Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Court finds hotel owners discriminated against gay couple

Judgment was issued yesterday in the discrimination case brought under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 against a Cornwall hotel in Bristol County Court. As the local paper reports: Bristol gay couple win legal case against Cornwall hotel.

The full text of the judgment can be found in a PDF here.

Press coverage is considerable. Here is a sample:

Guardian

Telegraph

The Christian Institute itself reported the judgment this way: Judge rules against Christians in B&B case, but allows appeal

The Equality and Human Rights Commission issued Court finds hotel owners discriminated against gay couple.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 9:07am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: equality legislation
Comments

What is so fascinating about this case, apart from the fact that the judge has ruled that civil partnerships have equality with marriage in cases such as this, is that the Bulls were prepared to countenance 'immorality' in single beds. There is something so ridiculous about this that the Bulls and the Christian Legal Centre and the others on the bandwaggon should have been laughed out of court. It's like those Womens' University Halls of Residence, which, not so long ago, required men to be out by a certain time in the evening. As if sex was something you only did after a certain time at night. Perhaps the Bulls believe that sex only happens in double beds? Ah Bless.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 9:50am GMT

A careful and very thoughtful judgment that captures the delicacy of the fine division the law creates. I think this will stand on appeal.

The defendants lawyers were, as the judge says, asking that those holding the views of the hotel keepers should be recognised as a separate class in law. This would then sanction all acts of discrimination they wished to practice - I have no doubt that the judge was correct to avoid this!

Interesting when the judge says that the law still does not make it unlawful for the hoteliers to refuse a bed to married gay couples in that part of the building reserved for their personal use. Of course it doesn't but it was well said.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 12:27pm GMT

I have the right to my own set of beliefs. I don't have the right to expect the law not to prosecute if my set of beliefs result in actions against the law. I hold certain beliefs, I imagine, which, if I acted on them, might get me a night in jail or a hearing before my bishop. If that is so - those are the consequences I accept. An hotelier can hold beliefs that compel them to break the law. There is an assumption they would be willing, then, to accept, even embrace (martyrdom-like!) the consequences in law.

Here is the U.S. it is against the law to discriminate based on race. You are free to discriminate if it is important to you to do so, on the assumption you, then, are also willing to accept the consequences.

Posted by: Lois Keen on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 2:39pm GMT

The Bulls' restrictions on single and double beds reminds me of the Hollywood Hayes Code, that required depicting even married couples as sleeping in twin beds. I recall seeing the Thin Man movies, with William Powell and Myrna Loy in separate beds and thinking, "Well, since there's a 'Little Nicky,' obviously this isn't preventing sex from taking place...."

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 3:57pm GMT

Most of us recognise that we live in a world where people adhere to different and even contradictory beliefs. The key to a healthy society is how we manage to live in harmony with these differences. Unfortunately the gay lobby will not be satisfied until everyone is forced over to their point of view - a classic example of illiberal liberalism.

Posted by: William on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 4:38pm GMT

"Unfortunately the gay lobby will not be satisfied until everyone is forced over to their point of view - a classic example of illiberal liberalism."

Complete nonsense. The "gay lobby" does not force anyone over to their point of view. It may try to persuade, but the LAW forbids discrimination.

Posted by: Nat on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 7:43pm GMT

"Unfortunately the gay lobby will not be satisfied until everyone is forced over to their point of view" William

William, has it ever even occurred to you to put yourself in the shoes of those being discriminated against and wonder what it might feel like?

Posted by: Laurence on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 8:08pm GMT

Give me a break, William.

In 1964 when the (U.S.) Civil Rights Law was passed (preventing discrimination like that of the Bulls, on the basis of race), there were cries of "illiberal liberalism" too.

If you run a public business (they are government-licensed hoteliers, are they not?), then it's OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. Period. They can prevent any sleeping arrangement they disapprove of in their PRIVATE home.

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 8:31pm GMT

William, I grew up in the American South during the Civil Rights era. Substitute the word "black" for the word "gay," and the comments you made are virtually the same that I heard then. Part of those comments were based on the claimed right of private property owners to allow on their property whom they wanted and part of them were based on religious belief.

In 1964 the U.S. Supreme Court in the Heart of Atlanta Motel case summarily rejected the hotel owner's claim that he had a personal right to discriminate -- "in a long line of cases this Court has rejected the claim that the prohibition of racial discrimination in public accommodations interferes with personal liberty."

American hotel owners have managed to live with this rule on race for a half century. A number of states have similar rules concerning sexual orientation and hotel owners in those states have to live with them as well. I suspect that recalcitrant Brits will ultimately adjust as well.

Posted by: dr.primrose on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 8:43pm GMT

Bravo to Ben Summerskill!
Separately, if this couple opens a hotel to the general public, then they must serve the general public. To me, it's that simple.
To reference historic prejudices, how many Roman Catholic shopkeepers would rather not sell to Protestants? How many Protestant restaurateurs would rather not serve Roman Catholics? How many Jewish businesspeople would prefer that Muslims take their business elsewhere? England, the USA, and other countries as well, have decided that religious beliefs or prejudice can not be the basis of business decisions affecting the general public. In our open societies, regardless of our national origin, our race, our religion, our gender or our sexual orientation, we are all English or Americans, etc., and deserve to be treated as such.
What you think of me is none of my concern, but if you open your doors to the public, you need to serve the public. All of it.
Having expounded all of that, in the USA, there is an exception, called the "Mrs. Murphy's boarding-house exception" where people offering rooms for rent are exempt from the anti-discrimination laws, if the number of rooms on offer is below a certain number. Is there such an exception in England's anti-discrimination laws?

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 8:51pm GMT

What should a Christian B and B couple do ..if a man turned up with a buxom blonde ( 20 years his junior)...should they ask to see the marriage lines..or should they wonder if the guy has left his wife and four children..divorced her and married this woman.

Would adultery be allowable in their hotel bed?

Surely the answer is to have single beds in every room, and ask no questions... or give up B and B?

Posted by: robert ian wlliams on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 8:56pm GMT

The innkeepers seem to assume that anyone staying with them wants to couple like bunnies. jealous, I guess.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 9:26pm GMT

The gay lobby?

Is that the one with the Victorian fainting couches and the velvet flocked wallpaper?

Geez Louise....

Posted by: JPM on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 9:30pm GMT

The Bulls never had a cat's chance in hell of winning this. The Christian Legal Centre have basically just encouraged the Bulls to waste two years of their life.

The UK legal system is slow and expensive (another debate for another day). It's Quite possible to win a legal case in court but lose in terms of the practical consequences in one's life - I'm sure others here have seen this happen as often as I have. Nobody won in this case, it's just a sad day for all concerned.

Posted by: Gerry Lynch on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 9:56pm GMT

Prejudice, on the grounds of sexual-orientation, is no longer a valid reason for withholding public services in the U.K., and this is a step forward for all people who consider discrimination on such grounds to be antithetical to the inclusivity of the Gospel.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 at 10:51pm GMT

Maybe the Bulls can take our Governor of Alabama. Birds of a Feather.....

Posted by: evensongjunkie on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 3:23am GMT

"What should a Christian B and B couple do... [?]"

Won't answer the question, but am hoping the RIW considered the (quite plausible!) possibility that "a Christian B and B couple" could be of the same sex. ;-/

Posted by: JCF on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 7:37am GMT

RIW
"Surely the answer is to have single beds in every room, and ask no questions... or give up B and B?"

Absolutely. If your definition of Christianity is constantly worrying about the state of people's sexual purity, then these really are your only options.

Fortunately, most Christians don't care about whether or not someone might have sex on a particular night and whether they were virgins when they got married.

I once shared a double bed with my father in a hotel room. Neither of us thought anything about it, but I suppose there were twitchy Christians around then too, wringing their hands in faux horror and deep suspicion.

There is almost something pathological about this fascination with other people's sex lives and I can't see anything particularly healthy or particularly Christian about it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 8:11am GMT

"The gay lobby? Is that the one with the Victorian fainting couches and the velvet flocked wallpaper?" JPM

The same place where one might practice the sin of foyerism.

Posted by: Laurence C. on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 9:34am GMT

I accept most if what William says.
I have stood in the lobbies of both Houses of Parliament and presented my arguments to Members.
I will not be content until all people believe that gay people should be treated with dignity and respect and not discriminated against. I am content to see the "force" of law used to prevent harm to myself and my family and look forward to the day when it becomes superfluous.

I will also go on lobbying against such evils as female circumcision, flogging, judicial murder, torturing animals etc and will not be content 'till they cease.

The sad thing, William, is that when I was a lad B&Bs not only showed signs in their front window saying No Vacancies - they also displayed signs saying: No Coloureds No Gypsies No Irish! By force of law these signs no longer exist, but we both know that the evil hatred that lay behind them is still alive and well.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 9:57am GMT

Gerry Lynch is right. The Christian Legal Centre has sponsored numerous hopeless cases. This is only the latest. Where is their duty to their clients? It seems to me that their hapless clients are just props for the stage that my lords Carey, Scott-Joynt and Nazir-Ali enjoy performing on

Posted by: Iain McLean on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 10:37am GMT

It would be intersting to know where the 'Christian' legal Cente gets its money from. These lost legal cases must be costing them serious money.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 1:44pm GMT

Martin
well said! Thank you.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 1:49pm GMT

So does this mean there are no gay bars or hotels in England either?

Posted by: Chris H. on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 2:41pm GMT

Chris,
I don't understand what your question is aimed at. Yes, there are gay bars and hotels, but they are naturally all also open to straights.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 3:35pm GMT

There are indeed gay bars and gay cafes - I often use one when in Edinburgh. Happily I am very welcome, though I am straight. Usually they are either run by a LGBT organisation or are just bars aimed at or patronised by a gay clientèle. They welcome all comers.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 3:52pm GMT

RIW
"Surely the answer is to have single beds in every room"

Thinking about this more carefully, though, it won't solve the problem. Not even separate rooms can reliably solve the problem. The best thing would be to accept single people only and to have a large "No Visitors" sign up too.
And lock your shed!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 5:29pm GMT

Many reports of this case and many of the posters here see this as a clear case of discrimination and therefore the outcome was predictable and is to be welcomed. However, if you read the judgement you will see that it isn't quite as clear cut as it has been reported.

For example the judge states that "each side hold perfectly honourable and respectable, albeit wholly contrary, views." So the judge does not see the Bull's the intolerant bigots they have been painted by some in the media.

It should also be noted that one of the reasons the judge took the unusual step of permitting an appeal is that "this decision does affect the human rights of the defendants to manifest their religion and forces them to act in a manner contrary to their deeply and genuinely held beliefs"

Peter Ould asks some interesting questions of the judgement on his blog ... http://www.peter-ould.net/2011/01/19/the-cornish-bb-ruling/

Posted by: Andy on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 7:04pm GMT

"to have a large "No Visitors" sign up too"

Might I suggest, "Espressione Inglese, 'No Rudies'"?

Apologies, it's been a long day....

Posted by: david rowett on Thursday, 20 January 2011 at 10:00pm GMT

"For example the judge states that "each side hold perfectly honourable and respectable, albeit wholly contrary, views." So the judge does not see the Bull's the intolerant bigots they have been painted by some in the media."

The point is, Andy, anti-gay bigotry historically HAS been seen as a "perfectly honourable and respectable...view." (That is, since LGBTs began demanding EQUAL rights, it was long considered "honourable and respectable" to deny them those rights).

But it's 2011 now. More and more of us (LGBTs and our straight allies, in ever greater numbers) have HAD ENOUGH. Discriminatory practices such as the Bulls' just won't get a pass anymore. Their "deeply and genuinely held beliefs": yes, just like white supremacists had. See re it's 2011 now! Over. Done. Moving on.

[And Peter Ould? Please.]

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 21 January 2011 at 7:22am GMT

And Peter Ould? Please.
Yes? What do you want?

Posted by: Peter Ould on Friday, 21 January 2011 at 8:02am GMT

The faithful Christian B&B owners might very well win this case in the European Court of Human Rights, and I wonder what the gay hugging trendy leftie liberal protestant elite in the C of E will say then?!

Posted by: Antony on Friday, 21 January 2011 at 9:53am GMT

Antony
Social justice is the preserve of a gay hugging trendy leftie liberal protestant elite in the C of E? What an indictment of your evaluation of Christian morality!

If the European Court of Human Rights was indeed to find in favour of discrimination I would be hugely upset. But I don't think we need to hold our breath.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 21 January 2011 at 11:35am GMT

Antony: "the gay hugging trendy leftie liberal protestant elite.."

Tush and pish: please be more precise in your choice of words. I am fogeyish, right-wing politically, excoriate Protestantism, and do not belong to the ecclesiastical elite (who avoid saying anything positive at all about gay people, as far as I am aware). Yet I am not in favour of Puritan B & B owners displaying judgmentalism and inhospitality towards any of their paying customers.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Friday, 21 January 2011 at 2:06pm GMT

You've called me out, Peter. I was uncivil: I apologize for that.

Now, since you asked: could you provide us a ringing affirmation of Christian marriage (faithful, monogamous, life-long, loving) between any two single consenting-adult Christians, regardless of sex? Thanks!

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 21 January 2011 at 6:43pm GMT

@Peter: I have to say, your blog essay, in which you point out that the gay couple were excluded because they were in a civil partnership, not because they were gay, seems to me to gloss over the fundamental issue that - by the very fact they are gay - they do not have access to 'marriage' and therefore by excluding guests because they are not married, all gay couples are excluded.

'De facto' they are choosing to exclude gay couples, by adopting a rule for their business which results in unequal access to facilities and services, for people who are gay, rather than heterosexual.

This injustice is 'built in' to the exclusive parameters of marriage... which is what the B and B owners wished to uphold...

So in the context of their business, they were colluding and collaborating with an injustice that is at odds with the intent of the law to ensure that people get equal access to facilities and services, regardless of sexual orientation.

This raises a case for altering marriage law in this country, and making marriage equally accessible to people, whether gay or heterosexual... to align marriage more justly with the rest of the law.

Of course, if the gay couple had been married, this might still have presented the Christian hosts with a moral dilemma, but at least then, if they still refused, they could have done so on the honest (but illegal) grounds that they don't want gay sex going on in their facilities.

Either make marriage equal and accessible to all, or face up to the fact that by excluding civil partners, gay couples are being excluded from services, because they are gay and unable to qualify by marriage.

An act can be discriminatory in its effect, even if the perpetrators claim they weren't discriminating. This is the situation here.

The gay couple could not, under any circumstances, have access to the facilities. The law in its intent seeks to ensure ALL people have access to business services and facilities, whether they are black or white, gay or straight, trans or cisgendered, muslim or christian.

That's the sort of country I want to live in.

It was a shabby thing for the gay couple to have to endure, just as much as if the sign in the window had said 'No blacks or irish'.

Posted by: Susannah on Friday, 21 January 2011 at 11:04pm GMT

Anther problem for morally discriminating B&B owner today in the fact that the individuals in a marriage may choose to keep their own pre-wedding names - thereby causing possible confusion for the really strict morality police among hotel proprietors. If the couple don't carry passports, and decide to sign in separately, there could be trouble ahead for Mein Host/ess.

What bigotted person would want to run a hotel business noways?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 22 January 2011 at 9:25am GMT

Even if Messrs. Hall and Preddy were only turned down on account of not being married, the judge could only interpret the law. The regulations treat the marriage vs. civil partnership distinction as making no material difference to his assessment of whether discrimination occurred on the basis of sexual orientation. The judge could only interpret the Sexual Orientation Regulations as presented (which he indicates by prefacing his position with 'if this is right').

It wasn't that, under the B&B policy, unmarried heterosexual couples or platonic civil partners would also have been excluded from a double bed. It was the fact that married couples (and ipso facto of a heterosexual orientation) could enjoy the better treatment of a double bedroom that put Messrs. Hall and Preddy at a disadvantage.

The idea that the type of room provision aids and abets those who fall outside of traditional marriage is erroneous. The refusal of a booked double room is a desperate misguided and petty attempt to hold moral sway and take a stand in an ever more liberal society. From a Christian standpoint, the efforts were OTT (Old Testament trappings).

It would have been more consistent with Christ for the conservative B&B owners to lavish good-will, hospitality and kindness over and above simply making the 'double room' available.

My prayer today? 'Lord, Help me because I'm too often as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as these publicans' (cf. Luke 18:11)

Posted by: David Shepherd on Saturday, 22 January 2011 at 11:53am GMT

Following up on what I said above, if this goes to court in Europe, then UK marriage law itself may be called into question, because of its implications, in creating situations where it is consequently impossible to comply with anti-discrimination law.

The Christian Institute, Christian Legal Centre, or others, should be careful what they ask for: they could precipitate the very changes to marriage law that they are so opposed to.

Marriage in the UK is a civil legal status, not the domain or reserve of any religious group. It seems likely, that in terms of civil law (as opposed to religious canon), an increasingly strong case can be presented for marriage equality, and a change to UK marriage law to allow all couples to marry, in order to conform with other UK and European legislation that seeks to protect gay and straight, black and white, male and female, muslim and christian, from just the kind of demeaning and unjust treatment this gay couple endured, when all they were seeking was the same facilities and services that other people might be given.

In short, if European law is explored, then it may call into question the discrimination implicit in our marriage law. It may expose the downright discrimination against lesbian and gay couples who seek the same right to enshrine their sacred and faithful commitments and love within the dignity and legal protections of marriage - and thereby ensure that never again are they refused services because they're not married - which makes discrimination inevitable, since it then becomes impossible for them to qualify for such services.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 22 January 2011 at 12:38pm GMT

Wheres the love and concern for the elderly couple...shame on you. Less triumphalism and more compassion please.

Posted by: robert ian Williams on Sunday, 23 January 2011 at 8:03pm GMT

Thanks for clearing this up, Simon. My posts here weren't a parabolic attempt to justify same-sex discrimination. Especially considering my unequivocal support for the recent judgment on a previous thread.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Tuesday, 25 January 2011 at 9:27am GMT
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