Comments: Supreme Court dismisses B&B appeal

I feel this couple have been manipulated like pawns by the evangelical Christian legal teams who have pushed this case again and again into what has ended up as a high-profile humiliation. I feel they have been 'used'.

Their starting point made a false assumption: that Christians can set themselves 'above the law' when it comes to the provision of services without discrimination.

Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination.

We (as the people of the UK) no longer want to live in a society where 'No Blacks' or 'No Irish' signs are hung in windows, with human beings being subject to humiliation of being turned away.

The same (the Law has already made clear) applies to gay and lesbian people.

This means, that if the Christian couple are not prepared to abide by this, then that's their private faith, but they clearly need to do some other kind of work. That becomes the 'sacrifice' of their conscience, and the Bible teaches that Christianity is sacrificial, so that's how it works for them.

In a BBC interview today, they claimed it was not about homosexuality but about marriage.

However, that begs the question: when same-sex marriage is legalised next year, will they then welcome gay couples and treat them like any other customers.

I fear the answer is 'no' and that therefore, yes, there is an issue of prejudice and discrimination against LGBT couples, and we're back to the 'No Blacks' and 'No Irish' scenarios.

From the outset, there was prejudice involved, that was completely incompatible with the law of the land. They demonstrated that their chosen work was incompatible with the demands and expectations of the law, of Modern Britian, and of millions of decent people who regard discrimination as disgusting and intolerable.

It's ironic, when you consider that Mary and Joseph were themselves turned away from the Inn, in the nativity narrative.

(continued...)

Posted by Susannah at Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 1:45pm GMT

(...continued)

I am left feeling irritated by the way I perceive this couple's partisan legal advisors exploited them, and subjected them to further public shame. They participated in this process of course, but this forms part of the George Carey and evangelical 'mythos' that Christians are being 'persecuted' in the UK.

The legal teams involved have 'championed' this couple all the way to predictable and justified defeat. It was a very stupid process, aimed at 'making a point' but in fact just making Christianity seem out-dated, intolerant and nasty.

Turning people away from a shop, or hotel, or any other public service - because of the colour of their skin, their gender, or gender identity, their sexual orientation, their age, their nationality etc - is a really unpleasant thing to do. It is shaming for the person (or their families) involved. It is humiliating and discriminatory.

I just don't think 'persecuted' Christians 'get' that. It's not acceptable. The law agrees. End of.

There are, incidentally, other Christian groups who affirm *and celebrate* lesbian, gay, bi-, and transsexual human beings... as human beings.

Do Christians still want to perpetuate the idea that evolution did not take place? Almost always these days, they are willing to believe that that part of the bible, and the idea of Noah's Ark rescuing all the animals of the world in a worldwide flood above the highest mountains, is subject to critical revision, contextualised in the society in which the text was written.

In which case, other text may also merit contextualisation, including the views on man-man sex held 3000 years ago.

Christian's are not being 'persecuted' for discriminating. That is as much a 'myth' as Noah's Ark. The greatest commandment in the Bible is love, and all the text should be read and understood in the context of that great command.

The love, sacrifice, devotion, caring, commitment of gay and lesbian couples - expressed in everyday life and normal jobs and also in tender expression, just like heterosexual couples - is an affirmation of love.

In increasing numbers, the public 'gets' that.

And I am proud of Britain for that.

Posted by Susannah at Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 1:46pm GMT

I'm looking forward to Anglican Mainstream's balanced, rational and nuanced response to this.

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 2:02pm GMT

I know we are coming up to Advent when we reflect on the miracle of God becoming human, but Anglican Mainstream coming up with "a balanced, rational and nuanced response" would be the miracle to outdo all other miracles.

Posted by Mike Dark at Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 3:45pm GMT

"I am left feeling irritated by the way I perceive this couple's partisan legal advisors exploited them, and subjected them to further public shame."

It would take a man with a heart of stone not to laugh. They've gone out of business, have their hotel on the market at an undervalue because there's no goodwill in the business and are now bitter, unhappy and unemployed. They knew exactly what they were doing, and have lost their campaign but, to judge from their and their backers' statements, still haven't learnt the lesson. They deserve absolutely no sympathy.

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 3:54pm GMT

Aidan's complaint that such a competition of rights should leave the EHRC in a neutral position was neatly handled.

The Canadian cases pointed to a sensitive approach where there is a different outcome.

I understand the hoteliers are selling up.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 4:12pm GMT

Since the 'Christian' Institute insists in funding these failed legal actions one can only suppose that they are doing so, deliberately, knowing that they are going to lose. Unlike most organisations, losing is the purpose because it enables them to claim that 'Christians' are being denied their rights, that they are victim and that the rights of lgbt people always triumph over those of 'Christians'.

So they are creating a 'victim' narrative which is swallowed whole by the ignorant and naive, amongst whom is George Carey who no doubt is now proclaiming that the end of the church is even nigher!

Posted by Richard Ashby at Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 10:16pm GMT

I feel very sorry for the Bulls. They did something they genuinely thought was right and lawful. They were then manipulated by the Christian Centre to take more and more pointless legal action. Yes, they should not have gone to the Supreme Court but their legal advisers are more to blame than they are - how did these people think they would win? Why did they use the couple like that?

I don't understand why they put their guesthouse up for sale and why there is no goodwill - I thought it was doing well as an evangelical conference center now?

In any case, unemployment and financial ruin are a high price to play. Are we really so self-righteous that we no longer feel desperately sorry for anybody whose life takes a turn like that?

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 11:08pm GMT

If I may be so bold: you can strictly follow (as you interpret) the prophets, or you can pursue profits. Choose one.

Posted by JCF at Thursday, 28 November 2013 at 1:55am GMT

I was surprised none of the judges focused on the fact that for some Christians simply being married doesn't necessarily mean it is blessed by God. Did the Bulls ask to see marriage lines... the newly married couple could be in a marriage which resulted from divorce and a previous adultery.

If they had been catholics would the Bulls have asked the couple to declare they were not using contraceptives?

As for the Christian Institute they are rolling in money and now have a staff of nearly 50.

Posted by Robert ian Wiulliams at Thursday, 28 November 2013 at 6:25am GMT

"It would take a man with a heart of stone not to laugh."

I sincerely hope that I have misunderstood the sentiment behind this sentence.

Whatever we think about this situation - and I do believe that they have largely brought about their own downfall, aided by their legal team - I am extremely uncomfortable that anyone could see this as a reason to laugh. Whether or not the couple deserve any sympathy, to laugh at the situation they now find themselves in is neither appropriate nor Christian.

Posted by Chris Routledge at Thursday, 28 November 2013 at 7:21am GMT

Erica, there was some talk in the spring of their becoming a non-profit and evading discrimination law that way. http://goo.gl/WmzXPg

"The Bulls told The Cornishman (£) on Thursday they can get round equality laws legally after turning their establishment into a not-for-profit business. They said they can then specify that only people who respect their Christian beliefs can stay with them."

Obviously it came to nothing, because by September they were talking about having to sell up. http://goo.gl/AqO8VT

"A British couple who were fined after refusing to allow a same-sex couple to stay in a double room at their hotel last year are reportedly selling their property, claiming that they've received death threats as their business has suffered."

I'd take the "death threats" with a pinch of salt, as (a) they're part of the whole "we're being persecuted" narrative and (b) the police tend to investigate such things fairly seriously, especially when they take physical form, and there has been not the slightest hint of an arrest.

A B&B that has not traded as a B&B for a year or more, and is barred from advertising, has no goodwill: it's a gone concern, worth no more than the value of its assets.

Their scheme to operate as a non-profit was doomed: the charities commission would take just as dim a view of their discrimination as the equalities commission, and a charity with aims and objectives that are explicitly discriminatory would struggle to pass muster (I'm not saying it's impossible, but it would require brighter lawyers than they have access to).

There are private members club which avoid discrimination legislation. See, for example, http://www.keywesttorquay.co.uk in a similar part of the world to the Bulls. But presumably they have enough trade to stay in business; I can't imagine the "are you a bigot who wants a holiday in Cornwall where you can be certain of not having to see teh gayz over breakfast?" market is terribly large. They don't appear to have tried this avenue, anyway.

"Are we really so self-righteous that we no longer feel desperately sorry for anybody whose life takes a turn like that?"

They lost a court case. They could have walked away at that point, licked their wounds, and continued with their business in a legally compliant way. Instead they took it to appeal. They lost, to a unanimous decision. They could have walked away, etc. Instead they took it to the Supreme Court. They lost, to a unanimous decision. The outcome was essentially pre-ordained, and the Christian Institute's attempts to (a) discredit the judges of the UK Supreme court as being helpless in the thrall of political correctness and the gay agenda and (b) claim that there are signs of hope and victory in amongst the wreckage are deluded.

They seem rather confused about their God, who is simultaneously calling them to discriminate against their fellow men (their Bible has presumably had several parables torn out, starting with The Good Samaritan) but is also unable to influence a single judge likewise. Were they to repent and seek forgiveness, I would be first in the queue to applaud their change of heart. But their response to the judgement of the Supreme Court is bitter and sniping, and in the worst traditions of the US "culture wars" which the Christian Institute are desperate to being to the UK.

I will recant one piece of my rhetoric: I should not have said that laughter is a reasonable response. However, they are the architects of their own misfortune (I don't buy the "unreasonably influenced by their advisors" line, as they are adults who ran a successful business, not small children or vulnerable adults) and one can quite reasonably say that having made their bed, they are for the moment best left to lie in it.

Posted by Interested Observer at Thursday, 28 November 2013 at 10:12am GMT

I am surprised that the inconsistency of the Bull's practices haven't been given more attention. Their website mentions the 'Christian' belief in marriage as the union of one man and one women for life. What is their opinion of the divorced and remarried, practices condemned in Scripture and yet funnily enough hardly ever mentioned by those of an evangelical stripe? Would they allow remarried couples a double bed?

And were they consistent in their insistence that only married opposite sex couples could share a double bed. I have read recently, though I can't now find it, that they weren't so insistent and that unmarried opposite sex couples did indeed share a double bed there. Did they quiz everyone who booked and did they require proof?

Were these questions ever raised?

One could also ask what they were intending to do once same sex marriage is implemented next year, and what is the 'Christian' Institute going to do? Are we in for more pointless law cases dragging the word Christian further into the mud?

Posted by Richard Ashby at Thursday, 28 November 2013 at 10:20am GMT

Erica, I may not feel "very" sorry for the Bulls, but I do feel a bit sorry for them - because they've been taken in, both by crap legal teams, and by a theology that is simplistic and (they felt) mandated their discrimination.

Having said that, if they are as committed to Christianity as they frankly appear (and I respect their underlying fidelity) then they must know that Christianity involves sacrificial living and the possibility, even, of death. It's the terms and conditions of our faith.

Whereas, yes, it's clear they are unsuitable for the job they were doing and need to find other work. But frankly, if they have a guesthouse/hotel to sell, unless it's mortgaged to the hilt, they actually have financial privilege compared to many people.

This is the thing. Christianity in this country is far from 'persecuted'. In many ways it is privileged. And yet there is an emerging narrative of 'victimhood' which boils down to loss of influence, and anger at being 'called' on their 'mandate' to discriminate.

The bible mandates the vilification of man-man sex, just as it mandates the ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites. Neither mandate is valid, they are contextual events, but challenge the mandate to discriminate and the victimisers become the 'victims'.

This narrative of victimhood is being stoked by Christian groups, and well-known individuals, and frankly the Bulls were 'played' for this agenda.

But yes, although I think their defence (that it's about marriage not homosexuality) is bullshit, I do feel sorry for them.

I also feel sorry for the lesbian, gay, bi and transsexual people who experience discrimination and exclusion. I'm glad the Law repudiates the Bulls and the people who've exploited them.

Posted by Susannah at Thursday, 28 November 2013 at 2:20pm GMT

Richard and Interested Observer,
there is no doubt that the Bulls are homophobic and that they thought their stance was moral and legal, neither of which it was.
But they run a guest house, they're not lawyers! They passionately believe they were right but they were pushed on and affirmed by a legal team that SHOULD have known better and that clearly did not worry about the effect this battle had on the couple.

They were wrong. But they're paying a very high price for being wrong.

And, Susannah, I too feel sorry about the discrimination lgbt people experience and I am very very glad about this law and about the outcome of this case.

And I am also glad that the judgement explicitly states that this is not about persecuting Christians but that, had the civil partnered couple run a B&B and excluded the Bulls for their Christian belief, they would also have been found guilty of unlawful discrimination.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 28 November 2013 at 6:09pm GMT

There is indeed a little too much rhetoric.

Many of those involved in these cases have indeed been "used" and even "abused" by campaigning organisations, but not all.

Take Eweida v BA, she not only won her case but succeeded in changing a principle that had formerly been enshrined in judgments of the European court, as Lady Hale points out here. We also know from court records that Ms Eweida's income as a celebrity martyr was greater than her salary at BA, and I think she is still doing well at it.

While there are some lawyers involved who give poor arguments in court and seem reckless as to the consequences for their clients we must remember that Eweida changed the balance of European judgments and that in this case the Bulls had arguably the best human rights QC in the UK arguing their case and anyone who knows him and his family would find it risible to suggest he gave a false hope.

I suspect that the balance Aidan is looking for and for which he gave the examples I mention above may well have some traction if this case reaches Europe. Remember some of the minority opinions in the cases which failed in Europe were also arguing for a different tipping point in the scales.
Here is something to help
http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/?author=41

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Friday, 29 November 2013 at 9:38am GMT
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