Bull & Bull v Hall & Preddy
Mr and Mrs Bull ran a private hotel. On 4 September 2008, Mr Preddy booked a double room for himself and his civil partner, Mr Hall, by telephone.
When Mr Hall and Mr Preddy arrived at the hotel, Mr and Mrs Bull refused to honour the booking because of their policy of restricting the provision of double beds to married couples, in accordance with their religious beliefs. They believe that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the form of partnership uniquely intended for full sexual relations and that both homosexual and heterosexual sexual relations outside marriage are sinful.
Both homosexual and heterosexual unmarried couples were permitted to stay in twin-bedded rooms. Mr Hall and Mr Preddy brought claims of direct and indirect sexual orientation discrimination in relation to the provision of goods, facilities and services under the Equality Act 2010.
His Honour Judge Rutherford made a declaration that Mr and Mrs Bull had discriminated against Mr Hall and Mr Preddy. Mr and Mrs Bull appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal held that Mr and Mrs Bull had directly discriminated against Mr Hall and Mr Preddy. A homosexual couple could not comply with the requirement to be married, which is necessarily linked to the characteristic of heterosexual orientation. As there was direct discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, it was not necessary to consider whether or not there was also indirect discrimination.
In addition, the Court of Appeal held that there was no contravention of the Bulls’ human rights to freedom of religion under art.9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Bulls’ running of the hotel along Christian principles was a manifestation of their religion, but interference with it could be justified as a legitimate aim and the means of achieving it were appropriate and necessary.
The legal framework for the interference, namely the legislation prohibiting discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, aims to ensure equality for all regardless of sexual orientation and that civil partnerships are treated as marriage for the purposes of the provision of goods, services and facilities, and this is an aim recognised by the European Court on Human Rights.
To the extent that the equality legislation limited the manifestation of the Bulls’ religious beliefs, the limitations are necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. The Bulls did not face any difficulty in manifesting their religious beliefs: they were merely prohibited from so doing in the commercial context that they had chosen.
The Court of Appeal in this case drew heavily on case law from the employment field, including Ladele v London Borough of Islington  EWCA Civ 1357 CA and McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd  IRLR 872 CA, both of which also considered the potential conflict between sexual orientation and religious belief.
This case was decided under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1263), but there is no reason why the outcome would be different under the Equality Act 2010.
This case received a great deal of press attention and has raised controversy about the so-called clash of rights between religion and sexual orientation. However, the central issue in the case was not to weigh up the relative rights of gay couples and Christians, but to decide whether or not the two claimants had been discriminated against on the ground of their sexual orientation.
Ultimately, the factor that was fatal to the Bulls’ case was that the equality legislation provides that civil partnership is an equivalent circumstance to marriage. It was not open to the Bulls to argue that they were entitled to draw a distinction between married couples and civil partners. As civil partners are therefore in the same position as married couples and yet were treated less favourably, it was surely inevitable that the finding of direct discrimination would follow.
Sandra Wallace, employment partner, DLA Piper
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