January 18th, 2011
07:58 AM ET
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
A Christian couple who refused a room in their bed and breakfast to a gay couple broke British equality law, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Peter and Hazel Bull who run a bed and breakfast in Cornwall in western England denied being anti-gay, saying they refuse double rooms to any unmarried couple.
"The Bulls made it clear that they did not hold any hostility towards homosexuals and applied their policy of 'only giving double rooms to married couples' equally to both homosexual and heterosexual guests alike," the Christian Legal Centre said in their defense.
But Judge Andrew Rutherford ruled the Bulls had discriminated against Martyn Hall and Steve Preddy on the ground of sexual orientation and awarded them 1,800 pounds (about $2,900) each, according to Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission, which supported the gay couple.
Hall and Preddy said they were extremely pleased with the outcome.
"When we booked this hotel ... we checked that (it) would allow us to bring our dog, but it didn't even cross our minds that in 2008 we would have to check whether we would be welcome ourselves," they said in a statement released by the commission.
They are civil partners, and they said they were "really pleased" that the ruling confirmed "our civil partnership has the same status in law as a marriage between a man and a woman, and that regardless of each person's religious beliefs, no one is above the law."
The ruling was one of the first under a 2007 British law banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, the commission said.
The British gay-rights group Stonewall is "delighted" with the outcome, its chief executive Ben Summerskill said.
"You can't turn away people from a hotel because they're black or Jewish and in 2011 you shouldn't be able to demean them by turning them away because they're gay either," he said, adding: "Religious freedom shouldn't be used as a cloak for prejudice."
But the director of the Christian Legal Centre said the court had "decided to override the freedoms of Mr. and Mrs. Bull.
"Today's judgment is yet further evidence that the so-called 'equality' legislation, which was intended to protect Christians along with many others in society, is treating some more equally than others and leaving Christians marginalized," Andrea Williams of the Legal Centre said.
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