News is breaking – and being widely commented upon on the various social media – that Peter and Hazelmary Bull have put their £750,000 Cornwall, UK B&B on the market due to poor guest numbers and legal costs. This is the married Christian couple who would not let a double room to gay civil partners Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall at Chymorvah Hotel in 2008 because they believe in sex only between married couples. The gay couple sued and won. The B&B owners appealed and lost.
The Bulls claim in addition to this they have been subjected to a hate campaign; vandalism (they say their car wheels were tampered with), death threats, a rabbit nailed to their fence and an orchestrated “sting operation” by gay activists. Opponents say that comments on the trip advisor website concerning their B&B show the true reason for their failure; It’s a real shame because it could be a lot better if the rooms were cleaner/up to date and fresh and the people running the hotel more hospitable.
The rights and wrongs of this are polarizing opinion (and seeming to split opinion both sides of the divide that might perhaps have been expected, this is far from lefty liberal versus conservative theist). This is a land-mark ruling which effectively underpins the 2007 Equalities Act legislation and as such deserves more than a knee-jerk reaction on its rights and wrongs.
Double rooms for married couples only
It is important to note that the Bulls did not defend their actions by claiming it was their right to be discriminatory. They claimed in fact they were not discriminatory; they required even their brother and his female unmarried partner to have single rooms when they stayed. Judge Andrew Rutherford did not see it this way, however, and said that as civil partners Mr Preddy and Mr Hall had been discriminated against by not having their union recognised as equal to others.
The discrimination boiled down to the Bulls’ definition of marriage as “being the union of one man to one woman for life to the exclusion of all others” (from their own website). It is clearly unfair to say that you have the same rule for everyone and then define that rule in such a way that only certain parts of the population can comply with it.
There are also claims that this implies Christians can’t run their household in the way that they wish. This is disingenuous. In fact, in a free society people are allowed to be religious, allowed to be bigoted, even hateful, and they are allowed not to agree with the law. You are not allowed, however, to allow your opinions to impinge negatively on others and this necessarily happens if you run a commercial enterprise based on those opinions.
A gay couple should be able to stay in a Christian B&B and equally a Christian heterosexual couple should be allowed to stay in a gay-run hotel aimed at a gay clientèle if they so wish. I don’t know why said gay couple would want to stay in a Christian B&B or why said Christian couple would want to stay in a gay hotel, but it is their right to do so. I would add that I would have little sympathy for the gay couple complaining about prayers in the tv room or the straight couple complaining about the noise of hot man on man action in the room next door either though if that’s where they decide to stay.
Is the line between B&B and home blurred? Not to my mind, and not in the opinion of the law. After all, when does a B&B become a hotel? The Bulls’ establishment is apparently worth £750,000 and called the The Chymorvah Private Hotel – sounds rather hotelish to me. We can’t have arbitrary lines drawn. Everyone should be protected in the same way by the same legislation in the commercial arena. I imagine that this polemic will seem as ridiculous in 100 years time as “no dogs no blacks no Irish” does to us.
While the Bulls’ actions might have violated both the letter and the spirit of the law it does sound as if they have since had some very harsh treatment. If their car has been tampered with, if they have had animals nailed to their fence and if they have received death-threats then that is disgusting and hope the incidents are being investigated with the full force of the law and I hope that the perpetrators are brought to justice. This does not in any way mitigate the wrongness of their original actions however.
I have less sympathy for the lack of business. It seems that central to the Bulls’ defence of their actions is their right to behave as they view appropriate. Well, in a free society others have that right too and if they have chosen to vote with their feet and not visit then all well and good. They have managed moreover to make their opinion known without breaking laws or trampling on the rights of anyone else. The Bulls didn’t want gay guests and now they haven’t. They haven’t got lots and lots of them.
The claims of a gay “pincer movement” sound rather suspect to me, and the judge said he could find no evidence of this. Even if there were evidence – I assume they mean that gays were deliberately trying to book rooms just to see if they would be turned away – this doesn’t break any laws. It is standard practice to test if the law is being broken by sending in under-cover shoppers, whether for underage sales of cigarettes and alcohol or otherwise. Being deliberately exposed for breaking the law wouldn’t be possible if you weren’t already breaking that law.
In all this it is important to point out that just as I have seen some support for the Bulls from unexpected places (misguided as I think that support is) there are many Christians who do not agree with this discrimination either. I think part of the hysteria surrounding this – to my mind – clear-cut example of discrimination is the belief, founded or otherwise, that the law is not being applied equally, that Christians are in some way being sidelined. And if you feel you are being picked on – whether or not you actually are – it is normal to react defensively. We need to make sure that the law does not discriminate, and is seen not to discriminate, on any basis, including religion, whether that is curtailing religious freedom generally (when, of course, it does not impinge on others) or whether that is treating one religion differently from another.
In the deliberately simplistic question Do you have any sympathy for the Bulls? Huffington Post UK readers are split down the middle at the time of writing. Perhaps this is not surprising since this is on the one hand a left-leaning publication and on the other the question asked only gives one way to answer “no” to this; having even a soupçon of a whiff of sympathy would require a “yes” answer to such a question. Daily Mail readers’ comments, unsurprisingly, leave no doubt that they consider this outcome to be nothing short of the start of the end of society as we know it.
I voted “no”, and I’m not very proud of that. I feel that seeing an older couple losing their livelihood, albeit through their own actions, should elicit more sympathy. Try as I might I can’t seem to make it. As is my right.
Oh buggrit – let’s forget this sad couple and the sad nest they have made for themselves and concentrate on how flipping amazing Archbishop Desmond Tutu is.