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Gay couple sue B&B owner who refused them double room

21 September 2012

THE Christian owner of a bed-and-breakfast business appeared in court on Monday after being sued by a gay couple to whom she refused to let a double room.

The couple, Michael Black and John Morgan, from Cambridgeshire, are each seeking £1800 in damages from the hotelier, Susanne Wilkinson.

Mrs Wilkinson, whose case is being supported by the Christian Institute, told the couple, who are not in a civil partnership, that they could not share a double room when they arrived at her B&B in Cookham, Berkshire, in March 2010 ( News, 26 March 2010). Mr Black and Mr Morgan reported what had happened to the police, and were advised to pursue a civil action.

In a similar case last year, a judge ruled that Peter and Hazelmary Bull, Christian hotel-owners from Cornwall, had acted unlawfully when they denied a double room to Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, who are civil partners ( News, 21 January 2011, 17 December 2010).

During a hearing at Reading County Court on Monday, James Dingemans QC, representing Mrs Wilkinson, said that his client did not believe in allowing unmarried people to share a bed in her home. He argued that this belief was protected by the Equality Act 2010, and the Human Rights Act 1998.

Mr Dingemans said that Mrs Wilkinson had not objected to Mr Black and Mr Morgan's sexual orientation, but to their sexual behaviour. Mrs Wilkinson would have been happy to provide them with single beds, but none were available, he said.

Mrs Wilkinson, who, with her husband, Francis, attends a Nonconformist church in Marlow, told the court: "Christianity isn't just something we do in church on a Sunday: it affects every area of our life, including our home and our business."

In a statement issued on the day of the hearing, James Welch, legal director of Liberty, whose lawyers are representing Mr Black and Mr Morgan, said: "A business with a 'no gays policy' is as bad as one that says 'no blacks; no Irish'. Liberty defends the rights of religious groups to manifest their beliefs, even when we disagree with them, but not to discriminate in the provision of goods and services.

"The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 made it unlawful for service providers to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. These regulations have now been replaced - and effectively re-enacted by - the Equality Act 2010."

A judgment is expected within the next two weeks.

Maria Miller, who has replaced Lynne Featherstone as Equalities Minister ( News, 7 September), wrote in The Independent on Wednesday that "the state should not stop two people undertaking civil marriage unless there are good reasons, and I believe being gay is not one of them."

Ms Miller, who is also the Culture Secretary, continued: "I can reassure those faith groups who have expressed concern: no religious organisation will be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples. Nothing in our proposals will change what religious organisations are required to do, or the existing rights that faith groups have, to refuse to marry couples."

Faiths forum. The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, speaking at the Faiths Forum for London on Wednesday of last week, said that he did not understand how people could be offended by the wearing of a crucifix or any other religious symbol in the workplace ( News, 7 September). He also said that it was "intolerant" to attempt to ban the saying of prayers before council meetings ( News, 17 February).

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