A Suitable Test Case – Cornish B&B

This piece in the Mail yesterday caught my eye.

The Christian owners of a seaside guesthouse are being sued in a landmark case – for refusing to allow a gay couple to share a double bed. Devout Peter and Hazelmary Bull refused to let civil partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy use a double room because it would be ‘an affront to their faith’. They operate a strict policy which only allows married heterosexual couples to share rooms at their B&B in Cornwall.

Mr and Mrs Bull’s legal defence is being financed by The Christian Institute, a charity that protects the religious liberty of Christians.

The gay couple claim the snub was a ‘direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation’. They are using 2007 Equality Act Regulations to claim up to £5,000 in damages at a landmark case that begins at Bristol County Court next Monday. The hearing could determine whether Christians are permitted to operate B&Bs that restrict double bed accommodation to married couples. Martyn and Steven’s legal fees are being paid for by the Government-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission.

We had a similar case in the Spring, but there is a crucial difference this time round. With the Berkshire case, there was some doubt as to whether the couple owning the B&B would have taken the same attitude to an unmarried other-sex couple as they would to a same-sex couple. As I wrote at the time,

Christians should be free to discriminate on the grounds of sexual behaviour (not sexual orientation), but they need to make clear if they are doing so and they need to be consistent if they claim that they are doing so because of their faith. For example, it is inconsistent to refuse to allow a male couple to share a bed (regardless of their sexuality) on the grounds of such an action going against Christian morals, whilst at the same time allowing an unmarried male-female couple to share a bed. That is rank hyposcrisy.

It seems that in this Cornish case the hotel owners’ policy was absolutely clear. Couples who weren’t married, whether gay or not, were not allowed to share a room. This made very clear when booking,

Here at Chymorvah we have few rules, but please note that as Christians we have a deep regard for marriage(being the union of one man to one woman for life to the exclusion of all others).

Therefore, although we extend to all a warm welcome to our home, our double bedded accommodation is not available to unmarried couples – Thank you.

Very clear. It is impossible to book a room (even by phone) without reading that notice on the website. That means that the gay couple who booked the room would have very likely known what the house rules were, but they booked the room regardless.

So, we have a Christian couple operating a traditional Christian sexual ethic (the same sexual ethic taught officially by the Church of England no less) consistently. You have that traditional sexual ethic communicated very clearly and unambiguously. You possibly even have a couple who knew that they would fall foul of the terms and conditions but booked anyway. You certainly have a hotel that is very clearly advertised as a “private hotel”, so raising for the court the issue as to whether “homes opened up to the public” should be treated differently to more corporate hotels.

Yup, I think we finally have the test case we need. Are Christians allowed to practice a traditional sexual ethic, the same sexual ethic taught by the state church, and to discriminate on the grounds of sexual behaviour? Let’s find out.

<i>It’s worth adding here that I have consistently argued that Christian hoteliers should happily let out rooms to unmarried couples if they want to do business (and witness) in a heathen country. The reason why this particular case interests me is that it is the best possible test case for the current religious belief / secular orthodoxy clash that we are currently living in.</i>

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