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B&B owner loses appeal over refusing accommodation to gay couple

The Christian owner of a BB has lost her appeal against a court ruling that said she unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple after she turned them away.

Susanne Wilkinson was sued by Michael Black and John Morgan from Cambridgeshire after she refused to let them share a double bed at her Swiss Bed and Breakfast in Cookham in Berkshire in March 2010. She said it went against her religious beliefs because they were not married.

The Court of Appeal has now dismissed the challenge to the ruling, but gave Mrs Wilkinson permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. She can now take her fight to the highest court in the land, where the case will be heard alongside that of Peter and Hazelmary Bull, who refused to let Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy share a bedroom at their seaside guesthouse in Cornwall. Mrs Wilkinson has maintained that she refuses to let any unmarried couple sleep in the same bed.

Her appeal to the Court of Appeal was paid for by The Christian Institute, a national charity that defends the civil liberty of Christians. The charity has welcomed the judge's decision to grant leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

A statement said:

"The Master of Rolls Lord Dyson says he would prefer to treat a 'married couples only' policy as indirect discrimination, which can be lawful if the policy is justified.

"His comments are a step in the right direction for the civil liberty of people to act upon their sincere beliefs about marriage."

Mrs Wilkinson was ordered to pay more than £3,500 in damages last year after a court in Reading decided the couple had suffered unlawful discrimination.

Reacting to the ruling, Mrs Wilkinson said:

"I am disappointed to have lost at this stage, but I am pleased that there is hope for people like me who believe in marriage.

"In particular, I am pleased that in his ruling, Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, has stated that in his opinion mine ought not to be a case of direct discrimination. 

"I am also encouraged that the three presiding High Court judges have affirmed that the human right of religious belief is intrinsically as important as that of homosexual orientation and that neither right in principle trumps the other.

"I am, however, disappointed that the court felt it had to follow adverse rulings on a similar case relating to direct discrimination, although I take some comfort in the judge's remark that he did so 'reluctantly'. 

"I am also disappointed with the judges' weighing up of the specific facts of the case and their bearing on indirect discrimination. 

"In particular their justification that a change on my part whereby I would limit double rooms to single occupancy would not necessarily be economically fatal.

"This economic justification does not place sufficient weight on the principle involved by which I seek to conscientiously operate my business according to biblical values."

"Surely in our diverse 21st century UK society there is ample room for a variety of lifestyles with many thousands of other BBs being willing to accommodate unmarried couples.

"It's sad that cases like this are coming to court in a country that has a great Christian heritage. 

"However, whatever the outcome of my case, my faith in Jesus Christ remains strong and true."

The appeal is due to be heard on October the 9th.

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