Hotel victory for gay couple as they each receive £1,800 compensation
The devout Christian owners of a Westcountry hotel who refused a gay couple a double room have been ordered to pay them compensation after a judge ruled that they acted unlawfully.
Peter and Hazelmary Bull, who run the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Marazion near Penzance, have been forced to pay Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy £1,800 each, in damages, and their legal costs.
The ruling has been hailed as a victory for campaigners against discrimination while many Christians fear the result is yet another example of how they are becoming increasingly marginalised for standing up for their beliefs.
Mr and Mrs Bull, who fear they are now facing financial ruin as a result of the court's decision, said they would consider appealing against the ruling, which means the case could be heard at the High Court and in Europe.
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Mrs Bull said: "We are obviously disappointed with the result. Our double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage, not hostility to anybody.
"It was applied equally and consistently to unmarried heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, as the judge accepted.
"We are trying to live and work in accordance with our Christian faith. As a result we have been sued and ordered to pay £3,600.
"But many Christians have given us gifts, so thanks to them we will be able to pay the damages."
Mrs Bull added: "I do feel that Christianity is being marginalised in Britain. The same laws used against us have been used to shut down faith-based adoption agencies.
"Much is said about 'equality and diversity' but it seems some people are more equal than others."
Mr Bull was unable to attend court yesterday as he is due to undergo surgery for a triple heart bypass.
Mr Hall and Mr Preddy last night welcomed the ruling.
The gay couple said the decision showed no-one was above the law.
They had taken Peter and Hazelmary Bull to court after they were turned away from the couple's hotel in September 2008 having booked the double room.
In a ruling at Bristol County Court, Judge Andrew Rutherford said the Bulls had acted unlawfully and ordered them to pay damages and legal costs.
Mr Hall, 46, and Mr Preddy, 38, from Bristol, made the claim for sexual orientation discrimination under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.
They said: "We're really pleased that the judge has confirmed what we already know – that in these circumstances 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."
The Bulls, who were backed by the Christian Institute, denied the gay couple's claim, saying they have a long-standing policy of banning all unmarried couples both heterosexual and gay from sharing a bed at the hotel.
Mr Bull, 70, and his wife, 66, said their policy, operated since they bought the hotel in 1986, is based on their beliefs about marriage and not hostility to sexual orientation.
The court ruling could mean that the Bulls are forced to close their business if they refuse to change their policy.
In his ruling, Judge Rutherford said in the last 50 years social attitudes in Britain had changed.
"We live today in a parliamentary democracy. Our laws are made by the Queen in Parliament," he said.
"It is inevitable that such laws will from time to time cut across deeply held beliefs of individuals and sections of society for they reflect the social attitudes and morals prevailing at the time that they are made.
"I am quite satisfied as to the genuineness of the defendants' beliefs and it is, I have no doubt, one which others also hold.
"It is a very 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. Now it is the other way around."
The judge accepted the Bulls did hold "perfectly orthodox Christian beliefs".
"I have found this a very difficult case, not least because the application of these regulations is an area of the law with which I have not previously had to grapple," he said. "And it is clearly, in my view, the case that each side hold perfectly honourable and respectable, albeit wholly contrary, views."
However, he said that under the Bulls' rules, two friends of the same sex who are backpacking around Cornwall could not have a double room at their hotel.
"It seems to me that a correct analysis of the position of the defendants is that they discriminate on the basis of marital status.
"I have reached the clear conclusion that on a proper analysis of the defendants' position on the facts of this particular case the only conclusion which can be drawn is that the refusal to allow them to occupy the double room which they had booked was because of their sexual orientation and that prima facie they fall within the provisions of Regulation 3(1) and that this is direct discrimination."