Tuesday, 18 January 2011

That B and B case

Many of you will already know that there has been a ruling in favour of a civilly partnered couple , Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall, in their case against  Mr and Mrs Bull who refused them a double bed at their B&B. I strongly agree that this is the right ruling. The Bull's defence was that they had not discriminated because they only offer double rooms  to  married couples, whether gay or straight. This meant that the issue at stake was whether a civil partnership is equal in law to a marriage, clearly it is, and as gay people cannot get married anyhow, the Bulls did discriminate. This ruling will send out the right message - that lesbian and gay people are protected by law and are equal citizens.

There has been a major shift both in attitudes to homosexuality and also in the legal standing of gay people during the last few decades. I do think that the rapid pace of change has left some people, such as the Bulls, struggling to cope with the fact that they may hold certain views, but they can no longer act on those views with impunity when it harms or inconveniences those concerned. Nor can they complain that it was "their own home" any more than they could presumably make that case if they gave their guests food poisoning through poor hygiene, or jeopardised their safety in some way; they were providing goods and services.

However, I do think the judge was right to take time to consider the case carefully and to look at the issues involved, because both parties did think they had a case. One of the problems that is being raised by a number of voices is whether Christians themselves are discriminated against. I have to say that I know nothing about the law as it relates to the entitlement that people have not to be denied goods and services because of their faith. Could a Bed and Breakfast set up largely to cater for gay couples, for example, turn people away on the grounds that they were Christian? (I hope not!)

A few years ago, just as the equality legislation had come into force, someone I knew was organising a retreat/ conference for LGBT Christians. There was a dinner dance organised for the final night and she booked a gay  DJ - really to ensure that she had someone who would be at ease in a such an environment. However, on receiving the details the DJ phoned back to cancel saying that he was not prepared to offer his services to  a Christian group! He considered it irrelevant that this was a gay Christian group,  part of his reasoning was that he would find the environment of a Christian centre intimidating, but he also made it clear that he did not approve of Christians. The deposit was fully refunded,  the organiser did not make a complaint, but was he discriminating unfairly, should he have put his prejudices to one side and would his refusal be illegal today?

"This equality legislation is going to be a minefield", said the person recounting this story to me.


  1. Funny old world, isn't it?

  2. The legal judgement is worth a read - let me know if you can't find it. I think the claim to be a B&B is a bit misleading - go to the website - describes a small hotel - which is what they've called it

  3. A silly man calling himself "Cranmer" tries to distinguish between "prejudice" and "discrimination" e.g. we discriminate when we interview someone for a job. (We could legally refuse them). He argues the hotel couple were 'discriminating', but are not "prejudiced". By this logic, one could 'discriminate' that white people are preferable to blacks. But the Law would still call it "racial discrimination".

  4. In the ruling, Judge Rutherford said the right of the defendants to manifest their religion is not absolute and ‘can be limited to protect the rights and freedoms of the claimants’. He also described the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, the law under which the case was made and which protects against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the delivery of goods, facilities and services, as a ‘necessary and proportionate intervention by the state to protect the rights of others’.

    That's about all I could find - above. I'd be interested to learn more if you have a useful link.

  5. I agree with you that gay people should not be unfairly discriminated against. My beef with this case is one of equality - people who run a B&B catering for gay people can turn a straight couple away and not be breaking the law. This effectively gives gay people more rights than straight people, which makes members of the "silent majority" feel more alienated.

  6. Look on Maggi Dawn's weblog for her posting on the issue - also worth a read - for a link to the judgement

  7. The full judgement is here and is worth a careful read before commenting.


  8. Hi Ed,
    I can see that minority groups might need some special protections for specific reasons. So, for example, a group set up for women who had been raped might be being reasonable in excluding men, or a club for people with a disability might understandably want the majority of people joining to have or know people with that disability. A gay B&B might want the right to be able to reserve a certain amount of rooms for same sex couples. I don't really see why a B and B should be able to turn people away simply on the grounds that they are straight though. I don't think that should be legal personally.
    What do you think of the case cited, the gay DJ who wouldn't come to a Christian venue because he would find it intimidating and disapproved of Christians? In that case I have a teensy bit of sympathy with the "feel intimidated" line, but no sympathy for the refusing due to disapproval line!

  9. Ed
    "people who run a B&B catering for gay people can turn a straight couple away and not be breaking the law."
    I don't think so!

    I really struggle with the whole concept of not applying your principles to your work. I absolutely support the judgement, gay people do need to be protected!
    But I have sympathy for someone not wanting to work in a Christian setting if he feels it is intimidating.
    And as a translator, there are some jobs I simply refuse to work on - anything pornographic, for example, although it is perfectly legal to produce and translate pornography.
    And I have refused work for a company that sells supplements as alternative cancer treatment.

    Maybe the difference is that you cannot discrimminate against a whole group of people simply for being what they are.

    And the other difference, of course, is that it is illegal to discrimminate against gay people, whereas it is not illegal to "discrimminate against" a Christian gathering, especially when that discrimination means nothing deeper than that you absent yourself from it.

  10. Yes, I broadly agree with you,Erika. I think the main problem is that the DJ was not simply "absenting himself" from a Christian gathering- he was refusing goods and services to a whole group of people, good and services which he had previously agreed to supply. The organiser had a lot of sympathy with his feeling of intimidation by the way (having no doubt felt intimidated in some Christian contexts herself.) But it is fair to say that he held some negative assumptions about Christians, and in fact told the organiser that if she was gay she shouldn't be a Christian - ironically a similar opinion to that held by some Christians.

  11. Sue

    You raise some interesting points which I think highlight the problems around discrimination and the various ‘hierarchies of oppression’ this gives rise to. On the social work course I completed in the mid-90s, minorities often vied with each other to claim the place of ‘most oppressed’. The result wasn’t greater harmony and an understanding of the lot of others, but rather factions and back-biting… Alas we are apt to take pride in our differences and we all know where pride leads.

    As a same-couple I always book B&B and hotel accommodation in my name and never state that the double bed requested will be occupied by two men. I would sue the arse off any hotel or B&B owner who refused us accommodation on the grounds of sexuality. That said, I would never book a room at an explicitly ‘Christian’ B&B etc.; nor a room at a ‘gay-friendly’ or ‘gay’ B&B, unless there was no alternative. Both appellations, ‘Christian’ and ‘gay’, presume a certainly lifestyle, set of values and behaviour which, to my mind, limit both the scope and purpose of the Gospel, the nature of sexuality and the complexity of the human condition!

    What is a ‘Christian’ business? Just what were the B&B owners trying to achieve by their ‘rule’ about double rooms only being for married people? Is this ‘Christian’ or merely wanting to make yourself, feel better about yourself or appear virtuous to others? A look through the Gospels reveals that Jesus’ anger and condemnation was not directed towards the ‘sinners’, but rather those who lived outwardly upright and moral lives, who knew their Scriptures, paid their tithes, made their sacrifices and were generally pillars of the community. Yet what they lacked was love, humility and a knowledge of their need of God; their religion was a means of placing themselves at the top end of a hierarchy from which they could look down on the rest of humanity. The very fact that non-Christian married couples, marriages on the rocks, marriages built on lies, adultery, violence, child sex abuse, etc. could have a double room, but unmarrieds and same sex couples cannot suggests there is something of the same going on. The ‘anti-Christian’ DJ was doing the same thing, but with (on the surface) a different motivation. If you set yourself up as providing services for the general public, then that is what you do, anything else relies on imperfect human judgement, which is often rooted in prejudice.

    Is it Christian, to deny a double room to a same sex or unmarried couple – who are paying for it, this isn’t charity, remember? I feel rather sorry for these B&B owners if they think a couple sharing a bed ALWAYS leads to sex. But mucky minds aside, it is just illogical and I would argue un-scriptural, simply because of the judgement this involves. Are they doing it for God?

    To my mind, both the ‘anti-Christian’ DJ and the Cornish B&B owners are in error simply because they are making value judgements based on the ‘easy-morality’ of outward signs and symbols and – let’s face it – ignorance and a good dash of pride in their discretion. I seem to remember Jesus explicitly cautions against making judgements on outward appearances...