Waiting for the Real Test Case

Some brief thoughts on the B&B issue (copied and adapted from a comment I made earlier this morning).

In both cases so far (Bulls and Wilkinsons) one of the key criticisms made by the justices were the inconsistency of the implementation of the moral code of the establishment. That seems to suggest that if an establishment *clearly* markets itself as Christian and makes sure that every booking is referred to this and the “moral code”, there can be no complaint if those who book turn up and object to the moral code.

Of course, that wouldn’t get round the clear legal guidance that civil partnerships need to be treated the same as marriages, but it would permit an establishment to refuse a bed to a gay couple who were not in a civil partnership IF and ONLY IF they had made this issue apparent at the point of booking AND that they applied an equal policy to unmarried heterosexual couples.

None of this though gets round the clear ruling that any form of hotel / guest house CANNOT refuse a bed to a couple who are in a civil partnership if at the same time if offers a double bed to a married couple. To be fair though, that position has never actually been tested in court, because none of the cases so far have actually been consistent in their position, explicitly making sure every guest was aware of their position before booking. If such an establishment were to be taken to court (clearly indicating to every booking before payment that they only let rooms to marriage couples because of religious convictions) then I think that a fair and reasonable judge might have to reconsider the previous rulings and weigh up whether the B&B owner’s freedom to manifest and practice one’s faith was now being compromised.
However, I doubt we’ll ever find a B&B with such consistency to test the law and the issue around rights properly. Instead we’ll have more of these examples of poor communication of moral stances dressed up as discrimination going through the courts.

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  • David Shepherd

    Sorry Peter. if it feels like I’m hijacking (again). You and I have both held that, just like British Citizenship. there is but one estate of marriage, though the means of entry may differ. So, let’s say the government implements same-sex ‘civil’ marriage.
    The scenario is that a B&B proprietor changes policy somewhat, but continues to reserve the honeymoon suite for married couples. A same-sex couple turn up to stay in that suite that they booked on-line, along with complimentary flowers and a special champagne breakfast. The proprietor is polite, but offers them a different room. The couple are adamant, but end up stay in the other room. There are no flowers. They are served a full English without champagne. They leave the next day saying that they were entitled because now are married in the eyes of the law. The proprietor state that she doesn’t believe that they are married in the eyes of God.
    1. Demanding that the suite is reserved for married couples is no longer by itself discriminatory. If the proposals were implemented, gays and lesbians would have access to it.
    2. Is the discrimination about sexual orientation, or marital status? What’s the comparator for assessing this, e.g. have civil marriage couples been consistently denied the honeymoon suite?
    3. Would the distinction between civil and religious marriage be upheld by the law?
    Discuss! ;-)

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      I agree entirely! I was discussing the law as it currently stands, but as you point out, changing the law in the manner the Government propose would lead to this issue arising.

      So perhaps it might be best if we can have a B&B with a consistent practice tested in the courts *before* the law change in order to test the principle.

      • David Shepherd

        A Christian B&B Proprietor’s Code of Practice. A great idea. Simple guides that provide legal advice in simple language (almost an oxymoron) on the do’s and don’ts of belief manifestation as a proprietor, employer and employee.
        Now, where that EU Social Fund application pamphlet I picked up the other day?

        • Fiddle Sticks

          I agree. These legal judgements are becoming more and more incomprehensible! Trying to resolve this issue by going to court is such a waste of time and money. I wish the judges would just say ‘no, you can’t decide which couples can a cannot share a double bed in your guesthouse’. But, of course, the law is never that simple! A guide is definitely in order.

    • Tom Jones

      Could the guesthouse owner really say “we reserve the honeymoon suite for people in a sacramental marriage of Holy Matrimony conducted in Church only but not unfortunately for Registry Office marriages”? I doubt you’d make it stick but just supposing you did, someone is going to come along freshly married from the Friends’ Meeting House or the local synagogue or some other place of worship that conducts same-sex marriages.

      What of the case of a muslim with one of his four wives legally married in Saudi? Is that a silly question?

      • David Shepherd

        Maybe silly, but am I alone in thinking:
        1. Only CofE weddings count anyway ;-)
        2. That running through full list of religious exclusions over the phone would make for a very funny Monty Python sketch?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

    The thing is that the B&B owners concerned are not distinguishing between married couples and same sex couples in civil partnerships. They wouldn’t regard the latter as acceptable either. So its really quite simple. If you want to actively discriminate, don’t run a hotel or B&B open to the public. If you don’t agree with the law, then by all means campaign for its repeal, but wasting time and money on vexacious legal cases appears somewhat pointless

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Isn’t that the point I’m trying to make Mike?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

        I suppose what I am trying to say is that a consistent stance in terms of treating all unmarried couples the same wouldn’t really be very likely, as it wouldn’t make much sense in terms of a conservative Biblical stance. I’m not trying to be awkward :)

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          So basically, you’re saying what I’m saying. It’s OK you know. You are allowed to acknowledge that I’ve got it right occasionally.

  • Revd_Dave

    Hmm, isn’t all this debate about consistency setting the bar impossibly high? The problem isn’t consistency, the problem is that the government has given itself the right to decide by legislation what is and isn’t moral. Laws now try to stop things that “are wrong”- rather than just protect us from acts that would cause actual harm. And disapproving of same sex sex is “wrong”.. So, whereas (I bet) the courts wouldn’t demand *any* consistency from a hotel that refused a bed to a threesome, or two couples, the courts are *always* going to find that a refusal of a bed to two men or two women is “wrongly” discriminating.

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