Mr and Mrs Bull run a private hotel in Cornwall and because of their Christian values about marriage have long operated a policy of letting their double rooms to (heterosexual) married couples only. This seems to have meant declining to accept many bookings. They did however generally allow 2 people of the same gender to share twin-bedded rooms. There's a certain inconsistency here. Is it really only possible or likely to have sex in a double bed? And did their policy encourage heterosexual (non-married) couples to lie about their status?
It was inevitable that sooner or later under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 they would face a legal challenge. Theirs was a commercial enterprise in the hospitality industry. If you run a business you are bound by legislation that effects how that operation is run. Where we would be if most people chose to ignore laws made by a democratically elected Parliament? It has now been established that the owners of the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Marazion broke the law. They accepted a telephone booking for a double room, including assuring the man making that booking that his pet dog was also welcome. It was only when Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy (a couple in a Civil Partnership) arrived that their booking was not honoured. They were turned away and the couple contacted the police, who logged it as a non-violent sexual discrimination incident. The couple concerned sought damages through the courts which they were awarded yesterday by Judge Rutherford in Bristol.
What I have found interesting is the way some of the media have headlined this as a judgement 'against Christians' and Christian beliefs. It isn't, in my view. It's a judgement about people in the hospitality industry breaking the law and refusing to provide the goods and services they had promised in accepting a booking. Now when I book a hotel room I want to know that the law will support me if the hotel does not honour that booking on the grounds that they disagree with my morals (e.g. that I will only share a bed with my husband).
The law has to protect the liberties of all, which sometimes means restricting the liberties of others. If you disagree with any law that governs your business, breaking that law is not usually the best answer. So where does that leave Mr and Mrs Bull? In need of a great deal of support from friends and sympathetic people - it seems their business is doing badly. Should they get out of the hospitality trade? Or should they accept that good hospitality and a warm welcome for the marginalised as well as the majority is actually a Christian thing to offer? The law doesn't require any of us to agree with someone who differs from us in in belief or sexual ethics. I can explain how I stand, but I can't control what other adults get up to in their hotel bedroom or anywhere else.
The full judgement in this case was handed down yesterday. It is well worth reading in full - an absolute masterpiece, with careful due consideration to the liberties and rights of both sides. So, this Christian for one wants to applaud it. What do you think?