Christian couple sued for refusal to allow a gay couple to share a room in their guesthouse could have been victims of a “coup”, heard yesterday a court.
Devotee Peter and Hazelmary Bull refused to let civilian partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy use a double room because it was against their “Christian conscience”.
They have a strict policy that only allows married heterosexual couples to share rooms at their B&B in Cornwall.
The gay couple claim the snub was discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and are suing for damages of up to Â£ 5,000 in Bristol County Court.
But the court heard that the script sounded like a “performed scene” similar to cases used as examples of discrimination in literature distributed by gay rights group Stonewall.
Yesterday the court heard that the couple had booked two nights in a double room at the private Chymorvah Hotel in Marazion near Penzance on September 4, 2008.
Ms Bull, 66, took Steven Preddy’s phone reservation but no mention of a partner was made and she assumed he would stay with his wife.
She told the court: âMy first comment after hanging up on the phone was that I had rented a double room for tomorrow night, but I forgot to go over the policy with them.
âWe certainly didn’t discuss a second person. We were all very surprised when two gentlemen arrived.
The manager of the guesthouse, Bernie Quinn, told the court that he recalled receiving a phone call later that day from a “Mrs. Preddy”, which led him to expect a husband and a wife.
He pointed out that the whole incident looked like a “performed” scene in a flyer explaining how to deal with customers.
He said: âIt seemed to me that we were playing one of the scenarios in the libretto.
âIt seems strange that I was expecting a Mr. and Mrs. Preddy and when I got up there were two men. “
Lawyer for the gay couple, Catherine Casserley, a leading discrimination and human rights lawyer, said: âSo you are suggesting these claimants put it in place? “
Mr Quinn said: “It is not beyond the possibilities, but I have no proof.”
But when Mr Preddy and Mr Hall arrived the next day, Mr Quinn told them he could only offer the couple two single rooms due to their policy.
The couple, who live together in Brislington, Bristol, told the guest house they were acting illegally before leaving and reporting the incident to police.
Mr Preddy and Mr Hall denied any suggestion of a facility and said they had no prior knowledge of the guest house rules.
The Chymorvah Hotel website says, “We have few rules, but please note that out of deep respect for marriage, we prefer to leave double accommodation to heterosexual married couples only.”
The gay couple also denied knowing of a letter sent to the guesthouse by equal rights group Stonewall in 2008, which said their room policy was potentially illegal.
Mr Preddy told the court: âThey had a list of conditions, but it was only mentioned on the booking form on the website.
âWe decided to book by phone because it was the day before.
When asked how the staff reacted when they turned them down, he replied, âThe body language wasn’t great. It was clear that we were not welcome at the hotel.
But Ms Bull, a great-grandmother, said she and her 70-year-old husband strive to lead their lives as close to Bible scriptures – or the word of God – as possible.
They had enforced the strict room rules since taking over the guesthouse in 1986.
Ms Bull said: âThis is our home – it’s not a big company.
âWe believe that before Godâs eyes we should be comfortable there – and that includes sleeping arrangements.
âWe believe that our faith and conscience mean that we are responsible for what goes on under our roof and that the teachings of the Christian faith are opposed to sex outside of marriage. “
The landmark lawsuit has been brought against the guesthouse under the Equality Act 2007 regulations – and the couple could seek up to Â£ 5,000 in damages.
The hearing could determine whether Christians are allowed to operate guesthouses that limit double bed accommodation to married couples.
Mr Preddy and Mr Hall’s legal fees are paid by the government-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Mr. and Mrs. Bull’s legal defense is funded by The Christian Institute, a charity that protects the religious freedom of Christians.