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The Supreme Court has ruled today that religious beliefs may not be used as an excuse to circumvent the law!

Let me clarify that. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has ruled that a person's religious belief may not be used to discriminate in the provision of services by a trader. The case has echoes of the case to be heard by the US Supreme Court regarding the requirements in the ACA for employers provided health insurance to cover contraception.

The case surrounds a gay couple, Mr Hall and Mr Preddy, were refused a room with a double bed in a "bed and breakfast" run by the "committed Christian" owners, a Mr and Mrs Bull in October 2008. The Bulls stated that their refusal was on the grounds they considered sex outside of marriage "a sin". Hall and Preddy were insulted and found accommodation elsewhere. This from the Supreme Court's Press Summary (.pdf) of the case describes what happened next and the legal background.

In March 2009 the Respondents [Hall and Preddy], supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, brought proceedings against the Appellants [the Bulls] under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 (“EASOR”).

Regulation 4 EASOR makes direct or unjustified indirect discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation unlawful. Regulation 3 EASOR defines discrimination. Regulation 3(1) states that direct discrimination exists where person A treats person B less favourably then others on the ground of B’s sexual orientation. Regulation 3(3) states that indirect discrimination exists when person A applies a general policy or practice to person B and others not of B’s sexual orientation, which puts B at a particular disadvantage compared to those others, and the policy or practice is not reasonably justified by reference to matters other than B’s sexual orientation. Regulation 3(4) provides that for Regulations 3(1) and 3(3), civil partnership and marriage are not to be treated as materially different.

The Respondents argued that the refusal to provide them with a double bedroom was unlawful under Regulation 4 EASOR. The Appellants contended that their actions did not constitute discrimination under either Regulation 3(1) or 3(3) EASOR since they differentiated not on the basis of sexual orientation, but on marital status. They also suggested that EASOR should be applied compatibly with their right to manifest their religious beliefs under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”).

The gay couple were awarded compensation at the local courts but the Bulls appealled and the case has become a cause celebre for fundamentalist Christian groups. They lost an appeal against the award at the High Court and, supported by their fellow religious ferverts, took appealed further to the Supreme Court.

The opening paragraph of her decision by Lady Justice Hale is significant (Judgement .pdf)

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? These are questions which would have been unthinkable less than
two decades ago. That they can now be asked is a measure of how far we have
come in the recognition of same sex relationships since the repeal of section 28 of
the Local Government Act 1988, in Scotland in 2000 and in England and Wales in
Lady Hale went on to state that the Bulls were free to manifest their religious beliefs by imagery on their stationery, holding services and littering the place with bibles and religious tracts. They could not ignore the law and offer double beds only to couples who met their definition of marriage.

This is the video of her delivering the summary of the Judgement (direct link in case embedding does not work)

The rest of the Judgement is quite interesting to relate to the insurance cases to be taken before the US Supreme Court. In particular Lady Hale's comments that they were free to be openly and blatently Christian but could not ignore the law of the land.

Originally posted to Lib Dem FoP on Wed Nov 27, 2013 at 04:26 AM PST.

Also republished by LGBT Rights are Human Rights.

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