The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007
make it unlawful for a person providing goods, facilities or services to members of the public to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. The legislation covers a wide range of public and private services, including healthcare, insurance and the provision of hotel or holiday accommodation. Whilst there are exceptions regarding circumstances in which it is not unlawful to discriminate, some people seem to be unaware of the scope of the law, so fail to realise that it does apply to them and must normally override any personal beliefs or prejudices they may hold.
This was illustrated by a recent report that the owner of a guest house in Berkshire refused accommodation to a gay couple, who had booked a double room, because it was against her policy to accommodate same sex couples. The men reported the woman’s conduct to Thames Valley Police, which is investigating what it logged as a homophobic incident.
A further case illustrates the tensions that can arise if an employee is asked to provide a service which they regard as contrary to their religious beliefs. In Ladele v London Borough of Islington, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of a Christian registrar who claimed that she had been discriminated against after she refused to perform civil partnership ceremonies. The Court found that the Regulations meant that Ms Ladele’s employer had little choice but to insist that she perform the ceremonies. Lord Neuberger said, “It appears to me that, however much sympathy one may have with someone such as Ms Ladele, who is faced with choosing between giving up a post she plainly appreciates or officiating at events which she considers to be contrary to her religious beliefs, the legislature has decided that the requirements of a modern liberal democracy, such as the United Kingdom, include outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on grounds of sexual orientation, subject only to very limited exceptions.”