By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday an appeal from a devoutly Christian couple who denied two gay men a room at their hotel, saying this constituted discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
In its judgment, the court said the high-profile case and the legal issues it had raised were "a measure of how far we have come in the recognition of same-sex relationships".
The Christian couple had argued that they should not be forced to facilitate what they regard as a sin by allowing unmarried couples to share a bed. They argued they were discriminating against homosexuals only "indirectly" because they would also have refused a room to unmarried heterosexuals.
The court rejected their argument, noting that the gay couple were in a civil partnership, a union for same-sex couples recognized under British law which gives very similar rights to those enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.
"Marriage and civil partnership exist both to recognise and to encourage stable, committed, long-term relationships. It is very much in the public interest that intimate relationships be conducted in this way," the court ruled.
"Now that, at long last, same-sex couples can enter into a mutual commitment which is the equivalent of marriage, the suppliers of goods, facilities and services should treat them in the same way."
"MARRIED HETEROSEXUALS ONLY"
The Christian couple, Hazelmary and Peter Bull, refused to let Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall stay in a double room at the Chymorvah House hotel in Cornwall, southwest England, in 2008.
The hotel's online booking form stated at the time that the owners were devout Christians who preferred to let double rooms to "heterosexual married couples only".
However, Preddy booked the room by telephone and was not made aware of the policy until he and his partner arrived at the hotel and were rebuffed. Reported in the media, the incident caused widespread outrage in Britain.
Preddy and Hall took legal action against the Bulls, supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. A county court and the Court of Appeal both ruled that the Bulls had discriminated against the gay couple.
The Bulls then asked the Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeal ruling, but the Supreme Court justices unanimously dismissed their appeal.
Same-sex couples will be able to marry from 2014 in England and Wales under a new law passed by the British parliament in July this year.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)