Gay couple sue bed and breakfast owner over room refusal (UK)

Independent (UK) 17 Sep 2012
A gay couple today sued the owner of bed and breakfast accommodation after she refused to let them stay in a double room because of her religious views. Michael Black, 64, and partner John Morgan, 59, sought damages from Susanne Wilkinson after she declined to let them have the room at the Swiss Bed and Breakfast in Cookham, Berkshire, in March 2010. In their particulars of claim to Reading County Court, the couple, from Brampton, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, told how Mr Black, an exams consultant and writer, had booked a double room for March 19 2010. But when he and his computer consultant partner arrived there Mrs Wilkinson made clear to them that she was not prepared to allow them to share a double bed and that she would not accommodate them. Lawyers from Liberty, the human rights organisation, which has taken up the case, argued that under legal regulations it was unlawful for a person concerned with the provision of services to the public to discriminate against a person on the grounds of that person’s sexual orientation.

Lawyers for Mrs Wilkinson argued that a person offering bed and breakfast in their own home was entitled to refuse to permit persons who were not married or in a civil partnership (whether of the opposite sex or the same sex) to share a double bed. The couple are not in a civil partnership. In these circumstances, there was no direct or indirect discrimination, they said. Mrs Wilkinson, a married mother-of-four, considers that providing a double bed to the couple would involve her in promoting what she believed to be a sin, namely sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage. James Dingemans QC, for Mrs Wilkinson, told the court: “If Mrs Wilkinson had simply said, ‘don’t come in because you’re gay’, that could never be justified. It was simply the provision of the double bed which Mrs Wilkinson believed was wrong.” Henrietta Hill, for the couple, said: “It is obvious that there is a difficult balancing act to be carried out in this case. The proper balance to be struck has already been determined by the very clear will of Parliament.”

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