Posted by: jugglinbob | November 29, 2013

Bull vs Hall – Gay Couples in Christian Hotels

The case of the couple who booked a room in a small Cornish hotel and were then turned away on arrival has been all over the news for the last few years as it went to Court, to appeal, and now finally to the Supreme Court.

On the 5th of September 2008 civil partners Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall were turned away whilst trying to check into the Chymorvah House Hotel that had been booked the night before on the grounds that they were a gay couple.  Or at least that is the idea portrayed in the news…

The majority of the news articles that I’ve seen about this highlights the discrimination against the couple because of their sexuality, and I was going to write a post ranting about the bigotry of the hotel owners Mr & Mrs Bull, and whooping with joy that the owner’s appeal has been turned down not just once, but twice!

But, as always, the more one looks into a subject, the more interesting it becomes; I had firm ideas about what I was going to write about this – until I looked deeper…

This is one of the problems from the way we receive media these days; we are assaulted constantly by information in all its varied modern forms; television, radio, newspapers, and the internet, and do not have time to examine anything in any depth at all.  Instead, we just tend to rely on the headline and tag-line to formulate our opinions.

The “Facts”

  • Mr Preddy and Mr Hall were legally civil partners under the 2004 Civil Partnership Act.
  • The Chymorvah House Hotel, since opening 28 years ago, had a policy that only married couples could book a double-bedded room (from the video here)
  • Mr Preddy booked the double-bedded room by telephone, and had not seen the booking conditions
  • The booking conditions were visible on the website
  • When Hall & Preddy arrived at the hotel they were told of the booking conditions.  They then protested left and found alternative accommodation after being reimbursed the £30 deposit.  “There was no suggestion that the restriction was explained in a demeaning fashion.” (Paragraph 6)

And that’s about it.  Yes, are is more to it than that (read the full original appeal report here, and the Supreme Court Judgement here for full details.  These 5 “facts” are the most important though – and if you know just those then you know far more than you would have from reading most of the newspaper articles about the situation.

The Case

So the news reports that these homophobic hotel owners refuse to let a homosexual couple stay in a double-bedded room.  This is not the argument that the defendants used in court, although their repeated adherence to Christian beliefs would make this possible.  In this case they used the defence that they do not allow any unmarried couple to share a double-bedded room.  They state that, when they started the policy 28 years ago, “homosexuality never entered our thinking.” (video at 1:15)

As homosexuality in the UK was decriminalised in 1967, and so was decriminalised before the policy was made, this could show a lack of foresight from the hotel owners.  However, perhaps the idea that one day homosexual couples could get married, (or even obtain a legal partnership,) was unforeseeable in those days.  Since homosexuality has been legal, and to some extent accepted by society, since I can remember ,it is impossible for me to comment.  However, the problem is that currently single sex couples cannot get married.  It will be possible soon, perhaps as soon as summer 2014 after the legislation was passed in July of this year,  but currently the closest is a civil partnership under the Civil Partnership Act 2004

This act was passed in July 2004, and came into effect in December 2005 giving same-sex couples who entered into them the same rights and responsibilities of marriage, and although the British media called this gay marriage (also), the government made it clear that this is not the case.  The “UK law on civil partnerships provides legal recognition that is “very similar” to marriage,” Lord Bach told the House of Lords, “but [the law] did not call those partnerships marriage, and that remains government policy.”

There are many differences between the legal entity of a civil partnership and that of marriage, but the legal rights and definitions showing the similarity became the crux the appeal dismissal.

From the first appeal:

13.          The Judge said:-

“It seems to me that a correct analysis of the position of the defendants is that they discriminate on the basis of marital status…….If that is … correct…then … there is no material difference (for the purpose of this regulation) between marriage and a civil  partnership. If that is right then upon what basis do the defendants draw a distinction if it is not on sexual orientation?”

There follows a lot of legalese, with the argument both for and against backed up from prior cases, but it concludes:

67.          I agree with Rafferty LJ that the judge was right to conclude that Mr and Mrs Bull had directly discriminated against Mr Preddy and Mr Hall in refusing to let to them the double bedded room they had booked… I too would dismiss this appeal.

The Supreme Court has upheld the appeal decision, with Lady Hale stating:

1. Is it lawful for a Christian hotel keeper, who sincerely believes that sexual relations outside marriage are sinful, to refuse a double-bedded room to a same sex couple? Does it make any difference that the couple have entered into a civil partnership?

2. The general rule is that suppliers of goods and services are allowed to pick and choose their customers. They were first prohibited from discriminating against a would-be customer on grounds of sex, race or disability, by the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995…

9. Mr Preddy and Mr Hall are civil partners who live in Bristol. They planned a short break in Cornwall. On 4 September 2008, Mr Preddy made a telephone booking at the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Marazion, of a double bedroom for the nights of 5 and 6 September. Mr and Mrs Bull own the Hotel, and run it together with their cousin, Mr Quinn. They are devout Christians who sincerely believe (as the judge put it) “that the only divinely ordained sexual relationship is that between a man and a woman within the bonds  of matrimony”. In 2008 their online booking form stated: “Here at Chymorvah we have few rules, but please note, that out of a deep regard for marriage we prefer to let double accommodation to heterosexual married couples only – thank you”. Twin bedded and single rooms, on the other hand, would be let to any person regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.

10. Mr Preddy did not see this clause, because he booked by telephone, and Mrs Bull did not follow her usual practice of asking whether the reservation was for a man and his wife, because she was unwell when she got up to answer the telephone which had been ringing for some time. When Mr Preddy and Mr Hall arrived at the hotel on 5 September, they were met by Mr Quinn, who informed them that the double-bedded rooms were for married couples only. Mr Preddy said that they were in a civil partnership. Mr Quinn “explained that we were Christians and did not believe in civil partnerships and that marriage is between a man and a woman and therefore we could not honour their booking”. It was accepted that this was not done in a demeaning manner, but there were other guests present. The refusal was “very hurtful” to the couple, who left the hotel and found alternative accommodation at another hotel. The deposit which they had paid was re-credited to their account.

26. Civil partnership is not called marriage but in almost every other respect it is indistinguishable from the status of marriage in United Kingdom law. It was introduced so that same sex couples could voluntarily assume towards one another the same legal responsibilities, and enjoy the same legal rights, as married couples assume and enjoy. It is more than a contract. Like marriage, it is a status, in which some of the terms are prescribed by law, and which has consequences for people other than the couple themselves and for the state. Its equivalence to marriage is emphasised by the provision in regulation 3(4) that being married and being a civil partner is not to be treated as a material difference for the purpose of a finding of either direct or indirect discrimination.

I feel that Mr Preddy was unaware of the conditions that Mr & Mrs Bull had.  By using the internet archive WayBack Machine I’ve looked at the hotel’s web page to examine what Preddy could have seen when looking at the hotel’s website.

The snapshot taken on 25th June 2008 (the change recorded prior to the incident date) does say fairly clearly on the booking page:

Special Note:  Here at Chymorvah we have few rules, but please note, that out of a deep regard for marriage we prefer to let double accommodation to heterosexual married couples only – thank you.”

This has now been changed to:

Special Note:Here at Chymorvah we have few rules, but please note that as Christians we have a deep regard for marriage(being the union of one man to one woman for life to the exclusion of all others).  Therefore, although we extend to all a warm welcome to our home, our double bedded accommodation is not available to unmarried couples. Thank you”

This was changed by 25th March 2009 by the latest.  Please note the change in the wording, from mentioning “ heterosexual married” to just “unmarried couples”…

However this condition was only on the hotel’s web booking page, and so would have not been seen by anyone booking using the phone number on the front page.

So… maybe the Bulls should have their intolerance to any unmarried couple (straight or gay) up front on their web page…

I am wondering about how much their legal defence about not discriminating against gay couples is just that – a legal defence.  They say that it’s not homosexuality itself that is the problem…  but I wonder…

The hotel’s policy is discriminatory and outdated.  In British films (especially farces) from the 60’s unmarried couples often signed the hotel register “Mr & Mrs Smith” with a bit of a nod, a wink, and leer from the male hotel receptionist.  Today we don’t need this lie, and as a heterosexual man I can turn up at any hotel with any woman and just check in.  The thing is that I could also check into this hotel with any woman, by using this convention from the 1960’s.  I think that it is unlikely that the Bulls ask for the original wedding certificate before allowing every heterosexual couple to have a double-bedded room.

But what about a gay couple?  At the moment homosexual couples cannot be married in this country;  the nearest that they can get if they want to formalise their relationship, and gain some of the benefits of “marriage”, is the civil partnership.  This is itself legalised discrimination, as a heterosexual couple cannot have a legal civil partnership, and until next year a homosexual couple cannot get married…

Lord Toulson in the Supreme Court stated:

“This, [the Bulls] say, shows that the refusal of a double bedroom to Mr Preddy and Mr Hall had nothing to do with their sexual orientation

but as the couple cannot be married then the hotel’s policy is discriminatory against homosexual couples.

So the question is, which side do I believe is correct in this case?  This is where I’ve flipped and flopped whilst examining the case.  Originally I sided with Hall & Preddy as every news reported highlighted the discrimination against them because of their sexual orientation, which would be clearly wrong.  The Bulls however state that any unmarried couple are barred from staying in these rooms, and I have to say that although I disagree with this policy, I have to agree that they have the right to have it.  As long as that is indeed true.  Every heterosexual couple should be required to show proof of their marriage, and next summer when gay marriage is finally possible then no restrictions can be made against these newly legal marriages.

Since they have stated  in court that the issue is only about unmarried couples – roll on the summer of 2014!

I want that place booked out all summer by legally married single-sex couples loudly and overtly enjoying their double-bedded rights to nights together…

Go on!  It’s your legal right!  Book here!


Responses

  1. The problem for the Halls is, if they could argue it’s not direct discrimination- refusing because they are gay- it is “indirect discrimination”, which is also unlawful: refusing on a ground which applies to almost all gay couples. and far less to straight couples.

    • I hadn’t made my point clearly (it was late, and I was tired!) I’ve edited the conclusion to add in what I meant to write originally! I didn’t go into the whole direct / indirect discrimination discussion as I felt that this post was already running long. The Regulation 3(4) of The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 which discusses it is interesting, and perhaps I should look at that in the future.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: