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>

8 Comments on “A Suitable Test Case – Cornish B&B

  1. Peter

    I'm not sure that this is such a good test case. As I posted on the earlier case to which you refer, I think that much will depend on the definition of 'guesthouse'.

    – Is a guesthouse a 'private house' that is providing a service to the public but on the private criteria defined and clearly posted by the owner of the house, or;
    – Is a guesthouse a 'private house' that is providing a service to the public and, the moment they provide commercial services are bound by non-discrimination and equality legislation, irrespective of any private criteria that they post.

    I think that if the definition of 'guesthouse' is the former, then they clearly have a case. If it is the latter, then they don't!

    FWIW, the issue of Christian conscience in service provision to gay people is not such a great issue. Firstly, I don't run a guesthouse. Secondly, for me this falls into the category of 'legal and private behavior between consenting adults'. If I run a service for the public then I cease to be responsible for any behaviour in my guest rooms while they are being used, clearly subject to the major qualification that what is going on inside is legal. It is the clients room for the duration of their stay and it is an infringement of their privacy to attempt to police behaviour inside 'their' room. As adults, people are responsible for their own actions and it is not my place to police their conscience or relationship with God, or otherwise.

    The problems, in my view, only start when people claim that I cannot hold the orthodox biblical Christian view that homosexual behaviour is a sin, proclaim that respectfully and reasonably in the public space, and be part of the ordering of the Church on the basis of that belief.

    • Hi Philip,

      Part of the reason why I think this is a good test case is because the Bull's apply their Christian standards consistently. This means that the judge CAN spend time considering the private/public nature of the "hotel".

      FWIW (as well) I do agree with you – I think that of you provide commercial services in your home you have to accept that they become public premises. But my position all along is that Christians running guest houses should always welcome everybody.

  2. 'Public' means exactly that. One can imagine the response of The "Christian" Institution if ,say, a hotel owned by a gay person decided to refuse all evangementalist Christians….
    More broadly speaking, it's unfortunate when non-phobic Christians (like Peter and Philip above) speak of the UK's (implicitly historical) 'traditional Christian sexual ethic' as if it was similarly non-phobic. And is the distinction between sexual *behaviour* and tendency towards particular behaviour really that great? If discrimination on the grounds of same-sex behaviour is acceptable, then is the next stop not arguing that (as per the Pope on same-sex attracted clergy) a tendency *towards* a particular behaviour is a mental disorder and therefore grounds for discrimination? Remember, the likes of NARTH, Satinover disagreed with the removal of homosexuality from the DSM, and it would not be legally impossible (disability discrimination act aside) to argue that guesthouses, employers or churches need accept the equivalents of untreated schizophrenics. Gagnon, if memory serves, argues that homosexuality is even *worse* than bestiality, and what employer *wouldn't* regard bestiality as a sackable offence?

  3. Hello Peter and all,

    not sure if / how this might change things, but I note that PinkNews's report of this case says, "A month before Mr Hall made the booking, the Bulls had been contacted by gay rights charity Stonewall to warm them that their policy broke the law". As I say am not sure what that means – that the Bulls have 'carried on regardless'? That they've been 'watched' by Stonewall and that Messrs Hall and Preddy were maybe nudged to book with them?? Perhaps such cynicism's not helpful…. but it does make the case look a bit different.

    in friendship, Blair

  4. @Cerbusboy: I think it is Peter's point here that the Bulls are not discriminating against gays for their behavior, but against all non-married couples (in the traditional sense of marriage), regardless of what they DO in the room they share.

    Also, I think your choice of words hilights a particular problem I have with this whole topic: so what if the Bulls or anyone else if "homophobic". A phobia is not the same as hatred, and yet current policy tends to treat it that way. Shouldn't people who have a phobia be pitied, rather than punished by law?

  5. Wolf

    People can of course hold whatever beliefs they like. The problem comes when *public* servants think they can pick and choose who they serve on the basis of said beliefs. Is a phobia of a particular group not as likely to skew treatment of them as the presence of actual hatred? The question of the 'best' emotional response to such individuals is a separate (and infinitely less important) questions.

  6. “Mrs Bull said the hotel's policy was not to allow unmarried couples – of either sex – to share a double room OR A TWIN ROOM and that had been in place since 1986.”
    – Report in the Daily Telegraph, emphasis added by me.

    That raises some interesting questions. Does it mean that if I turned up with one of my brothers or nephews, or with another guy who wasn’t my boyfriend but just a mate, she wouldn’t allow us to share a twin room?

    Or would she, I wonder, allow us to share a twin room provided that she had managed to satisfy herself, after due interrogation as to the precise relationship between us, that we weren’t boyfriends – which, of course, would be very intrusive?

  7. Interestingly, the law would not label the Bulls as "discriminating" if they turned away a man with his two wives (married abroad), or an adult brother and sister who wanted to share a bed, or a married couple who had brought a friend to share their bed and have a threesome for the weekend, or two married couples who made it obvious that they were wife swapping etc etc etc.

    So where is this high ground of "equality for all"?!

    OK I KNOW WE FIND IT HARD TO THINK OUTSIDE THE NORMAL DISCOURSE ON "EQUALITY", BUT TRY THINKING ABOUT THIS: In the end it is impossible to derive moral truth from a *truly universal* understanding of equality because, if *everyone is equal* then equality has nothing to do with the morality of what each person does or doesn't do (or want to do)! We are just all equal because we are all human.

    So there should be a distinction made between people (all equal) and their actions and desires (may be right or wrong).

    True equality legislation should merely mean that service providers must be willing to provide services to everyone. What conditions the service providers impose while providing those services has nothing to do with true equality. And what the SORs did was NOT to ensure equality for *everyone* but just to impose a particular moral view of which sexualities are "right", and which are "wrong".

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