ENGLAND — Two British Christian guesthouse owners accused of discriminating against homosexuals by offering rooms only to married couples will take their case directly to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
Jeff and Sue Green, who run Highland Moors Guesthouse, state that they lost their faith in the British court system after the UK Supreme Court ruled against another guesthouse owner last year, declaring that they had unlawfully discriminated against a homosexual couple by refusing to let them share a room.
“It seems that recent UK equality legislation is being used to undermine Christian faith and values,” Jeff Green stated. “We believe that the rights outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights are an illusion in the UK, so we have to go to Europe because we don’t have a fighting chance in the UK courts.”
The Greens from Wales had a “married couples only” policy in place at their bed and breakfast that applied to unmarried straight couples as well. But the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wrote to the Greens, challenging them over the policy and warning that it was unlawful to discriminate on grounds of “sexual orientation.” The EHRC’s original letter, signed by Susan Kelly, a senior enforcement legal officer, said it had received a complaint about the guesthouse.
“The complaint is that your website states that ‘double rooms for married couples may be available’ and that you have refused accommodation at your guesthouse to same-sex couples,” it outlined. “Under the Equality Act 2010, treating a civil partner less favourably than a married person could amount to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.”
“I would be grateful if you could advise me if the hotel’s double rooms are exclusively for married couples and if they are, what your justification for this restriction is, and/or what exception you are seeking to rely on,” Kelly requested. “If double rooms are not restricted to married couples, please confirm that you will amend the information on your website and all other hotel literature to make it clear the service is available to everyone.”
In response, the Greens changed their policy to eliminate problems by offering single bed accommodation only. And while the EHRC has now discontinued pursuing the matter, the couple says that it was wrong for the organization to bully them over the issue in the first place.
“We have done nothing wrong,” Jeff Green told Wales Online. “And after we removed the comment from our website, I started to think about how governments can change the constitution at the stroke of a pen—without a referendum–and how it can affect our business because it can collide with our faith, religious freedom and human rights.”
The Greens have consequently chosen to take the matter to the ECtHR, an international court that rules on individual or state applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Since 1988, all laws in the UK have to comply with the ECHR conventions. Article 9 of the ECHR gives individuals the right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
“The European Convention on Human Rights provides very strong protection for freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” stated Andrea Williams of the Christian Legal Centre, which is representing the couple. “It is sad that we have to go to Strasbourg to argue for that freedom to be applied in practice because the British courts have refused to do so. However, it is important that we do.”
“In this case, no evidence has been presented to show that anyone has been denied a service from the Greens,” she said. “It is disturbing that the couple have been forced to change their business model, have been targeted, and now face oppression from the state to deny how they live out their faith.”
The Greens’ case follows a recent UK Supreme Court ruling against Christian bed and breakfast owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull, who were found to have discriminated against two homosexual men by refusing to give them a double room in accordance with their “married couples only” policy.