Christian Bed and Breakfast owners fined £3000 for not allow gays to stay at B&B
Christian B&B owners who refused bed to gay couple ordered to pay £3,000 in compensation
In 2010 gay couple Michael Black and John Morgan were turned away from a Berkshire B&B because of the beliefs of the devout Christian owner
They went to court under equality legislation, claiming they had been discriminated against by Susanne Wilkinson
Now they have been awarded more than £3,000 in compensation after a court hearing today
Mrs Wilkinson said people should be ‘free to act upon their sincere beliefs’ and is considering an appeal
By Sam Webb
PUBLISHED: 15:15, 18 October 2012 | UPDATED: 19:00, 18 October 2012
A devout Christian bed and breakfast owner who refused a bed to a gay couple was today ordered to pay them more than £3000 in compensation.
Michael Black, 64, and his partner John Morgan, 59, began a legal battle soon after they were told they could not sleep together at the £75-a-night Swiss Bed and Breakfast in Cookham, Berkshire in March 2010.
Owner Susanne Wilkinson told a court she was serious about her Christian beliefs and had also stopped unmarried heterosexual couples from sharing a double bed.
But a judge at Reading County Court ordered her to pay £3,600 in damages for discriminating directly against the couple, who have been together for eight years.
Michael and John’s claim, funded by pressure group Liberty, was made under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 and argued that it was unlawful for a person providing services to the public to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.
EQUALITY VERSUS FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Michael and John’s claim was made under the new Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, which outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities, services, education and public functions on the grounds of sexual orientation. So, for example, a shopkeeper cannot refuse to sell goods to someone because they are gay. Previously, it was legal to refuse to serve homosexuals.
In 2009 registrar Lillian Ladele, who refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies because they were against her Christian beliefs, was ruled to have broken the law by Appeal Court judges.
The landmark case was the most important legal test yet in the struggle between Christians and the gay rights lobby.
In 2010 Chris Grayling, then Shadow Home Secretary but now Justice Secretary in the Coalition Cabinet, said Christian bed and breakfast owners should be allowed to turn away homosexual couples.
The Shadow Home Secretary said that while hotels should not discriminate against gays, Christians should be able to refuse anyone who offended their faith from entering their homes, prompting a backlash.
After the ruling Mrs Wilkinson, who lives with husband Mike, said: ‘Naturally, my husband and I are disappointed to have lost the case and to have been ordered to pay £3,600 in damages for injury to feelings.
‘We have the option to appeal and we will give that serious consideration.
‘We believe a person should be free to act upon their sincere beliefs about marriage under their own roof without living in fear of the law.
‘Equality laws have gone too far when they start to intrude into a family home.
‘People’s beliefs about marriage are coming under increasing attack and I am concerned about people’s freedom to speak and act upon these beliefs.
‘I am a Christian, not just on a Sunday in church, but in every area of my life – as Jesus expects from his followers.
‘That’s all I was trying to do and I think it’s quite wrong to punish me for that especially after enduring over two years of vile abuse and threats.
‘We find this a strange justice in a society that aspires to be increasingly tolerant.’
Mrs Wilkinson’s legal costs were paid by The Christian Institute, a national charity that endeavours to protect the civil liberty of Christians.
Spokesperson Mike Judge said: ‘Mrs Wilkinson’s B&B is a business but it’s also a family home.
‘The law should be more flexible in allowing people to live according to their own values under the own roof.
‘A bit more balance is needed rather than allowing one set of rights to automatically suppress another.’
In 2008 civil partners Martin Hall and Steven Paddy launched a county court claim against Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the owners of the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Cornwall.
They won £3,600 in damages because their human rights were breached by the guesthouse’s refusal to give them a double room, but the case is now going to appeal at the Supreme Court.