Christian B&B did discriminate against gay couple

Legal News | 9 July 2013

RCJ 5_JYG

Appeal judges follow previous ruling and find that B&B owner directly and indirectly discriminated

The owner of a Christian B&B directly and indirectly discriminated against a gay couple by denying them a double room, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Susanne Wilkinson, described as a "committed Christian", believed that the bible was the word of God and put bibles and tracts in every room of the Swiss Bed and Breakfast in Berkshire.

The court heard that her policy was, "so far as practicable", to restrict use of her double rooms to married heterosexual couples.

The Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson said that the court's previous decision in Preddy "compels the conclusion" that there was direct discrimination.

Appeal judges held in February last year that Christian owners Peter and Hazel Bull had directly discriminated against civil partners Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall by refusing them a double bed.

However Lord Dyson said the fact that Michael Black and John Morgan were not civil partners when they were refused a double room was not a "sound basis" to distinguish the latest case.

"In my view there is no difference in the essential facts in the two cases," Lord Dyson said in Black and Morgan v Wilkinson [2013] EWCA Civ 820.

"I have reluctantly concluded that the Recorder was right to follow Preddy and hold that there was unlawful direct discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation in this case," he said.

Although it was not "strictly necessary" for the Court of Appeal to rule on the question of indirect discrimination, Lord Dyson said he would do, in case his ruling on direct discrimination was wrong and because the issue had been argued in full.

The Master of the Rolls said that if the defendant was prevented from denying homosexual couples the use of her double rooms, it was clear that she would not be able to offer double rooms at all.

"There can be no doubt that such a restriction on her business would be commercially damaging to her. But no material was placed before the recorder to enable her to measure the scale of its likely impact.

"There was no evidence about the profits earned by the defendant from her business and no assessment of the reduction in profits that would be likely to result if she was only able to offer single rooms."

He went on: "In my view, the burden was on the defendant to justify her indirect discrimination of the claimants. If she wished to show that a restriction of her rights would cause her serious economic harm, then the burden was on her to do so. She failed to discharge it."

Lord Dyson ruled that Wilkinson had directly and indirectly discriminated against homosexual couples under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.

The Christian Institute funded both appeals by the B & B owners.

"I'm disappointed for Susanne that she didn't succeed on this occasion, but I am pleased that the court has taken a step in the right direction," spokesman Mike Judge said.

"For the first time in cases like these, the court has properly engaged in arguments of justification, and attempted to balance religious rights and sexual orientation rights.

"Balance is the key word. There should be more even-handedness for Christians who hold traditional views about marriage."

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