The recent award of damages to a same-sex couple who were denied accommodation by Christian hoteliers, continues to draw extensive coverage and comment in the British press. On the one hand, it seems that the B&B/hotel hosts are now receiving extensive hate-mail and nuisance calls and other harassment, including numerous attempted bookings by other gay couples threatening to launch follow-up legal actions if their bookings are denied. (The place is currently closed for the off-season, so no bookings are being accepted for anyone. Mrs Bull has not indicated what she will do if these bookings continue in the summer). Such harassment is clearly despicable and uncalled-for.
On the other, this harassment has led to her being portrayed in some quarters as a Christian martyr, standing up for her religious convictions. This is patent nonsense. If her religious convictions lead her to disapprove of lesbian sex, she need not engage in it. Religious freedom does not extend to the freedom to impose her religious beliefs on her guests. Presumable she also disapproves of masturbation. Does she have signs in her rooms warning that jerking off in the bath is forbidden?
She claims that she is not discriminating against gays in particular, but only against unmarried couples. This too is hogwash. In British law, here guests are married – except that the technical legal term for their union (unjustly) is “civil partnership”, not marriage.
But the most serious complaint against their action, for a couple claiming to be acting from Christian belief, is that is totally contrary to the Christian Gospels, and the practice of Jesus Christ himself.
An unfortunate side-effect of the brouhaha has been once again, that some sections of the media have been presenting this as some kind of conflict between Christians and gay activists, as if they were two distinct groups with opposing interests. This is demonstrably untrue, as Symon Hill points out in his column at Ekklesia. ( Hill is the straight pastor who has undertaken a penitential walk around Britain, to apologize for the past harm done to the LGBT community in the name of Christianity):There are many gay, lesbian and trans Christians, and their straight allies, who oppose all forms of discrimination on religious grounds, just as there are racists and bigots of all kinds with no religious faith at all.
Balancing rights and responsibilities among a range of competing claims and considerations is a complex business. It needs to be done without name-calling.
This is from Symon Hill’s blog at Ekklesia:
I doubt that the guest house owners, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, are the hate-filled bigots that they have been portrayed as in parts of the LGBT blogosphere. I am delighted that attitudes to homosexuality have changed so much in Britain in the last ten or fifteen years. But it would be both unrealistic and unfair to expect everyone to find these changes easy. Most of us are far more attached to our own preconceptions and prejudices than we would like to believe.
While I strongly disagree with the Bulls’ views on sexuality, I defend their right to hold those views. But they have no right to practise discrimination in the provision of goods and services. I disagree with the Bulls not only about sexuality but also about the role of Christianity in Britain and even about the nature of commercial services such as guest houses.
Hazelmary Bull’s claim that “Christianity is being marginalised in Britain” is demonstrably untrue. If the gay couple she rejected, Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, were to take the unlikely step of setting up their own guest house, they would be unable to legally put a sign on the door declaring “No Christians”.
Oddly, the Bulls’ supporters seem to think that they should be allowed to. Their main argument is that the guest house involved is also the Bulls’ own home. Demonstrators outside the court held placards declaring “It’s their home”.
This is the most invalid argument of all. If it were applied consistently, racist providers of bed-and-breakfast would also be allowed to refuse rooms to mixed-race couples. The Bulls’ supporters may leap up and say that race is not the same as sexuality. But that is an argument about which matters should be covered by equality laws. It does not make the “own home” argument any more valid.
The Bulls also refuse rooms to unmarried heterosexual couples. This seems to be just about legal. To me, this is appalling. This is not to say that I condone every relationship or sexual activity – I certainly don’t. It is a good thing if views on sexual ethics are debated and I believe that Christians should speak up for sexual ethics rooted in the values of Jesus. But the law should not allow the providers of goods and services to demand that their customers share their views.
In most cases, the providers are vastly more powerful than their customers. This is not of course true in the case of the owners of small guest houses such as the Bulls. The really powerful providers of accommodation are the owners of large hotel chains, too embroiled in the worship of Mammon to worry about their customers’ sexual ethics. This is no reason not to uphold freedom from discrimination in commercial services.
Despite these points, much of the media have not moved on far from the “Gays v. Christians” language. I have to admit that inclusive Christians have to bear a sizeable portion of the responsibility for this attitude. All too often, we have failed to speak up clearly in favour of the radical inclusivity of Christ.
We need to promote this message more forcefully and more effectively. We should do this not only to tackle unfair media coverage, but because it is a message that is crucial to the revolutionary values at the heart of the Gospel that Jesus calls us to proclaim.