Hotel offers 'full apology' after cancelling pastor's pro-marriage event

Rev Harry Coulter has accepted the hotel's apology(Photo: The Christian Institute)

A Belfast hotel has settled with a pastor after cancelling his conference in support of marriage after it had already started.

Fifty people were attending the 'Marriage Matters' conference at the Balmoral Hotel, in Dunmurry, last October when the owners ordered the meeting to close following a complaint from another patron. 

The conference was organised by Rev Harry Coulter, from Carrickfergus Reformed Presbyterian Church, and held in response to the imposition of same-sex marriage on Northern Ireland by Westminster.

He began legal proceedings against the hotel for unlawful discrimination and breach of contract after saying the incident had left him feeling "humiliated".

The Christian Institute, which supported him in his legal action, says the hotel has now offered a "full apology" to Rev Coulter and refunded his booking fee and legal costs. It has also promised to train staff to avoid similar incidents in future. 

"On behalf of the owners, management and staff of The Balmoral Hotel, I write to express our sincere regret at the level of service you received at your function held in our Grand Ballroom on 9th October 2019," the hotel said in a letter to the pastor. 

"As a hotel we have always sought to serve people without discriminating on the grounds of religion, belief or political opinion.

"We are therefore disappointed that on the night in question we fell short of that standard. As a result, you and your guests were prevented from fully expressing and discussing your beliefs about the law of marriage in Northern Ireland as part of your 'Marriage Matters' series.

"We recognise that the ability to respectfully debate issues on which we hold strong views is fundamental to freedom of speech for all of us.

"We also recognize that the particular way in which this was dealt with was embarrassing for you and inconvenient for your guests. I reassure you that this will never happen again."

Rev Coulter said he was "very satisfied" by the hotel's response to his concerns and that he would "wholeheartedly accept" their apology. 

"They have done right by us in the end and we appreciate it," he said. 

Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute said the apology brought a "satisfactory resolution to an unpleasant situation".

"This is an important reminder that you cannot kick people out of a hotel for supporting traditional marriage," he said. 

"We're confident that, had this case gone to court, Rev Coulter would have won his claim for discrimination. The hotel clearly understood this, and their apology is full and frank and they deserve credit for it.

"In the current climate of hypersensitivity over people's opinions, the successful outcome in this case is a welcome restatement of the high value of freedom of belief and freedom of expression for all.

"It's also a reminder to Christians of the importance of taking a stand and we are thankful to God for another victory to add to The Christian Institute's long track record of successful cases.

"Mr Coulter's meeting was a thoughtful discussion about marriage. The law firmly protects the ability to have those discussions and we need to have more of them, conducted with the kind of courtesy which Rev Coulter exemplifies."