It should come as no surprise to those of us who track the HateMail’s bigotry, but check out the guy on the left’s right arm.
This is in response to the story about Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy succeeding in their case against Peter and Hazel Bull, zealous Christian B & B owners who wouldn’t let them share a room on religious grounds.
Join with me here in condemning the HateMail yet again, and continuing to encourage everyone we know who still buys that rag finally to stop.
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.
A Roman Catholic adoption charity’s appeal to be allowed to discriminate against gay people wanting it to place children with them has been rejected.
Catholic Care wanted exemption from new anti-discrimination laws so it could limit services provided to homosexual couples on religious grounds.
The Charity Commission said gay people were suitable parents and religious views did not justify discrimination.
The Leeds-based charity said it was “very disappointed”.
Catholic Care – which had been placing children with adoptive parents for more than 100 years – was among a dozen Catholic agencies in England and Wales forced to change their policy towards homosexual people by the equality laws passed in 2007.
I’m sure it was very disappointed – it believed, as the article goes on to say, that the Equality Act went against the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage and family life. Too bad. Gay people are suitable parents, and belief in the supernatural cannot in this day and age be allowed to justify discrimination against us. No doubt the agency and the church will complain that there are all sorts of disorders we are guilty of, that ‘forcing’ children to be parented by gay people goes against their ‘rights’ to have heterosexual parenting. My argument is that children have the right to good parenting – if the best available happen to be gay in this instance then so be it. The Pope however disagrees:
In a strongly worded letter to the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, the pope criticised the then-Labour government for creating “limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs”.
He wrote: “The effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed.”
Suggesting that discriminating against gay people on the grounds of belief is somehow justifiable under ‘natural law’ is wrong-minded and a misrepresentation of what equality law is supposed to be about, and Ratzinger was quite rightly roundly condemned for his intervention. It’s a relief that the Charity Commission has decided to rest its decision on the rule of civil, rather than ‘God”s law.
Chris Grayling, the Tory MP who notoriously failed to become Home Secretary would no doubt blanch at the news, but the B&B owners whom he supported, causing the homophobic storm which so damaged his career, are getting sued for their bigoted treatment of the gay couple who tried to stay with them:
Michael Black, 62, and John Morgan, 56, will take legal action against Susanne and Mike Wilkinson, owners of the Swiss B&B in Berkshire.
They are being supported by human rights and civil freedom charity Liberty, which compared them to black American civil rights heroine Rosa Parks.
The couple had already booked a room and paid a deposit when they arrived at the B&B but Mrs Wilkinson turned them away when she realised they were two men.
She said that allowing them to stay would violate her religious beliefs.
Mr Black and Mr Morgan called the police over her refusal and were told they could make a civil claim against the Wilkinsons.
Good. They were in breach of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, and there needs to be a consequence for anti-gay discrimination when in breach of the law. Many Tories in the new ConDemNation coalition, particularly the new intake of evangelical Christians, will no doubt be aghast, but the law applies equally to everyone or it might as well apply to noone. Mr Wilkinson responded saying:
Mr Wilkinson said he was disappointed that Liberty was taking the side of the gay couple.
“We are rather surprised that Liberty would be so one-sided in a matter of liberty because there are two liberties to uphold in this case.
“There is a religious liberty to uphold and there is the right for homosexuals to practise what they want to do. We have received the letter from them.
“We don’t want to go to court but if they want us to then I suppose we will have to. We are sorry we have offended these guys.”
Liberty fortunately understands that just because there are two liberties to be considered, that both cannot and should not always be accommodated. In this case the Wilkinsons have the right to practice their religion and believe whatever they like, but do not have the right, as a business providing a service, for any reason to discriminate in the provision of goods or services. Belief rightly doesn’t get an opt out from the provisions of the law, and nor should it.
I’ve written about Gary McFarlane before – the devout Christian who was fired from Relate because he felt he couldn’t counsel same-sex couples on so-called ‘religious’ grounds. McFarlane then went on to an employment tribunal, claiming religious discrimination, but failed when the panel ruled he had been obliged to abide by Relate’s equal opportunities policy, which he’d refused to do. The High Court has thankfully now confirmed the panel’s ruling, and has come out fighting, following former Archbishop George Carey’s support for McFarlane:
The senior church figure called for a specially-constituted panel of judges with a “proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues” to hear the case.
Lord Carey said recent decisions involving Christians by the courts had used “dangerous” reasoning and this could lead to civil unrest.
The judge’s ruling continued: “We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs.
“The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other.
“If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens, and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.
“The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments.
“The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.”
A great line there, attacking Carey’s position, and the whole notion that religious belief should ever trump the rule of law. Carey’s line though was quite outrageous, seeking to suggest that anti-gay discrimination by theists somehow wasn’t bigotry at all. Sorry George, according to the rule of the land, anti-gay discrimination is bigotry from however you look at it, and the religiously devout should not have an opt-out from the same rules which apply to everyone else, however (outrageously) discriminated against they then feel. Laws though completely rejected Carey’s entire premise:
“[But] the conferment of any legal protection of preference upon a particular substantive moral position on the ground only that it is espoused by the adherents of a particular faith, however long its tradition, however long its culture, is deeply unprincipled.”
He said this would mean that laws would be imposed not to advance the general good on objective grounds but to give effect to the force of subjective opinion since faith, other than to the believer, was subjective.
“It may of course be true; but the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society
“Therefore it lies only in the heart of the believer, who is alone bound by it. No-one else is or can be so bound, unless by his own free choice he accepts its claims.
Stonewall quite rightly points out the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. Noone, despite Chris Grayling’s wishes, who provides goods or services in the UK can opt out – that’s the point. Sadly though,completely missing the point, Carey felt the need to say this:
As reported in The Guardian, Carey said the judgment “continues a trend on the part of the courts to downgrade the right of religious believers to manifest their faith in what has become a deeply unedifying collision of human rights.”
“It heralded a ‘secular’ state rather than a ‘neutral’ one. And while with one hand the ruling seeks to protect the right of religious believers to hold and express their faith, with the other it takes away those same rights. It says that the sacking of religious believers in recent cases was not a denial of their rights even though religious belief cannot be divided from its expression in every area of the believer’s life.
“Oddly the judge doesn’t address the argument that rights have to be held in balance and he is apparently indifferent to the fact that religious believers are adversely affected by this judgment and others.”
I know it’s his job to stand up for his religion as well as his faith, but this is blatantly ridiculous. The judgments all acknowledge that the right to religious belief and the right to protection from anti-gay discrimination are often in conflict and will always be in tension. But Lilian Ladele and Gary McFarlane had equal opportunities policies which they weren’t allowed an opt-out from. If they did any theist in the country could then behave according to whatever mad thing they believed legally, rather than be obliged follow the secular laws made by and applicable to everyone else in ‘a reasonable society’. I’m sure this will keep coming back, but it’s become an interesting illustration of how the Christian Church in this country increasingly feels the need to fight to keep its special privilege, be it Carey’s unelected place in the House of Lords, or the previous (because it wasn’t codified otherwise) tacit right to discriminate against gay people.
Maybe it’s because they’ve noticed their leader turns a blind eye to casual homophobia by his MEPs. Maybe it’s because they’ve noticed their Shadow Home Secretary doesn’t understand that gay equality legislation applies to all businesses, even the ones run by their supporters. But a new Tory parliamentary candidate has followed on from Chris Grayling in suggesting that the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 shouldn’t necessarily apply to everyone:
Today, Andrew Bridgen, who is standing in North West Leicestershire, said he had “considerable sympathy” with B&B owners. He was speaking after Mr Grayling made a visit to the marginal constituency to help canvass votes. Mr Bridgen told the Leicestershire Mercury: “At the end of the day our policy is, we voted for the Equality Bill and as far as people who run a business, they have to offer the same services to everyone. “But I do have sympathy with someone who is opening up their own home to a guest.” He continued: “A public house has the right to refuse a customer and they don’t have to give a reason, so I have considerable sympathy for B&B owners in this case. “It’s a grey area, but perhaps the size of the establishment could separate the difference between opening your home to paying guests and a business.”
It’s not a gray area, and perhaps the size of the establishment has nothing to do with it. A pub does indeed have the right to refuse a customer without having to give a reason, but they cannot refuse them because they are gay; the same is true for B&B owners. As in the case of Grayling he’s either an idiot or is using the language of equality to mask deep-rooted homophobia. Grayling meanwhile has issued an ‘apology’ for his comments:
Until today, Grayling had been conspicuous in his silence. In the radio interview [on BBC Radio 5 Live], he said: “I am sorry if what I said gave the wrong impression, I certainly didn’t intend to offend anyone…I voted for gay rights, I voted for this particular measure [the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007].”
The ‘wrong impression’? Just what sort of impression was he trying to give?! Even if what he says is true, it’s unfathomable to think that the Shadow Cabinet is unaware of what effect their tolerance of casual homophobia or homophobic ideas has on those who support them or answer to them. Voting for gay rights is commendable but unless it’s supported with a change in attitudes it’s an empty gesture.
David Cameron didn’t seem to understand about gay rights the other week. Now his putative Home Secretary Chris Grayling seems not to understand either:
In a recording of the meeting of the Centre for Policy Studies, obtained by the Observer, Grayling makes clear he has always believed that those who run B&Bs should be free to turn away guests.
“I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences,” he said. “I personally always took the view that, if you look at the case of should a Christian hotel owner have the right to exclude a gay couple from a hotel, I took the view that if it’s a question of somebody who’s doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn’t come into their own home.”
He draws a distinction, however, with hotels, which he says should admit gay couples. “If they are running a hotel on the high street, I really don’t think that it is right in this day and age that a gay couple should walk into a hotel and be turned away because they are a gay couple, and I think that is where the dividing line comes.”
The man who intends to be the Home Secretary in a matter of weeks, from the party which desperately wants you to think it’s no longer homophobic, seems not to understand that the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 doesn’t allow for such a distinction. As a society, when dealing with a conflict of religious and gay rights, we’ve decided that preventing businesses providing a service to the public from discriminating against gay people trumps the rights of religious people running any of those businesses to discriminate with their consciences. It’s fair, it’s proportionate and Grayling not understanding the meaning of the Sexual Orientation Regulations (and equalities legislation in general) should send a shiver down the spines of any gay person thinking of voting Tory.