The rights of couples: formal and informal unions

Two aspects of the law associated with couples occurred on Wednesday 9 October: the start of the two-day hearing by the Supreme Court the appeal of  Bull and another (Appellants) v Hall and another (Respondents) in the “B&B same-sex discrimination case” and first reading of the private Member’s bill of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames; the Cohabitation Rights Bill, HL Bill 49.  The two events are linked, albeit tenuously, by the line of defence outlined in the Appeal Court hearing against same-sex discrimination that, [para.2]:

“They [Peter and Hazelmary Bull] have over the many years of their tenure operated a policy of restricting to married couples the provision of double beds (“the restriction”) a policy which, before the 2008 arrival of the Respondents, had apparently affected only unmarried heterosexual couples. The Appellants submit that since their policy is directed not towards sexual orientation but towards sexual practice there is no direct discrimination.”

The basis of this policy is outlined in para.6,

“ . . . . . .They believe that permitting unmarried individuals, heterosexual or homosexual, to share a double bed in a double room involves on their, the Appellants’, part the promotion of sin.”

[…]

“In the Appellants’ view their policy had affected many more unmarried heterosexual than it had homosexual couples.”

The Appellants relied, unsuccessfully, on Richards J in R (Amicus) v Secretary of State for Industry [2004] IRLR 430, who at para. 194 supported the view of the Secretary of State that

“there was no direct discrimination since the ground of the difference in treatment was marriage, not sexual orientation and the difference in treatment between married and unmarried couples did not amount to indirect discrimination since married and unmarried couples are not in a materially similar situation.”

Supreme Court Hearing

The issue before the court is

“Whether the Appellants’ refusal on religious grounds to let a double room in their hotel to a homosexual couple in a Civil Partnership constituted discrimination under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007”

for which aspects of Articles 8,9 & 14 of the ECHR were to be raised.  The five Supreme Court justices are expected to give their reserved judgement at a later date.

Cohabitation Rights Bill

In Marriage, Civil Partnership and Cohabitation we examined the Inheritance (Cohabitants) Bill of Lord Lester of Herne Hill, which was given its second reading on 19 October 2012 but progressed no further. At that time it was the latest in sequence of attempts to give rights to cohabiting couples – Lord Lester’s earlier private Member’s bill in December 2008, here, and in March 2009 by Mary Creagh under the Ten Minute Rule, here – and focused on issues of inheritance.

The present Cohabitation Rights Bill addresses: financial settlement orders; cohabitation agreements or deeds of trust; insurance; registration of death; intestacy; and financial provisions for the cohabitant from the deceased’s estate.  The date for the second reading is yet to be scheduled.

Comment

This week Lancaster University reported the results of a YouGov poll undertaken for the Westminster Faith Debates.  The response to the question:

“Do you think that bed-and-breakfast (B&B) owners should or should not be allowed to refuse accommodation to people based on their sexuality?”

was: should, 33%; should not, 57%; don’t know, 11%, and more specifically,

“In 2008, a gay couple were refused entry to a bed-and-breakfast on grounds of their sexuality based on the Christian beliefs of the owners. The bed-and-breakfast owners have since been ordered by the courts to pay damages of £3,600 to the couple.

Do you think it was right or wrong that the bed-and-breakfast owners were ordered to pay damages to the couple?”

where the answers were: right to pay damages, 40%; not right to pay damages, 47%; don’t know.

Of the 4018 over-18 GB adults questioned, the most significant effect was age, with 81% of under-    24s disagreeing with discrimination on grounds of sexuality, and only 40% of those aged 60 or more agreeing.

A short report published in 2012 by the Office of National Statistics stated that since 1996, the number of people aged 16 or over had more than doubled from 2.9 million to 5.9 million, which equates to 11.7 per cent of the population and making “cohabitation the fastest growing family type in the UK” – not a sound basis for the business case underpinning the Bull’s letting policy.  With this in mind, it would have be interesting if the pollsters had asked the further question:

“Do you think that bed-and-breakfast (B&B) owners should or should not be allowed to refuse accommodation to people based on their marital status?”

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