The zealous Christian owners of the Bed & Breakfast which refused a double room to a gay couple have been found guilty of discrimination:
Devout Christian hotel owners who refused to allow a gay couple to share a double room acted unlawfully, a judge at Bristol county court ruled today.
Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, who are civil partners, won their landmark claim for discrimination in a case funded and supported by theEquality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The ruling, one of the first made under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, is likely to provide those in partnerships with greater protection from discrimination.
The owners of the Chymorvah private hotel in Cornwall, Peter and Hazel Bull, do not allow couples who are not married to share double rooms because they do not believe in sex before marriage.
The Bulls asserted that their refusal to accommodate civil partners in a double room was not to do with sexual orientation but “everything to do with sex”. The restriction, the owners said, applied equally to heterosexual couples who are not married.
In his ruling, Judge Andrew Rutherford said the hotel had directly discriminated against the couple on the grounds of their sexual orientation and awarded them compensation of £1,800 each.
A great result. I’ve heard numerous complaints that the Bulls should be allowed to discriminate against anyone they like, but the Sexual Orientation Regulations of course apply because they are providing a service, which may be conducted within their home, but which constrains their freedom to discriminate there. Ben Summerskill of Stonewall points out:
During passage of the 2006 Equality Act, Stonewall fought hard to secure pioneering “goods and services” protections for lesbian and gay people, protecting them for the first time against discrimination in the delivery of public and commercial services. The preceding legal entitlement to deny gay people a service was every bit as offensive as the notorious signs outside guesthouses that once said: “No blacks. No Irish.” And people certainly took advantage of it, as lesbians denied smear tests and gay men refused holiday bookings were well aware.
The Bulls suggest that it’s their freedom, and not that of a gay couple, that is compromised by the existing law. But no part of the current and carefully calibrated compact in Britain’s equality legislation forces anyone to do anything. However, if a couple choose to turn their home into a commercial enterprise, why should they be any more entitled to exempt themselves from equality legislation than from health and safety laws?
Of course they shouldn’t – common sense says they shouldn’t. But the Christian devout keep protesting their right to discriminate as a necessary component of their religion trumps every right gay people have to be protected from discrimination. We’ve had relationship counsellors, civil registrars and others professing their right not to serve gay people in the same manner as they would others, and they’ve all failed. Judge Andrew 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”.
No doubt the devout will continue to insist they’re being persecuted, but I would insist that quote proves conclusively otherwise.
The House of Lords has voted to allow civil partnerships on religious premises:
The amendment to the Equality Bill, which was tabled as a free vote by gay Muslim peer Waheed Alli, received overwhelming backing in the Lords, including from a number of prominent Anglican bishops.
Under current UK law religious venues are forbidden from holding civil partnerships, although some liberal denominations within Christianity and Judaism have been willing to bless gay unions once a partnership ceremony has taken place elsewhere.
The lifting of the ban, which still needs to be approved by the House of Commons, will now give religious venues the option of conducting civil partnerships – but it will not compel them to do so, as some traditionalists had feared.
Lord Alli denied the suggestion that religious communities would be forced to accept gay marriages.
“Religious freedom cannot begin and end with what one religion wants,” he said. “This amendment does not place an obligation on any religious organisation to host civil partnerships in their buildings. But there are many gay and lesbian couples who want to share their civil partnership with the congregations that they worship with. And there are a number of religious organisations that want to allow gay and lesbian couples to do exactly that.”
No doubt the religious fundamentalist set will denounce this as an anti-religious move, but as Alli points out this, if approved by the Commons (and how appalling would it be if the Commons struck this down?), would allow civil partnerships on religious premises, not demand them. It’s amazing how often the devoutly religious wilfully mix the the two up, but the distinction is pretty important because it’s about religious freedom for all. As Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill says:
‘We’ve argued throughout that this is an important matter of religious freedom. Ministers have known for some months that we intended to table this measure and we regret that the Government didn’t stand up to the bullying it faced from some churches on this issue. We’ll now work closely with ministers to ensure that we secure implementation of this further step towards equality. This vote is hugely important to those gay people of faith (and, as Lady Neuberger pointed out, to their Jewish mothers too!) who wish to celebrate their civil partnerships in their own place of worship.’
It should have been unthinkable to have had a ban in the first place. Why any religion should have the freedom to discriminate based purely on the grounds of the bigoted beliefs of some, is beyond me. But this government has kowtowed incessantly towards the religious lobby, and in the run-up to the general election will no doubt continue to do so. Remember civil partnerships are still only for gay people, and marriage is only for straight people. In a European Union where even Catholic Spain has marriage equality I fail to comprehend why Britain’s inequality is allowed to continue.
Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill has pulled out of tonight’s gay pride event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester:
Ben Summerskill, head of the equality group Stonewall, has pulled out of a new Pride event at the Conservative party conference after the party hosted ’extreme’ European politicians.
Summerskill had been lined up as a star speaker at tonight’s event in Manchester’s gay village, but Channel 4 News has learned that he will not be attending.
“There is no doubt the progress that has been made in the last couple of years has genuinely been historic. It would churlish of anyone not to welcome the apology a couple of months ago over Section 28,” said Summerskill.
“But the event tonight has been overshadowed by the presence, not just at conference but on the same platform as some senior members of the party, of people of such extreme and offensive views.
I’m going to go all contrary on this one and say Summerskill was wrong to pull out. If he’s right about Michal Kaminski (as I’m quite sure he is) I’m not sure what purpose a boycott serves, but more importantly what purpose playing into a homophobe’s hands serves. Yes it’s rather likely that the Tories will be the governing party once more next spring, yes Stonewall are probably pretty peeved about that, given their successes under New Labour (although it should be remembered that most of them were despite New Labour). But say there really is a seething undercurrent of homophobia amongst the Tories, and even that David Cameron’s prepared to do deals with homophobes in the EU Parliament, how are the gay rights lobbying group’s interests best served by being outsiders?
This boycott comes across as ill-timed and ill-considered sabotage. I’ll never be a fan of the Tory Party as long as I live, but I don’t see how a Chief Executive of a human rights group can behave in such a partisan manner when many of the people whose interests he claims to represent are entirely happy with Cameron’s Conservatives.