UK: Supreme Court finds refusal of double room to same sex couple discriminatory

Michael Wukoschitz's picture

In its judgement of Nov. 27, 2013, in case Bull and another v Hall and another [2013] UKSC 73, the UK Supreme Court held that a same sex couple had been directly discriminated against because of their sexual orientation when they were refused a double room in a hotel. For religious reasons, Mr and Mrs Bull, the hotel owners, only permitted married couples to share a double room in their hotel and did not recognise civil partnership as equivalent to marriage. On this basis, they did not allow Mr Preddy and Mr Hall, a same sex couple in a civil partnership, to share a double room.

First the Supreme Court pointed out that the general rule is that suppliers of goods and services are allowed to pick and choose their customers. However, it then referred to several legal acts concerning the principle of equal treatment and in particular the Equality Act 2006 which established the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and extended the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief into, among other things, the provision of goods, facilities and services. This act also permitted the Secretary of State to make regulations similarly extending the scope of the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007were the result. Though all of this legislation had been replaced (for a case such as this) by the Equality Act 2010,  the principles, concepts and provisions with which we are concerned had remained much the same.

The dispute involved two sets of individuals, Christian hotel keepers on the one hand and same sex civil partners on the other, all of whom had a “protected characteristic”, that is a characteristic which protects them against discrimination in a wide variety of areas of activity. Anyway, each of these parties had the same right to be protected against discrimination by the other. As the hotel owners would have allowed a heterosexual married couple to share a double room, the only reason they treated the claimants less favourably was because of their sexual orientation and this amounted to direct discrimination. The Court also held that the UK's discrimination legislation was compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and so there was no breach of the hotel owners' rights to express their religion and belief.

Full text of judgement available here>>.

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