The United Kingdom's Supreme Court ruled Wednesday against the owners of a Cornwall guest house who denied a room to a same-sex couple in 2008 citing their Christian faith.
The guest house owners — 74-year-old Peter Bull and his 69-year-old wife, Hazelmary Bull — had argued that requiring them to allow a same-sex couple to stay in their guest house, which is also their home, was a violation of their religious liberty.
Ruling for a unanimous court, Lady Hale wrote that although the Bulls' religious freedom is protected under European Union law, this did not trump the rights of civil partners Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall to protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under British law.
The Bulls had been fined £3,600 by a Bristol County court in 2011 and had lost when they challenged this ruling in the Court of Appeal. The couple alerted visitors to their guest house, called Chymorvah, about their views — even before Preddy and Hall called to book their room.
"Here at Chymorvah we have few rules, but please note, that out of a deep regard for marriage we prefer to let double accommodation to heterosexual married couples only – thank you," the Bulls had posted on the hotel's website, according to court documents. Hazelmary Bull forgot to ask whether the reservation for a double room was for a married heterosexual couple when they booked it, she said, because she was sick.
The court held Wednesday that such beliefs do not provide an exemption from anti-discrimination laws.
"To permit someone to discriminate on the ground that he did not believe that persons of homosexual orientation should be treated equally with persons of heterosexual orientation would be to create a class of people who were exempt from the discrimination legislation," she wrote. "We do not normally allow people to behave in a way which the law prohibits because they disagree with the law. But to allow discrimination against persons of homosexual orientation (or indeed of
heterosexual orientation) because of a belief, however sincerely held, and however
based on the biblical text, would be to do just that."
The United States Supreme Court could hear a similar question in the near future. In November, a Christian photographer from Albuquerque asked the Supreme Court to hear their case and reverse a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that they violated state law when she rejected the request of a same-sex couple to shoot their commitment ceremony. The court has yet to say whether or not it will hear the case.
J. Lester Feder is a foreign correspondent for BuzzFeed and 2013 Alicia Patterson journalism fellow.