Hazelmary and Peter Bull

Sued B&B owners 'hopeful' over judge's comments on religious freedoms

Fri 20 Jun 2014
By Sarah McAllister

The Christian B&B owners sued last year after refusing a room to a gay couple have welcomed comments by a supreme court judge who presided over the case after she questioned the clarity of the UK's equality laws in the wake of the ruling.

The Supreme court ruled in November that Hazelmary and Peter Bull were wrong to turn the men, who were in a civil partnership, away from their guest house on equality legislation grounds.

However, Lady Hale in a lecture to the Law Society of Ireland in Dublin, has appeared to suggest the UK's Equality Act hasn't found "reasonable accommodation" for different beliefs.

The Supreme Court judge also hints that if the law was to accommodate religious beliefs in a greater capacity, the Church of England may have to face disestablishment. 

She said: "If the law is going to protect freedom of religion and belief it has to accept that all religions and beliefs and none are equal. It cannot realistically inquire into the validity or importance of those beliefs, or any particular manifestation of them, as long as they are genuinely held. 

"It then has to work out how far it should go in making special provisions or exceptions for particular beliefs, how far it should require the providers of employments, goods and services to accommodate them, and how far it should allow for a "conscience clause", either to the providers or to employees.

"I am not sure that our law has yet found a reasonable accommodation of all these different strands. The story has just begun."

Speaking to Premier's Des Busteed on the News Hour Hazelmary Bull shared her frustrations over the timing of these comments but hopes it does mean change is coming.

The Bulls hit the headlines when in 2008, when they turned away Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall from Chymorvah House, which they run in Cornwall.

They claimed their double room policy of only allowing married couples came out of their religious beliefs but a court ruled it amounted to discrimination. They were ordered to pay £3,600 but appealed and after several cases ended up at the Supreme Court last year, where Lady Hale and other judges affirmed the ruling.

Speaking at the time, Lady Hale said: "The Appellants' concept of marriage was the Christian concept of the union of one man and one woman. 

"Civil partnership is a status akin to marriage, and the criteria of marriage and civil partnership are indissociable from the sexual orientation of those qualifying for the particular statuses. All married couples would be permitted a double bedroom by the Appellants, while no civilly partnered couples would be. 

"The Court's judgment does not favour sexual orientation over religious belief: had the Respondents refused hotel rooms to the Appellants because of the Appellants' Christian beliefs, the Appellants would equally have been protected by the law's prohibition of discrimination." 

Neil Addison is a barrister working on religious freedom cases and runs the Thomas Moore Legal Centre.

He told Premier's Des Busteed on the News Hour the real issue of a so called "conscience clause".

Just before the Supreme Court ruling, the Bull's told Premier they were selling up due to a lack of business. Because they refuse to change their policy they've been banned from advertising in several tourism guides.

They have since found a donor who's paying their mortgage allowing them to continue at Chymorvah. They've also been told recently that they don't have to pay all the legal costs of going to the Supreme Court. 

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