The widely reported case of the Christian hotel owners who refused a double room to civil partners, as they had a policy to only provide these rooms to heterosexual married couples, has hit the headlines again following the decision of the Supreme Court last week. This case has received much media attention partly because it is not an employment case and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation appeared in the provision of services and this enabled a media spin on the interplay between the protection and the freedom to run a business. A potential conflict between two rights.
In Bull & Anor v Hall & Anor the Court held that there was unlawful sexual orientation in their refusal to honour the booking of a homosexual couple but there was some debate over whether the discrimination was both direct and indirect or just the latter. The refusal pre-dated the change in law allowing marriage between homosexuals in the UK. The right to justify discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation on the basis of the hotel owner’s religious grounds was said to be disproportionate.
The Court found unanimously that the restriction was undoubtedly indirect discrimination as they imposed a requirement that could not be justified by wanting to run their business in a manner compatible with their religious beliefs. The Court was however split over whether this amounted to direct discrimination but Lady Hale said that the denial of a double bed to one group whilst allowing to the other, was in the majority’s view direct discrimination because the status of marriage and civil partnership were inseparable from the sexual orientation of those making the booking and entering into the contract.