heard at Reading County Court, the judge, Recorder Claire Moulder, found the couple had suffered unlawful discrimination.

The court heard that the pair, from Brampton, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, were refused the room despite having made a reservation and paid a deposit.

At the time, Mr Black, an exams consultant and writer, protested at this treatment but the owner refused to allow them to stay as it was "against her convictions".

The judge found that Mr Black and Mr Morgan, a computer consultant, had been the victims of direct discrimination.

She also said that even if this had not been the ruling, she would have found that the 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, according to a Liberty spokesman.

The spokesman added: "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."

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."

During the hearing, lawyers for Mrs Wilkinson argued that a person offering bed and breakfast in their own home was entitled to refuse to permit persons who were not married or in a civil partnership (whether of the opposite sex or the same sex) to share a double bed.

The couple are not in a civil partnership.

In these circumstances, there was no direct or indirect discrimination, they said.

Mrs Wilkinson, a married mother-of-four, considered that providing a double bed to the couple would involve her in promoting what she believed to be a sin, namely sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage, the court heard.

James Dingemans QC, for Mrs Wilkinson, told the court: "If Mrs Wilkinson had simply said, 'don't come in because you're gay', that could never be justified.

"It was simply the provision of the double bed which Mrs Wilkinson believed was wrong."

It has been reported that the couple would donate any damages awarded to charity.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay pressure group Stonewall, said: "This judgment 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."

PA

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