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Christian hotel owners unlawfully discriminated against civil partners by refusing to let them share a double bed

13 January 2014

Bull & Bull v Hall & Preddy concerned the issue of whether it was lawful for Christian hotel owners, who sincerely believed that sexual relations outside marriage are sinful, to refuse a double-bedded room to a same sex couple. The Supreme Court held that the conduct of Mr and Mrs Bull, in refusing to allow Mr Hall and Mr Preddy, same sex civil partners, to share a double bed, amounted to unlawful discrimination contrary to the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 (replaced by the Equality Act 2010).

Mr and Mrs Bull operated a policy, based on their Christian beliefs that only married heterosexual couples could stay in rooms with double beds. Both unmarried homosexual and heterosexual couples were denied a double bedded room under this policy. The Supreme Court held that the criterion that a double bed would only be provided to a heterosexual married couple amounted to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. They were divided as to whether this was direct or indirect discrimination but unanimously agreed that it amounted to unlawful discrimination. The majority concluded that it amounted to direct discrimination and the significance of this is that direct discrimination may never be justified. The Court considered the impact of Article 9 (1) of the European Convention of Human Rights which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief i.e. Mr and Mrs Bull’s policy was a manifestation of their religious belief but nevertheless concluded that Mr Hall and Mr Preddy were entitled to protection against discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

The case sends a clear message that manifestation of an individual’s religious belief in a way which may discriminate against others with a protected characteristic is likely to be unlawful.

Joanna Lada-Walicki
Barlow Robbins