Why is it unacceptable for Peter and Hazelmary Bull to deny a double room to any couple on the grounds of their marital status, but perfectly acceptable for the clubs G.A.Y. and Heaven to refuse entry to women on the grounds that they “look too straight”?
The answer is that the Bull’s B&B will automatically fall foul of the Equality Act because they refuse to treat civil partnerships in the same way as marriage.
In many ways it is a shame that this case was brought to court, given that the couple were clearly in breach of the law and were doomed to failure from the outset, although it has brought the bigots out in force.
“We know people have deeply held ‘beliefs’ about homosexuality. That’s why we need legislation” screamed one. Orwell himself could not have written a better line about thought crime. We know that people will hold beliefs entirely separate to ours, therefore we need legislation to stop them from acting upon their morals? The function of legislation is to stop people from exercising their own free will?
Though no lawyer, it seems that the question of harm needs to come into play here. What harm is there from the proprietor of any business deciding who they may admit on their premises? It needs to be noted that the Bulls were not, in any event attempting to deny the use of their services to this couple, they were not denying them entry to the B&B, what they were doing was refusing them the use of a double room, in line with their policy. Had two separate rooms been available, then Mr Hall & Mr Preddy would have been perfectly welcome to avail themselves of the hospitality on offer. On an individual level the only “harm” caused to the couple, was that of hurt feelings and thus £1,800 apiece seems a disproportionate amount of compensation. A more realistic and just figure would have been a couple of hundred pounds between the couple to compensate them for the expenses incurred in having to arrange travel to a different hotel and the costs of a hotel room.
There is of course inherent harm in a society that wishes to negatively discriminate against people on the grounds of sexuality, race, gender or creed and no-0ne wishes to see a return to the days of hotels displaying signs stating “no Irish, no blacks” etc and thus it is important that legislation remains in place. It’s all about finding the middle ground, but this ruling does highlight the inconsistency in the law. A premises may withhold entry on the grounds on sexuality, as has happened to me in the past when out with members of gay cabin crew. I completely understand that like-minded people wish to have an environment in which they may relax and socialise without the threat of intimidation, which is why various establishments reserve the right to deny entry.
What I don’t understand is why a couple, who have a deeply-held and rational belief are penalised for running an establishment on the grounds of religion, yet another establishment is able to run their establishment on the grounds of sexuality? Why is one acceptable and not the other? Why could this couple not run their B&B according to their faith principles? Because it unfairly excluded a section of society? Could not the same principle be applied to high-profile nightclubs who refuse entry on the grounds of appearance, thus denying, as happened to me, the chance to see a certain performer? (Yes, I admit, to my everlasting embarrassment, I was attempting to see Kylie Minogue).
As a Christian I loathe the current narrative of persecution as it denigrates the suffering of those who have genuinely suffered the most horrific and abhorrent persecution, being a Christian does not entail gruesome torture and death, such as in the days of the Emperor Nero when Christians were covered in tar and pitch, crucified and set alight as human torches, through which the Emperor would stage nighttime chariot races. Nor do we face a holocaust like the one that decimated the lives of at least 6 million Jews in the middle of the twentieth century. To invite such comparisons invites justifiable ridicule and does nothing to advance the debate.
What the judgement does highlight is both the bigotry of others towards Christian beliefs, with tweeters triumphantly awarding the Bulls obscene awards amounting to “idiot of the year” couched in extremely offensive language, as well as the fact that to be a Christian is counter-cultural. Though this is to be expected, holding a counter-cultural viewpoint should not demand legislation.
The judge noted that the ruling “does affect the human rights of the defendants to manifest their religion and forces them to act in a manner contrary to their deeply and genuinely held beliefs.” and sensibly gave them leave to appeal.
This is the heart of the matter. How do we manage to balance conflicting interests in a fair and just society? How do we ensure that neither side is unfairly treated or marginalised?
It seems apparent that this particular case was a stitch-up job. The homosexual couple deliberately sought out this hotel and were determined to find offence and prove their point. It is unfortunate that due to illness on the day of the booking, the question about the couple’s marital status, which is normally pointed out to guests, was omitted. One does also have to question whether or not calling the police when one is refused entry to a premises is an instinctive or premeditated reaction?
The UK is renowned for its tolerance and diversity. We now have to ask ourselves some uncomfortable and searching questions about our identity. Are we prepared to live in a society which disbars people from entering certain professions or going into business by nature of their religious beliefs? Do we want legislation to prevent any discrimination whatsoever taking place? If so, then surely we need to make the existing legislation more consistent?
Is all discrimination bad and to be outlawed in the name of equality? Or is some discrimination better than others?