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Conflict of Protected Characteristics

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Thanks to Bonike Erinle of Farrar’s Building for preparing this case summary

Is a Christian hotelier's decision to restrict the offer of double bedrooms in a small, family-run bed and breakfast to married couples unlawful?

Yes, as this is a form of both direct and indirect discrimination, says the Court of Appeal in Black & anor v Wilkinson.

The Defendant refused to allow a homosexual couple who were not in a civil partnership to stay in her bed and breakfast, on the basis that her religious beliefs would only tolerate the sharing of double bedrooms by monogamous heterosexual married couples.

The Master of the Rolls considered:

- the county court was right to conclude that this was a case of direct discrimination.

- if not, it would still have been one of indirect discrimination, as the Defendant's policy put homosexual couples at a disadvantage on the ground of their sexual orientation when compared with heterosexual couples.

- the Defendant would not have been able to justify her treatment of homosexual couples by reference to her right to manifest religious beliefs, and to enjoyment of her home, as the proportionality exercise would have swayed in the Claimants' favour: (i) priority is only given to religious beliefs in certain narrowly circumscribed circumstances; (ii) the Defendant had failed to show that she would suffer serious damage if she were not to be allowed to refuse rooms to homosexual couples.