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Hotel discriminated unlawfully against couple in civil partnership

Bull & Anor v Hall & Anor [2013] UKSC 73

Related Member(s):
Aidan O’Neill QC (Scot), Karon Monaghan QC
Related Practice Area(s):
Discrimination and Equality, Human Rights

The appellants are Christians who run a hotel which has a policy of restricting double bedrooms to heterosexual married couples, based on their belief that sexual intercourse outside traditional marriage is sinful. The respondents are a homosexual couple in a civil partnership who were refused a double room at the hotel.

The respondents argued that the refusal to provide them with a bedroom was unlawful under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 reg 4, which makes direct or unjustified indirect discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation unlawful. The appellants contended that their policy did not constitute discrimination under the definition in reg 3 of the 2007 Regulations since they differentiated on the grounds of marital status, not sexual orientation. They also argued that the Regulations should be applied compatibly with their rights under ECHR, art 9.

The appeal was unanimously dismissed. A majority of three held that the appellants’ policy constituted direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and in any event it was unanimously held that if the policy only constituted indirect discrimination, it is not justified. Although art 9 was engaged by the Regulations they are a justified and proportionate protection of the rights of others.

Lords Neuberger and Hughes dissented on the direct discrimination issue, and found that the respondents’ civil partnership did not convert indirect discrimination against the unmarried into direct discrimination, and that reg 3(4) did not provide an answer as to whether the appellants’ policy was based on grounds of sexual orientation.

Civil partnership is a status akin to marriage, and the criteria of marriage and civil partnership are indissociable from sexual orientation. The Court stated that its judgment does not favour sexual orientation over religious belief – had the respondents refused rooms to the appellants because of their Christian beliefs, the appellants would have been equally protected by the prohibition of discrimination.

Aidan O’Neill QC and Karon Monaghan QC were involved in this case.