Landmark Equality Ruling Upheld by the Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal has upheld a decision that the refusal of a bed and breakfast owner to provide a room to a gay couple did amount to discrimination.

Mr Black and Mr Morgan were refused accommodation at the B&B establishment which is run by Mrs Wilkinson. She stated that her religious beliefs meant she preferred to only let rooms to heterosexual couples, and preferably to those who are married.
Because Mrs Wilkinson provides a commercial service, the county court agreed with Black and Morgan that they had been the subjects of discrimination. Her actions breached the 2010 Equality Act. Mrs Wilkinson argued her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically those clauses dedicated to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Her defence was based on the fact that she holds genuine and protected religious beliefs.

The Court of Appeal upheld the judgement of the County Court regarding the case as one of direct discrimination. It was argued that in order to prevent interference with a person’s human rights, Wilkinson could have offered single rooms to her guests, and that the rights of the homosexual couple not to be discriminated against outweighed the individual’s personal values. Where competing human rights are an issue, it seems that the law will consider the effect that interfering with these human rights will have on a person, and consider if a situation could have been adapted in order to prevent someone having to compromise on their values.

This case is interesting for practitioners not only because it concludes that discrimination is generally considered to be unacceptable, but because it highlights the difference between the protection of a religious belief and the protection of an action brought about by this belief and separates them. While the religious belief is still protected, the actions that demonstrated this belief were found to be discriminatory.


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