The Berkshire B&B

No doubt many of you have already seen this.

Michael Black and John MorganA gay couple were turned away from a Berkshire guest house by the owner who said it was “against her convictions” for two men to share a bed.

Michael Black and John Morgan, from Brampton, Cambridgeshire, had booked a double room at the Swiss B&B, Terry’s Lane, in Cookham, for Friday night.

When they arrived Susanne Wilkinson refused to let them stay.

She admitted she did turn the couple away because it was against her policy to accommodate same sex couples. The couple have now reported the matter to Thames Valley Police.

Under the Equality Act 2006 it is illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation.

I’ll happily support all those who want to stamp out homophobia, but can I suggest that since the law outlaws discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and since Mrs Wilkinson discriminated on the grounds of sexual behaviour (she was against having two men share a bed, not against have two gay men in her B&B), she should get herself a good lawyer and sit tight. It would be a very interesting test case if this ever came to court.

Of course, it’s fair to say that unless she doesn’t let out rooms to any unmarried couples she certainly can’t claim that she did what she did because of her Christian faith.

14 Comments on “The Berkshire B&B

  1. But if she wasn't discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation, why didn't Mrs W offer them a twin-bedded room (assuming she had one free)? If the report is accurately worded – "She admitted she did turn the couple away because it was against her policy to accommodate same sex couples" – that is discrimination on grounds of orientation, not behaviour, surely?

    in friendship (and predictability :)


      • Um, that sounds a bit tenuous to me, Peter – surely if you weren't 'two homosexuals' you'd simply be described as friends? And if you weren't 'two homosexuals' why book a double bed? Then again, taking your point at face value – if a same-sex couple isn't always 'two homosexuals' why did Ms W assume that they were? Isn't making that assumption, and turning away Messrs Black and Morgan on the basis of it, discriminating on grounds of orientation?

        in friendship, Blair

        • But (and I'm arguing this as the devil's advocate), if Mrs W's stance is "no two people of the same sex sharing a bed", then she doesn't have to ask their orientation because it's irrelevant to the house rules. It simply doesn't matter that they're gay or straight, or whether they're in a sexual relationship.

          It might be a fine point, but if it holds up in a court of law…

          • OK, but even taking the point as 'devil's advocate', the difficulty would surely be proving Ms Wilkinson has such a consistent policy. Just to show how sad and pedantic I can be – have just looked up the website of Ms W's b&b (and rather classy it looks too) and there is nothing on any page that says there is a policy of not letting double rooms to people of the same sex. If this goes much further she might struggle to defend herself – hope she doesn't lose out on guests because of it. From the info in the BBC report her guest house is easily found on the net.

            • Oh, I'm under no illusions that it would be a hard defence to argue, but I would love to see a test case like this that clarifies the law in this regard.

  2. Oops – having read the full BBC report, which I should have done before posting above, I note that Ms W says she was fully booked so couldn't have offered another room. One of the couple, Michael Black, is quoted as saying, "All she said about her reasons for turning us away was that it went against her convictions for us to stay there". Still looks to me as though they have a case… And anyway, how did she know that if they shared a bed, they'd have sex that night? I believe that sex is possible in twin rooms as well :)

    • As I said above, it will make a very interesting test case. Clearly though, the law does not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual behaviour, and that's the key point. If she thought that they *might* have used the room for sex, she could have a very clear defence.

      • "the law does not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual behaviour" – granted, but…
        "If she thought that they *might* have used the room for sex…" – on what basis might Ms W have thought so? Mr Black is quoted saying, "Mrs Wilkinson saw us both before we got out of the car…" – if this is true how could she judge whether they might have sex under her roof that night? Doesn't look like a solid defence to me… Also, how is it possible to make such a clean cut between sexual orientation and behaviour here – after all if Ms Wilkinson assumed / guessed they might have sex because she realised they're a gay couple, that links the two, and again suggests discrimination on grounds of orientation…

        OK, have been quite argumentative enough now…

  3. >>>Ms Wilkinson told the BBC: … "I am not a hotel, I am a guest house and this is a private house."<<<

    I am not a lawyer but I suspect that much of the case will turn on what the above statement means.

    If a guest house is defined as a private house that accommodates guests based on the owners policies in return for a fee, I suspect that Mrs Wilkinson has a case as long as she can produce evidence of clear statement of her accommodation policies (on a website or posted at reception for example).

    However, if a guest house is the same as a hotel and provides commercial accommodation for the public then I suspect that Stonewall are right and 'it's illegal for businesses to turn away gay customers or discriminate against them when providing goods or services'. And quite right too, if you are providing a commercial accommodation service then it is none of your business what people do in their rooms, unless you suspect that it is illegal.

    Can anyone enlighten me?

    • Hi Philip,
      obviously am not a lawyer either, but that won't stop me sticking my opinion in :)

      My guess would be that if Ms Wilkinson is open to the public, then she'll be covered by the law and Stonewall are most likely right, as you say above. Despite what she says about being "a private house" it rather looks as though she is open to the general public, given that Messrs Black and Morgan were clearly unknown to her and presumably had found her in the phone book or on the 'net to make their booking – though am speculating now.

      in friendship, Blair

  4. I think the distinction between public / private houses is a red herring. If she offers rooms to let then it's a commercial operation. The real issue is whether she is guilty of discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or sexual practice. If her stance is that she would refuse a room to two men sleeping in the same bed *regardless* of their sexual orientation, then I can't see how this is discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

    That's a picky legal point I know, but it's never been tested in a court of law.

  5. Isn't it also the case that they claim that she said no straight away after seeing it was two men? It's assuming that she knew they were gay without even meeting them and within seconds of them arriving.

    Unless she saw them eg hold hands, kiss etc, is there any reason to assume (other than that they booked a single bed) what their orienation was?

    • In which case it strengthens the position that the "discrimination" was not on grounds of sexual orientation but on sexual behaviour. She simply wasn't going to allow two men to share bed, regardless of what sexual orientation they were.

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