Devout Christian hotel owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull did not have the human right to bar a gay couple from sleeping in a double room, the Supreme Court ruled today.
In a historic test case five law lords unanimously refused to overturn a landmark ruling backed by the Appeal Court that it was unlawful for them to turn away civil partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy. They were ordered to pay them £1,800 each in compensation.
Mr and Mrs Bull own the private seven-bedroom Chymorvah Hotel in Marazion , Cornwall, and were found guilty by Judge Andrew Rutherford at Bristol County Court in January 2011 of being the first to be in breach of the 2007 Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations.
When the three Appeal Court judges unanimously backed that ruling in February last year Lady Justice Rafferty said : "They believe that permitting unmarried individuals , heterosexual or homosexual, to share a double bed in a double room involves on their part the promotion of sin."
She added that the couple nearing retirement denied discrimination either direct or indirect, and were only trying to live and act within their religious beliefs.
But together with the Chancellor Sir Andrew Morritt, and Lord Justice Hooper the judges unanimously dismissed their appeal.
The couple, who claimed the ruling was a breach of their human rights to freedom of religion, then appealed to the Supreme Court.
Today though the five Supreme Court judges - Lords Neuberger , Kerr, Hughes, and Toulson and Lady Hale -unanimously dismissed the appeal.
Lady Hale said: "Is it lawful for a Christian hotelkeeper, 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."
She added: "Mr and Mrs Bull argue that they should not be compelled to run their business in a way which conflicts with their deeply held religious beliefs. They should not be obliged to facilitate what they regard as sin by allowing unmarried couples to share a bed. A fair balance should be struck between their right to manifest their faith and the right of Mr Preddy and Mr Bull to obtain goods, facilities and services without discrimination on grounds of their sexual orientation."
She said the couple were "free to continue to deny double-bedded rooms to same sex and unmarried couples, provided that they also deny them to married couples."
But added: " Mr and Mrs Bull cannot get round the fact that United Kingdom law prohibits them from doing as they did."
Sir Andrew said last year: " The religious beliefs of Mr and Mrs Bull do not exempt them from observing the regulations in their ownership and management of the hotel.
"In short, they are not obliged to provide double bedded rooms at all, but if they do , then they must be prepared to let them to homosexual couples, at least if they are in a civil partnership, as well as to heterosexual married couples."
The couple's counsel James Dingemans QC had argued that: "The reality of the case is that they have been accused of being prejudiced against homosexuals, but they are not .They have lawfully prevented hundreds of unmarried couples sharing beds."
He said their beliefs "may be considered outdated, or uneconomic for those operating a private hotel, or both, but it is respectfully submitted that, in the particular circumstances of this case, the defendants are entitled to manifest them."
He added: "They have the absolute right to a belief that unmarried sexual behaviour is wrong and they have a qualified right to manifest that belief.
"If human rights are to have any future at all , it must be respecting of all rights. It should not be beyond the ability of the courts to accommodate both sides."
The couple denied any discrimination and said they have operated the same policy since taking over the hotel and it is made clear on their website.
They maintain "that their policy is directed towards sexual practice and not sexual orientation , so that there is no direct discrimination," said Mr Dingemans.
They offered the men single beds and there were lots of other hotels in the area which would allow them to stay in a double bed.
If they are forced to offer double beds in similar circumstances they would have to stop operating their hotel which was also their home.
He said everyone had the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
While their beliefs on sexual practice may or may not be as widely accepted as they once were , they "are entitled to hold those beliefs in a modern democratic society".
The gay couple were funded and supported in their discrimination claim by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
In his original ruling Judge Rutherford said when the hotel turned the men away in 2008 they had directly discriminated against them on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
He ruled that their rights to manifest their religion was not absolute and could be limited to protect the rights of the two men.