The owner of a B&B has been ordered by a court to pay damages after refusing to allow a gay couple to stay at her Swiss Bed and Breakfast in Cookham. The court ruled that Susanne Wilkinson’s refusal was direct discrimination and breached equality legislation.
The civil case against Wilkinson was brought on by John Morgan and Michael Black after they were refused rooms in March of 2010, even though they had a reservation and made a deposit. The pair said they were embarrassed, shocked and felt like outcasts after they were told they weren’t welcome due to their same-sex relationship being against the owner’s beliefs.
Wilkinson’s lawyers argued that she was allowed to refuse double rooms to gay couples, just as much as she is to couples who aren’t in a civil partnership or married – Morgan and Black aren’t in a civil partnership. However, the judge found that, even though the room refusal could have been because of the owner’s Christian beliefs, her right to apply those beliefs wasn’t unfairly limited under the Equality Act of 2010. This law requires that service providers don’t discriminate based on sexual orientation.
The court’s verdict found that Morgan and Black suffered direct discrimination by the refusal because they were gay. With this refusal, Wilkinson treated the couple less favourably than an unmarried heterosexual couple in the same circumstances. She was then ordered to pay £3,600 to the couple for damages.
Wilkinson said in a statement that she is seriously considering an appeal. She and her husband are naturally disappointed about losing the case and being ordered to pay thousands of pounds in damages for hurting the couple’s feelings. They have the option to appeal and will give that some serious consideration. They believe a person should be free to act on their beliefs about marriage under their own roof without being afraid of the law. Equality legislation has gone too far when they start intruding into families’ homes.
The legal costs for Wilkinson’s case were paid by national charity The Christian Institute. Mike Judge, a spokesperson, said that the Swiss Bed and Breakfast is Wilkinson’s business and home. The law should be more flexible and allow people to live in accordance with their own values in their own homes. More balance is needed instead of allowing one set of rights to suppress another.
Despite their disappointment with the ruling, equality group Liberty welcomed the decision. Legal director James Welch said that they defend the rights of religious groups to apply their beliefs, even when they don’t agree. However, it’s unacceptable for business owners to refuse a service due to someone’s sexual preference. He hopes the court’s decision marks the end of policies against gays, which would never be tolerated if they involved someone’s gender, religion or race.
Meanwhile, Wilkinson and her husband say they have been abused for refusing the gay couple two years ago. Their decision angered gay rights campaigners but supported claims of persecution from some Christians. She says people’s beliefs about marriage are being attacked more and more. She’s worried about freedom to speak and freedom to act on these beliefs. She’s a Christian in every aspect of her life, which is expected of Jesus’s followers. That’s all she was trying to do and thinks it’s wrong she’s being punished for that – particularly after being threatened and abused over the last two years.