Judge Andrew Rutherford ruled yesterday that a Christian couple running a B&B who refused a double bed for gay guests has drawn a limited response, mainly from the more morally ‘conservative’ end of the spectrum, viewing the case as a loss of religious rights… though the law seems abundantly clear that it’s only when you start discriminating against others that legislation may rightly come into play.
The Telegraph, short-sightedly, represents all the personal angst felt by the couple who were discriminated against as merely being “offended”. In the eyes of their editorial view, it’s as if the judge has censured someone over a passing comment, rather than what it actually as: a keenly felt, holiday-ruining denial of service by a business, based on the intrinsic characteristics of their would-be guests.
The right to hold religious beliefs, and to act in keeping with one’s faith, is being set against the right not to be offended – and is losing. This is a dispiriting trend in a free society. The views of the Bulls will seem to many to be old-fashioned, even distasteful – but they have every right to hold them.
Again, missing another point: the B&B owners weren’t just “holding a view”, they were running a public business and treating some people differently in a way which made them feel small and rejected for no good reason.
Andrew Brown is more analytical, though he emphasises what appears to be his own view, that the case represents a “clash of genuine rights” in his Guardian blog:
Judge Andrew Rutherford’s ruling against the Cornish Christian couple who refused to offer a double bed to a gay couple treads a narrow line in deciding what counts as discrimination. It will no doubt delight the evangelical Christians who can use it to strengthen their own sense of being a persecuted minority, but the real point is a more subtle one, about the equivalence of civil partnerships with marriage. That may well increase the rage of conservative evangelicals, but it is unlikely to win them many converts.
… The important point about Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the couple who owned the Cornish hotel in question, was that they really believed that their policy did not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. Their line was that no unmarried couples, whether straight or gay, could share a double-bedded room, and evidence was presented to show that they had previously been in trouble with heterosexual couples who had been turned away for this reason, as far back as 1996. … So it really does appear that the Bulls were attempting to run a policy that did not discriminate against gay unmarried couples any more than it did against straight ones. The judge is quite clear that this is a clash of genuine rights and sincere principles on both sides. His job is to balance them, or rather to discover how the law balances the two rights – to the free exercise of religious belief; and to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The crucial factor turned out to be the fact that the gay couple, Martin Hall and Steven Preddy, had entered into a civil partnership. The law says that civil partners are to be treated as married ones and in that sense the Bulls’ policy was direct discrimination, since there was no possibility of marriage, still less Christian marriage for any gay couple. That is why they won their case.
And the Daily Mail embarrass themselves.
The British Humanist Association campaigns for full equality in marriage law for same-sex partners.