Thanks to Ed McFarlane of Deminos HR for preparing this case summary
Did Christian hotel owners (the Appellants) Mr & Mrs Bull unlawfully discriminate against civil partners Hall and Preddy by refusing to let them share a double bed on the grounds that they were not a heterosexual married couple?
Yes, held the Supreme Court in Bull & Bull v Hall & Preddy, upholding the decision of the Court of Appeal, with a 3-2 majority holding that that the conduct of the Appellants was direct discrimination. The Supreme Court was unanimous that the conduct of the Appellants was unjustified indirect discrimination, the appeal was dismissed, as was a challenge on Human Rights grounds to the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 (now superseded by the Equality Act 2010).
The Appellants owned a hotel and maintained a strict policy that only married couples could stay in rooms with double beds. This policy, which applied equally to unmarried homosexual and heterosexual couples, was founded on the Appellants’ Christian beliefs. This discriminated both directly and indirectly against couples in a civil partnership.
The leading majority speech was from Lady Hale, who held that to deny a double bed to a couple in a civil partnership was not only applying a criterion that the couple were unmarried, but also applying a criterion that the couple’s relationship was not that of one man and one woman (para. 30). That, held Lady Hale, was indistinguishable from sexual orientation (leaving aside examples of homosexual people being in marriages). Lady Hale gave a hypothetical example of a hotel that limited double beds to married couples over 30, which would result in direct age discrimination against married couples on the grounds of age (para. 31).
Lords Kerr and Toulson agreed that there was direct discrimination against the couple.
Lords Neuberger and Hughes dissented on the direct discrimination point, Lord Neuberger did not accept that the policy of the Appellants was ‘specific to those of homosexual orientation’ (para. 83), and felt that to find direct discrimination, in an area where the law was clear "(risked) blurring that clarity" (para. 84). Lord Hughes held that the argument for this case being direct discrimination was flawed as it concentrated on the characteristics of the couple, rather than the Appellants’ reasons for treating them as they did. The minority agreed that the indirect discrimination was not justified.
The Supreme Court unanimously held that although the principles of Article 9 (1) of the ECHR, protecting manifestations of religious belief were engaged, the impact of the Sexual Orientation Regulations was justifiable as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, to protect the rights and freedoms of the couple who were entitled to protection of their rights, including rights under domestic law, for protection against discrimination, and the restriction on Article 9 (2) achieved under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 was a legitimate aim.