By Al Webb
Religion News Service
LONDON (RNS) Two Christian innkeepers have been convicted of sexual discrimination for refusing to allow a gay couple to share a double room at their hotel in Cornwall, England.
Peter and Hazelmary Bull also were ordered by the Bristol County court to pay 3,600 pounds (about $5,700) for turning civil partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy away from their bed and breakfast.
The hoteliers had argued they were trying "to live and work in accordance with our Christian faith" when they refused to let the two men share a bed.
"Our double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage, not hostility to anybody," Hazelmary Bull told the court. She insisted the policy "was applied equally and consistently to unmarried heterosexual couples and homosexual couples."
But Judge Andrew Rutherford said the Bulls' views were outdated and violated Britain's Equality Act of 2007.
"It is inevitable that laws will, from time to time, cut across the deeply held beliefs of individuals and sections of society, so they reflect the social attitudes and morals prevailing at the time they are made," the judge said in his 12-page ruling.
"Not so very long ago," he added, "these beliefs would have been those accepted as normal by society at large. Now it is the other way around."
Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society hailed the judge's decision, saying "the court has resisted the pernicious claim that exercising conscience -- be it Christian or any other kind -- is a carte blanche to defy the law."
But Mike Judge, spokesman for Britain's Christian Institute, argued in a statement that "this ruling is further evidence that equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield," and that "Christians are being sidelined."
Hazelmary Bull said the ruling showed "Christianity is being marginalized in Britain ... Much is said about 'equality and diversity,' but it seems some people are more equal than others."