Eloise smallThe Supreme Court will hear an appeal on whether refusing, on religious grounds, to let a double hotel room to a homosexual couple constituted discrimination under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.

The appellants are hotel owners and devout Christians who believe any form of sexual relations outside of marriage is sinful. As such, they enforce a strict policy of only letting double rooms to married couples. The respondents, who are in a Civil Partnership, booked a double room in the hotel but were turned away when they arrived to check in.

The Court of Appeal Decision
In the Court of Appeal the appellants denied that their policy amounted to direct or indirect discrimination, arguing that their policy of restricting double rooms to married couples only was based on sexual practice, not sexual orientation and had in fact predominately affected unmarried heterosexual couples.

Conversely, the respondents argued that the policy necessarily excluded all homosexual couples in civil partnerships and as such clearly constituted direct discrimination. The Court of Appeal agreed finding that as there is no material difference between a married couple and a couple in a Civil Partnership, the policy clearly discriminated on grounds of sexual orientation. A homosexual couple could not possibly comply with the requirement imposed by the appellants, as they cannot marry. The policy was thus directly discriminatory.

Further, although the appellants’ belief in the sanctity of marriage fell within the ambit of ECHR, art 9 the limitation on the appellants’ right to manifest their religious beliefs was necessary in a democratic society for the protections of the rights and freedoms of others.

The Appeal to the Supreme Court
This case has received a lot of media attention, and has polarised opinion; some argue that the Court of Appeal’s decision represents an unwarranted restriction on religious freedom in the name of equality whereas others, such as the charity Stonewall, maintain that ‘religious freedom shouldn’t be used as cloak for prejudice’. The Supreme Court, constituted of Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Hughes and Lord Toulson will hear this case on 9th and 10th October 2013.