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Gay rights - when are B&Bs going to learn?

By Principal Lawyer, Employment & Partnership

This week’s decision feels a little familiar. Not just because the Court of Appeal upheld an earlier ruling that it was unlawful discrimination for this B&B lady, Susanne Wilkinson, to turn a gay couple away; but because it follows another case which first hit the headlines two years ago now, when another gay couple were told they couldn’t stay in another B&B because they weren’t married, and so against their religious beliefs.

Then, as now, both the county court and the Court of Appeal confirmed that trying to argue that this wasn’t discrimination at all because it applied to anyone who was unmarried, gay or straight just didn't work. Then, as now, the courts pointed out that this didn’t restrict heterosexuals, only homosexuals, and so was discrimination after all.

Then, as now, the B&B owners have been supported by campaigners who say this is about gay rights trumping religious freedoms. But then, as now, the courts have been clear. Of course everyone is allowed to choose and determine their own faith, and live their life according to those values. But operating as a B&B is running a commercial venture. And it is against the law for any business to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. Just as much against the law as it would be to discriminate against a couple because of their religion. 

“No gays” is just as unlawful as “no Christians” – or “no blacks” and “no Irish” for that matter. Funnily enough, the Equality Act applies equally to all.

But this feeling of being stuck in a time warp looks set to continue for longer still. Because both of these cases have been appealed to the Supreme Court. And so the courts are going to hear these arguments again. Will it end there, I wonder? Well, history rather suggests the reverse, and we have seen crusades to the European Court of Human Rights on similar issues before. So my guess is that groundhog day is not over on this one – like a B&B guest extending their stay as long as they can.

If you have been refused service because you are gay, our lawyers can help you.  This has been unlawful for almost a decade now. We can also assist anyone concerned about religious discrimination, as well as sexism, racism, ageism or discrimination due to disability. For specialist advice from the UK’s leading discrimination lawyers, call 0800 916 9060 or email

Read more about Sexual Orientation Discrimination and read our factsheet Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Goods Facilities and Services.