Hotel owners barred gay couple on religious grounds, court told
Peter and Hazelmary Bull say their faith precludes them from letting unmarried couples share a room under their roof
The Christian owners of a Cornish hotel told a court today that they turned away a gay couple because their faith prevented them from allowing unmarried guests to share a room.
In the first case of its kind, Peter and Hazelmary Bull denied the allegation that they discriminated against Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy because they were gay, but insisted their faith meant they believed unmarried couples should not share a room under their roof.
It was suggested during the hearing at Bristol county court that the Bulls had been “set up”, but Preddy and Hall, who are civil partners, insist that they had no idea of the hotel’s policy before arriving.
Backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Preddy and Hall are claiming damages of £5,000 under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations. The Bulls’ defence is financed by the Christian Institute, a charity that works to protect “the religious liberty of Christians”. Before the case began, around 30 supporters sang hymns and held up placards declaring: “It’s their home” – a reminder that the Bulls live as well as work at the hotel.
Preddy told the court he booked a room at the Chymorvah private hotel in Marazion, near Penzance, over the phone after looking at its website. He had not seen its room policy, which appeared only on its booking form, he said.
When the couple, from Bristol, arrived at the hotel in September 2008, manager Bernie Quinn informed them of the policy. “I would say the body language wasn’t great and it was clear we were not welcome in the hotel,” said Preddy. After being turned away, they reported the Bulls to the police, the court heard.
Mrs Bull, 66, said: “We accept that the Bible is the holy living word of God and we endeavour to follow that.” She said the hotel’s policy was not to allow unmarried couples of either sex to share a double or a twin room, and that the policy had been in existence since 1986. The couple’s faith meant they did not believe in sex before marriage and would not allow it under their roof, Mrs Bull said.
She explained that she took Preddy’s booking over the telephone when she was ill and so failed to explain the hotel’s policy. “There is no way I would have let them make the journey only to be disappointed,” she said. “We were very surprised when the two gentlemen turned up the next day.
“This is our home; it’s not some large corporation. We feel that under the eyes of God we need to feel comfortable there – and that includes sleeping arrangements.
“We feel that our faith and conscience means we are responsible for what happens under our roof and that the teachings of the Christian faith are opposed to sex outside of marriage.”
The hearing heard that the semi-detached hotel has seven rooms in total – three doubles, one family room, two twins and a single – with the Bulls living on the ground floor.
The court heard that the gay rights group Stonewall had written to the Bulls a month earlier advising them of new equality rules. The claimants’ barrister, Catherine Casserley, asked Quinn: “Are you suggesting this claim was a set-up?” Quinn replied: “It is not beyond the realms of possibility.”
Preddy said he and his civil partner were members of Stonewall, but said they had no knowledge of the organisation contacting the hotel before their visit.
The Bulls’ barrister, James Dingemans QC, said: “It is not part of the defendants’ case to undermine the rights of same-sex partners. The defendants do submit their policy is directed to sex and not sexual orientation and is lawful.”
The issue was raised during the general election campaign when the then shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, apologised after saying that people who ran bed and breakfasts in their home ought to be able to turn away gay couples.
The case continues.