The TA item below about the new Northern Ireland regulations prompted quite a few reader comments about “evangelical” opposition to this legislation.
Stephen Bates wrote about just this last month in the Church of England Newspaper.
View from Fleet Street
article for CEN, 27.10.06
By Stephen Bates
Next March I am sure we shall all be commemorating what is arguably the greatest and most progressive social and moral reform ever achieved by Englishmen motivated by Evangelical zeal: it will be the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. Men such as William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp – Evangelical Anglicans all – will be remembered for their determination to right a grievous wrong, as will those who inspired them, John Newton, the former slave ship captain who eventually repented and Olaudah Equiano whose autobiography opened English eyes to the horrors of the trade.
In preparation for this last week I attended a conference at Methodist Central Hall arranged by the Set All Free group, an umbrella body of Churches Together in England, which is coordinating the religious side of the commemoration. They – we –congratulated ourselves that England had pioneered the abolition movement, recollected that there is still more to be done – an estimated 12 million people around the world are still in one sort of indentured slavery or another – and adjourned for lunch.
As we did so, I was approached by a smartly dressed black man from the Evangelical Alliance who introduced himself and politely invited me to another press conference, this time one that the EA would be arranging, to launch its campaign to persuade the Government to exempt Evangelical Christians who run hotels and boarding houses from having to accept homosexual guests.
The irony of an Evangelical arguing in favour of discrimination at a gathering to celebrate the ending of discrimination’s most egregious example seemed to have passed him by completely. “Am I not a man and a brother?” was the abolitionists’ catch-phrase in the 1790s. Not if you’re gay, matey, seems to be the Evangelicals’ response in the first decade of the new millennium.
As I pondered this on my way back to the office, I fell to wondering about the practicalities of such an exemption. To put it bluntly, how do hoteliers know? An old Fawlty Towers episode sprang irresistibly to mind: the one where Basil, convinced a young guest of whom he disapproves has smuggled a woman into his room, climbs a ladder to peer in through the window.
You may remember the outcome: he just has time to register that he is looking through the wrong window at a perfectly respectable couple getting undressed for bed before he topples over backwards to disappear from view. When he does finally obtain admission to the room, Basil discovers that the young man (having hidden his girlfriend) is entertaining his sweet old mother instead. Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense, as they say in court circles.
You may say it is easy to tell if two men want to share a room together, but my thoughts went back to my first-ever visit to the US nearly 30 years ago, in the decadent days of that former Sunday school teacher, President Jimmy Carter, when a friend and I drove from New York to Los Angeles, sharing a room in cheap motels each night and never once being asked whether we were gay. I think we may even have had to share a king-sized bed in the only room available for miles one night in the middle of the Texas panhandle.
But if Evangelical hoteliers object to gays, aren’t there others whose lifestyles they also ought to reject? Unfortunately not all of them come branded with a scarlet letter or marked with a pink star. They are not all as easy to spot as black people or Irish in the bad old days of racial discrimination.But homosexuality is as much an identity as ethnicity is.
What about adulterers, or people “living in sin” – should they be required to produce their marriage certificates or, if appropriate, divorce papers, before being admitted? Are they sure that the guest’s children were not born out of wedlock? Or what about people who have had sex-changes? I understand some of these Thai ladyboys are very convincing these days: perhaps to be on the safe side, it would be best to require birth certificates as well. But even those can be changed now so I suppose you never can tell.
Better than being accused of hypocrisy or prejudice, perhaps it would be best to allow only those who are entirely spotless, which might mean limiting the clientele somewhat, or choosing another career in which one might not have to accommodate the world in all its imperfections.
But then I thought that perhaps it would be better after all to be allowed to hang a sign saying No Gays outside one’s door. Then at least those of us who don’t choose to associate with such bigots will appreciate that we wouldn’t wish to spend the night in their establishments.
Stephen Bates is the Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent.