Freedom of religion is not freedom to discriminate

// 24 March 2010

A gay couple were turned away from a B&B in Berkshire by its Christian owner, who claimed it would be ‘against her convictions’ to allow them to stay, the Guardian reported on Sunday. The couple, Michael Black and John Morgan from Cambridgeshire, had booked the room in advance but were turned away upon their arrival. From The Guardian:

“When they arrived, Susanne Wilkinson and her husband Francis refused to allow them to stay. The owner said later that she had turned them away because it was against her policy to accommodate same sex couples. Black and Morgan claimed they were treated like lepers as a result of their sexuality. They reported the matter to Thames Valley police and have given a statement to police. Under the Equality Act 2006 it is illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation.”

It is bad enough that this homophobic incident occurred, but what is worse in my eyes is that the B&B owners themselves are claiming that they are being discriminated against on the grounds of religious freedom.

Mr Wilkinson said:

“We are Christians and we believe our rights don’t have to be subordinated. We have religious freedom.”

Mrs Wilkinson said:

“I don’t see why I should change my mind and my beliefs I’ve held for years just because the government should force it on me.”

The tone is an indignant one – how dare the Government force them to treat people equally! They are Christians and therefore they have a right to treat gay people however they like. Except they don’t. However, their insistence that their bigotry (sorry, ‘conviction’) is part of their religion and therefore deserves special treatment and exemption from the law is not just the opinion of one pair of cranks from Middle England. Yesterday, Christian groups lobbied Harriet Harman over the Equality Bill, complaining that it would allow gay couples to have their civil ceremonies in places of worship. A Government bill on sex education was amended recently to allow faith schools to teach their beliefs about sexual morality, however poisonous those may be. There is currently pressure within the House of Lords to amend the Equality Bill in order to allow Catholic adoption agencies to discriminate against gay couples. Recently, a woman in Sheffield was denied contraception by a religious pharmacist, and GPs are able to refuse an abortion referral on the grounds of ‘conscience’. The same arguments about ‘freedom of religion’ are used in all these instances.

It makes me angry for numerous reasons, but the main thing that gets my goat is that anyone who makes this argument does not understand what discrimination means. All of these people who are fretting over losing their ‘religious freedom’ are not in fact losing it at all, not by any stretch of the imagination. Religious freedom means that you are free to hold whatever beliefs you like – whether that’s a belief in Yahweh, Allah, Zeus, The Force or anything else – and you are free to make life choices for yourself in accordance with those beliefs. To paraphrase Wanda Sykes: if you don’t believe in same-sex bed-sharing, then don’t share a bed with someone of the same sex. Mr and Mrs Wilkinson from Berkshire are free to make that choice, therefore they have religious freedom.

Equal rights legislation doesn’t threaten religious freedom one bit. What it does – or should – remove is religious privilege, and this is entirely different. When a group of people are able to take away a life choice from another group – whether that’s going on holiday, adopting a baby or buying contraception – that is privilege, and privilege is what equality legislation needs to stamp out. Certain religious groups – by no means all of them – are behaving exactly as privileged groups are wont to do when their privilege is threatened: stamping their little feet and claiming that they are the victims here and it’s all so terribly unfair. What we shouldn’t do, as people who are concerned about equality, is fall for it.

Comments From You

Laura // Posted 24 March 2010 at 1:41 pm

Bravo!

george // Posted 24 March 2010 at 2:08 pm

i follow jesus and i think the way that situation was handled was destructive. i see jesus as a person of inclusion rather than exclusion. he tended to discriminate against the close-minded religious systems. all the verses where some followers get their argument about the gay debate are completely misapplied and misinterpreted and the one’s who have to pay are the innocent. this should not be so. people should think before the speak, walk before they talk and love before they breath. it’s the way of jesus i think.

Susan Gilbert // Posted 24 March 2010 at 3:36 pm

There’s absolutely no excuse for the homophobia of these B&B owners and I feel outrage for the couple, rejected through no fault of their own, in the middle of a strange town. In their situation I would have felt both angry and very vulnerable.

But, controversially, I have an awful feeling that the law should be on the side of the B&B owners, NOT because they have any right to discriminate against gay couples, but because nobody should be forced to accept into their homes people who they don’t want there.

We are not talking about big hotels here. Most B&B’s are the homes of the people who run them. If I was a B&B owner I might be very dubious about giving a room to a couple of rampant Christians, who knows what they could get up to!

Seriously, I’m concerned that encouraging the law to get too involved in this area could so easily be used by unscrupulous authorities to control private homes. I live with tenants in my own house. I get like all of them, female and male, gay and straight, black and white, but I do want to have a say about who I give my front door key to.

Don’t forget how anti-terrorism laws have been used totally inappropriately to break up demonstrations, ban photography and reporters and drag away totally innocent members of the public who have no terrorist connection of any kind.

We should be wary of giving many inches to those who like to think they are in authority over us, because they are very capable of taking many miles.

sianmarie // Posted 24 March 2010 at 4:55 pm

amy clare:

“To paraphrase Wanda Sykes: if you don’t believe in same-sex bed-sharing, then don’t share a bed with someone of the same sex. Mr and Mrs Wilkinson from Berkshire are free to make that choice, therefore they have religious freedom.”

couldn’t have said it better myself

Carina // Posted 24 March 2010 at 5:01 pm

I think that the B&B owners should have been more upfront to begin with. As Susan says, it is good to be careful about who you give your front door key to. (Though really, how do you screen for someone’s sexual preference without appearing sexist?)

It doesn’t mean that once someone has made a reservation and you’ve accepted their deposit, that you’re able to turn them away from your front door! The owners should have been aware of the risks in running a B&B. and if their convictions were that strong, figured out an APPROPRIATE way to deal with this, without offending people. Maybe they should not have been offering something that they cannot offer to all equally.

Holly Combe // Posted 24 March 2010 at 5:32 pm

Absolutely bang on with the points about religious privilege being different from religious freedom. Good stuff :-)

Miloronic // Posted 24 March 2010 at 6:45 pm

Let’s hope that the great God or Goddess in the sky refuses the B&B owners entry when they get to the pearly gates!

Shea // Posted 24 March 2010 at 7:15 pm

Absolutely spot on.

@ Susan- but there is a crucial difference between taking a private tenant, who you can screen before hand and offering a service to the public. Which is what the B & B owners were doing. Even if it is your own private home, if you use it to offer a service to the public then you accept you will have to accommodate a variety of people. You give up the right to deny that service to certain people, or else be accused of discrimination.

But totally agree with you on the authorities point.

Its a very sad day when religious nutcases feel they have the right to meddle in other people’s lives. We need “freedom from religion” to be enshrined in law in this country and worldwide.

Ally // Posted 24 March 2010 at 7:28 pm

Totally disagree. It’s their property-they have a right to exclude whoever they please from it. If the contract was concluded before the couple arrived, they are liable in damages for failure to perform a contract, but that really should be all.

I also think it is absurd to analyse their excluding people from their own B and B as ‘religious privilege’ when their belief system is in no way privileged, and in fact derided by the majority of people.

I agree with commentors who note that it could have been handled much more sensitively (and without a breach of contract!)

Selina // Posted 24 March 2010 at 8:04 pm

Oh how I love it when people claim that stopping their oppression of others is oppressive towards them.

Even if it WAS: What you’re saying is oppression is bad. What you MEAN is oppression is bad when it happens to ME.

Not how laws work my friends. We have something called a social contract, and it means that you won’t always get what you want. But trust me, it will benefit you in the long run.

earwicga // Posted 24 March 2010 at 8:36 pm

Great post!

And yes, I think so too George.

Carina – there is no ‘appropriate’ way to be homophobic.

Disagree with you as well Susan Gilbert – homophobia is illegal. End of. If these homophobic B&B owners don’t like that then they need to choose a different way to make a living or suffer the consequences of acting illegally.

Amy Clare – what are the possible consequences of this? A fine or more?

earwicga // Posted 24 March 2010 at 8:39 pm

And, the sooner the better that civil partnerships and marriages are open to everybody and everywhere.

If somebody wishes to be homophobic they have to know there are consequences to their behaviour – just like with every other crime (except rape obviously).

Cerian // Posted 24 March 2010 at 10:22 pm

Whatever the outcome of the police investigation, my thoughts are that if someone runs a B&B and has a policy of discriminating against anyone, they should be required to state this clearly on their website and when rooms are booked over the phone. This would allow potential customers to make an informed, and ethical, choice about to whom they give their business.

I want to know that my money doesn’t support bigotry.

saranga // Posted 24 March 2010 at 10:55 pm

thank you for articulating the difference between privledge and freedom.

Schnee // Posted 24 March 2010 at 11:11 pm

I too am a practising Christian. The life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are all about inclusivity, exactly as has already been said. The very idea of the man who was Jesus being prejudiced against another human being on any grounds is anathema.

These people are bigots. Their ‘beliefs’ have nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity.

Frankly, it’s about time we stopped using religion as a ‘get out of gaol free’ card. If it, or the practitioners of it are doing or promoting something that undermines the human rights of others, then it should not be allowed as any kind of argument.

Troika21 // Posted 24 March 2010 at 11:37 pm

A B&B is not a public service, its owners are free to discriminate however they see fit. I don’t agree with them, or what they believe. But I do believe that they have that right.

But to confuse the B&B owners refusing to cater to a gay couple with religious groups wanting to force their beliefs on society is over-the-top. State power should be of a concern to us, even when we like the direction it is going.

To claim that the B&B running couple have religious freedom because they don’t have to share beds with the people of the same sex, is narrow minded. They should also be free to pratice what they believe, even if that too is narrow minded.

I believe very strongly in freedom of expression, I do accept that there are limits and problems with that freedom, but that it should be preserved whatever the cost.

With that in mind, look at the comment rules governing this blog, I think that all bar #6 are antithetical to freedom of expression, but frankly, *its their gig* and they get to decide what gets posted here [So I’ll be some-what amazed if this goes through]. And fundamentally, I believe the same for the Wilkinsons, its their gig, their B&B, and they get to decide who stays under their roof. And, of course, face the consequences.

aimee // Posted 25 March 2010 at 12:11 am

Is this illegal? It totally should be. I was recently looking for a campsite in newquay to spend a few days at in the summer and was absolutely astonished to discover that so many of them have an “opposite sex couples and families only” policy… like.. WHAT? They can’t do that, surely?

zak jane keir // Posted 25 March 2010 at 12:13 am

Susan Gilbert makes a good point about a B&B being someone’s home, and B&B owners having the right to refuse entry to people (same as proprietors of pubs, etc have the right to refuse entry for no real reason). What the B&B owners did, which was wrong (but fairly typical of that buckethead variety of Christians who are forever bleating about their right to be bucketheads and bully others being taken away ‘Waah political correctness gone mad!) was in announcing that they were homophobic arseholes and in fact making a BIG DEAL out of being homophobic arseholes.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 25 March 2010 at 1:20 am

The law still allows refusal of service- so if a couple showed up at a B&B and seemed violent or otherwise suspicious, you could legitimately refuse them service. What the law no longer allows is that you use discrimination or bigotry as the justification to refuse service.

It’s about ensuring equality and it applies across all businesses, whether ran from your home or a public premises. But ultimately, if you want to engage in the market place, then you need to play by the rules (or campaign to change them).

gadgetgal // Posted 25 March 2010 at 9:11 am

With Feminist Avatar on the nuances of the law – it ISN’T illegal for them to refuse service, it IS illegal for them to refuse service based upon discrimination. What we seem to have here isn’t a case of religious privilege, more of a raging case of stupid on the part of the owners. They can put whatever rules they like on their B&B, including behaviour and dress codes if they so choose, but as soon as they opened their mouths and said “it’s because you’re gay” they shot themselves in the foot. And quite frankly they deserve to, for being both homophobic and running a business with no knowledge of business law.

Same goes for pubs, bars and clubs, by the way, that’s why most have notices posted on the doors about dress code, so they can randomly refuse people without giving a reason. However, bear in mind their word is still not law – if they refuse you entry based upon, say, a dress code, and you’re actually not breaking it, you can argue that point, involve the police and gain entry anyway. But I usually find a good rule of thumb is if the bar has stupid dress code policies in the first place it’s probably crap, so best avoided anyway!!

Amy Clare // Posted 25 March 2010 at 9:24 am

I just want to make a few points in response to some of the comments:

Firstly, a B&B is a business, like any other. When you go into business you have to accept that you will be bound by certain legislation whether it’s to do with taxation, health and safety, food hygiene, or equal rights. No-one can opt out of these legal obligations at will, because to do so would make a mockery of having the laws there in the first place. These laws are there for a reason, and in this case, the anti-homophobia legislation is there to allow gay people to go on holiday where they please – like anyone else can. If you can’t abide by the legislation, don’t go into business. Would any commenters supporting the B&B owners’ ‘right’ to turn away gay people approve of them hanging a ‘No Blacks No Irish’ sign in their window?

Secondly,@Ally, the B&B owners explicitly gave their Christian beliefs as the reason for turning away the gay couple. Their ‘religious freedom’ argument has been used on a wider scale to challenge and even change our laws. These beliefs therefore *are* privileged in our society, because they affect our laws and are used as reasons to deny people their rights. I gave several examples of this in my post. The Christian lobby is immensely powerful, and the Government listens to it. Why do you think marriage equality doesn’t exist yet?

@Troika21: Why is it ‘narrow minded’ to suggest that the B&B owners have religious freedom because they are free to practise their beliefs as pertains to their *own* sex life? Can you explain that to me please?

@earwicga: I’m not sure what their punishment will be, if anything – all the news stories say at the moment is that the police are investigating.

@aimee: Yes it is illegal. The Stonewall statement on the B&B incident, which can be read here, states that: “It’s illegal for businesses to turn away gay customers or discriminate against them when providing goods or services, and this can’t be overridden by personal prejudice”. So the campsites you mention are acting illegally.

Ally // Posted 25 March 2010 at 9:58 am

We are talking about a B&B not a plc. This is also this couples home, and part of what is offered is their own personal services. It shouldn’t be necessary for them to compromise their beliefs (however ridiculous those beliefs might be) in order to simply earn their living. Yes that does apply to the “no blacks or irish” and to the countless men-only sports and private members clubs.

sianmarie // Posted 25 March 2010 at 10:41 am

Troika21 – unfortunately because of a lot of the aggressive and violent sentiments that a lot of people roaming the internet direct towards women, i feel the commenting rules are very necessary. i can only imagine how nasty and aggressive some of the comments that don’t get through are, having a blog myself which is sometimes trolled by MRA types and other unpleasant people who think internet anonymity gives them the right to be verbally violent. it is important to create safe online spaces and protect our free speech and right to freedom of expression as feminists (male and female) rather than end up on another online forum where people are aggressive, sexist, ablist, homophobic, transphobic and racist. so i for one support the comments policy – i run away from a lot of sites where this kind of hateful language proliferates.

sorry for the derail but felt it was an important point.

Amy Clare // Posted 25 March 2010 at 11:24 am

@Ally: A B&B is still a business. Are you suggesting that if someone runs a business from or in their home they ought to be exempt from all laws relating to running a business? If these particular B&B owners felt that they didn’t want to bother complying with health and safety or food hygiene regulations would that be okay too? In which situations should business owners be bound by equality legislation and in which situations should they not?

The point is however that their beliefs are *not* compromised by a law requiring them to treat gay people equally. They are still free to believe that gay people are sinners if they wish, whether they provide them a room and cook them breakfast or not.

How would it be if every B&B in the country was owned by people who held these beliefs, and they were allowed to turn gay people away? That would mean no gay people would ever be able to stay in a B&B. Would that be okay? Obviously not. That’s why the law exists. And if it’s not okay for all the B&Bs in the country to discriminate, it’s not okay for one of them to discriminate.

Do you know what? It’s actually possible to ‘simply earn a living’ without discriminating against people! I know, it’s shocking.

gadgetgal // Posted 25 March 2010 at 11:43 am

Hi Ally – I would normally agree with you if it was just a private residence, but the residence we’re talking about is not, it is a business, so to all intents and purposes it IS a PLC, meaning the building it is housed in was probably bought for that express purpose (as most people don’t tend to own large houses with multiple rooms unless extremely rich, thereby not needing it to be rented out) and they will also be claiming various forms of tax relief for running it as one. It’s not a simple case of “it’s their home” because it’s partly being tax-payer funded in that all the rest of us are covering their deductibles!

When I had my limited company, although it was for sole contracting purposes only (i.e. my personal wages), I fell under business law – everyone who sets up a business knows this, it’s horrible when legislation gets changed and it’s to the detriment (or PERCEIVED detriment, I personally don’t think this is classified as that) of your business, but you know what? That’s basically tough t*ts for the business. I had this when VAT dropped and my income drastically dropped with it – made me worse off, but made most people better off, I just had to learn to deal. That’s business!

Troika21 // Posted 25 March 2010 at 12:15 pm

@Amy Clare – ‘Narrow minded’ may not have been the best choice of words, ‘short-sighted’ perhaps? Its very easy to cheer on the power of the state when you think its on your side, but frankly its something we should be concerned about.

I was concerned mostly about the cheering-on of state power, rather than peoples sex lives.

I’m a secularist and an atheist (and one of those nasty new atheists, too!) but I do believe that religious people have the right to stick by their convictions, however much I might disagree.

It is my conviction that a persons freedom to believe (and to practice that belief) is so great that it encompases even the small-minded and the bigot.

@sianmarie – I don’t have a blog, but I do know that there are plenty of ignorant morons out there who think that the anonymity provided by the internet is license to say all kinds of nasty things, and these people are determined to spoil comment threads on their opponents websites.

However, I feel the the rules that the F-word use are higly obstructionist, designed to enforce ideological beliefs more than encourage debate. I believe that you can tell alot about a website depending on its comment policy (yes, really!).

I feel that the F-Word policy is over-regulated to the point where the hosts no-longer trust their regular commentators to shoot down anything that they might disagree with, once the nasty comments have been weeded out.

Its rules one and three that I have problems with; they make it difficult to know where the line that someone should not cross is, if your disagreeing.

Susan Gilbert // Posted 25 March 2010 at 12:38 pm

I knew it was a can of worms when I tentatively defended the nastily bigoted B&B owners right to say who can’t come into their home! The wide ranging comments have been intelligent and thought provoking. Firstly I won’t defend anyone’s religeous beliefs – that’s their problem. When, as in this case, those beliefs lead them to behave in a disgusting manner to other more civilised people, with who they have a verbal contract, they deserve to go out of business.

Of course such bigots shouldn’t be exempt from legislation on religious grounds. My major concern remains the increasingly dominant powers of the legislature.

Any day now there may be legislation to force parents not to smoke in their home in front of their children. Accompanied presumably by extra powers for the state to enter said home and enforce this. I hate smoking, having watched my father die of lung cancer, but home is home, not a public place.

Legislation to cover B&B’s could probably be quietly ‘tweaked’ to allow access into our homes. My home isn’t a castle, just a semi, but I’d like it to remain sacrosanct – and I’m not talking about religion.

Shea // Posted 25 March 2010 at 12:47 pm

Well I think I’ve identified a gap in the B&B market, gay friendly hotels and B&Bs!

@Ally- what an absurdity. It doesn’t matter whether it is a limited company or a partnership or a plc, or that it is run from a private residence. It is providing a service to the public, therefore it is bound by the relevant legislation as Amy Clare pointed out.

As for all- male sports clubs and private members, these are actually very rare nowadays and have probably gotten round the equal rights legislation by adopting charitable status (which allows them discretion on admission).

Look at the fact the BNP have recently had to amend their admissions poilcy to permit ethnic minorities (don’t all rush at once!).

“It shouldn’t be necessary for them to compromise their beliefs (however ridiculous those beliefs might be) in order to simply earn their living. Yes that does apply to the “no blacks or irish””

It is absolutely necessary for them to compromise their beliefs if they want to earn a living this way. They cannot get away with outright bigotry, racism or homophobia. Those days are gone my friend.

As gadgetgal pointed out they will have tax deductible expenses which are paid for by us (including homosexual taxpayers), it not simply a case of “its my home I’ll do as I like” . Presumably guests aren’t allowed to smoke inside (legislation) there must be sufficient fire exits and extinguishers (H&S legislation) and they will need to file accounts at the years end (various companies acts). They are bound by the legislation in every respect. That includes the anti-discrimination provsions. If they don’t like it there are always other things they can do.

No one is stopping them holding whatever ill informed narrow minded and ridiculous beliefs they like. It when they act on them that it becomes a public matter.

*And in fact what this couple are doing is incredibly anti-christian. Heard of the Golden Rule? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? We are talking a basic tenet of Christianity here.

Amy Clare // Posted 25 March 2010 at 1:04 pm

@Troika21: Sorry, but I still don’t see your point. This ‘state power’ you are so concerned about is actually a protection of gay people’s rights. I can’t for the life of me see what is remotely wrong with that.

Again, the B&B owners *do* have freedom of belief. They can *believe what they like* even if the law requires them not to turn gay people away. They are not going to be brainwashed into being homosexual or forced to have gay sex. All they are required to do by law is provide the same service (room and food) to gay customers as they do to straight ones. Again, a B&B is a business and as such it is subject to business laws.

I also think you’re being very unfair about the site’s comments policy. FYI, I have approved every comment I’ve received for this post thus far.

@Susan Gilbert: I think your argument is rather alarmist to be honest. The relevant law in this story is to protect gay people’s rights to purchase goods and services as I’ve said, and this bears no relation to other potential laws, regarding smoking at home or anything else. As I and other people have said, a B&B is not just a home, it is a business. As another commenter pointed out, there is still a law which protects people from violent or suspicious visitors/guests/customers in their home or business premises – this isn’t affected by equal rights legislation. The B&B owners didn’t turn the gay couple away because they were being threatening or acting suspiciously – they turned them away because they are gay.

I find it very difficult to see how an anti-discrimination law regarding the right to buy *goods and services*, including holidays, could be ‘quietly tweaked’ to allow random people access into private homes. That just doesn’t make sense.

Susan Gilbert // Posted 25 March 2010 at 1:39 pm

Amy Claire, believe me I’m not in any way opposing equal rights and anti-discrimination legislation. A B&B is certainly a business and should abide by the law – all of it. As I said in my first comment, my sympathy lies with the couple discriminated against by religious bigots, and left potentially vulnerable in unfamiliar surroundings. Were they turned away late at night, without a chance to find a safe place to stay?

As you can see from this, I was just worried about the safety and security of both sides. I won’t get into arguments on religious ‘rights’ or I may get banned from this website!

Maybe I am a bit alarmist. I’ll try to separate the religious rights issue and the anti discrimination issue from the right to have a say over your own home. I’m old enough to remember large numbers of people being attacked and turned out of their homes by an army of council baliffs, supported by the police, in the 1960’s/70s. Some were squatters, who f-word readers may or may not support, others were genuine residents. I was a squatter for a short time and not for fun. The power of the state is great when it’s on your side and terrifying when it isn’t. IFeeling safe in your own home should be as much a basic right as not being discriminated against. That’s my paranoia, perhaps.

Ally // Posted 25 March 2010 at 1:40 pm

I am not saying small businesses should not be subject to any business regulation at all-I am saying that the level of freedom that they should be allowed when renting out rooms should be different if the property is also their home, and they are personally providing most of the service, which isn’t just cooking them breakfast but rather providing them with a double bed which they would consider inappropriate, and changing their potentially jizz covered sheets. It’s not like they’re refusing to sell them an ice-cream because they are gay

As to at what point I think equality legislation should apply, I think there should be a conscience exception for any business not listed as a public company and how far that exception limits the remit of equality legislation would depend on the nature of the service and how much it puts someone in the position of facilitating something they believe is morally wrong (in larger companies this can be avoided by just allowing other employees to undertake those tasks as is the case in pharmacies).

The idea that VAT reductions are the taxpayer subsidising the business is a load of crap-businesses are taxed on their profit at a higher rate than ordinary earnings and the point of the business tax structure is to create an environment in which there is a net gain for the taxpayer.

And if not a single B and B accepted gay people on this basis, that would be unfortunate, but it would not justify forcing people to do something that they felt was morally objectionable to earn their living. The plus side is that the capitalist model would never allow this to happen-even when homosexuality was illegal this was not the case. Where there’s a market, there’s a service. Plenty of B and B’s market themselves as “gay owned” or “gay friendly”.

@Shea-I am not your friend and I’d thank you to drop the condescending tone.

Troika21 // Posted 25 March 2010 at 1:59 pm

@Amy Clare – I suppose, I just believe that people have the right to refuse service to who ever they want and for whatever reasons. Provided they haven’t already started to provide the service or product, that would be a breach of contract.

I believe that if people are not providing a public service they should be not be expected to give-up their beliefs and be forced to support something that they find unsupportable.

I think that there is a point at which a compay is so small it no-longer has a duty to the public to be non-discriminatory.

Laura // Posted 25 March 2010 at 2:03 pm

@ Troika21 – Let’s please not derail Amy Clare’s thread with complaints about TFW’s comments policy. If you (or anyone else) would like to comment on it, please use the feedback form.

BareNakedLady // Posted 25 March 2010 at 3:46 pm

I think Susan Gilbert makes an interesting point, but ultimately have to agree that comparing it to the state intruding into a personal home is a bit alarmist.

The risk you take when opening up your home as a B&B is that some people will turn up with perfectly valid lifestyle choices who you do not particularly like or approve of. I mean we could go to all sorts of things here from differing tastes in music, to tattoos, to dress sense. Tough shit. Don’t want people who you wouldn’t normally be friends with turning up and staying in your house? Don’t run a B&B then. Simple as that.

Shea // Posted 25 March 2010 at 4:26 pm

@ Ally – your wrong on VAT receipts and tax deductible expenses. They are able to claim tax back on things ordinary taxpayers and employees never would. This is the benefit of being self employed. Businesses pay a higher rate of tax on profits, because they are a business, not a private residence.

“rather providing them with a double bed which they would consider inappropriate, and changing their potentially jizz covered sheets.”

No I’m not your friend, not by a long stretch. And actually how would the above differ from a hetereosexual couple?

It just comes down to a juvenile “yuck” reaction and fear of difference. A fear that most normal people grow out of by the time they are 10.

Amy Clare // Posted 25 March 2010 at 4:33 pm

@Ally:

“They are personally providing most of the service, which isn’t just cooking them breakfast but rather providing them with a double bed which they would consider inappropriate, and changing their potentially jizz covered sheets.”

ZOMG GAY JIZZ!! It burns, it burns! Won’t somebody *please* think of the children?!?!!11!!

Seriously, how exactly is the owners hiring a room to a gay couple forcing them to do something ‘morally objectionable’ or ‘inappropriate’? They don’t have to do anything other than what they would normally do for straight people. 50% of whom, by the way, can and do jizz on their sheets, I’m guessing fairly regularly. It is not up to a B&B owner to decide what type of bed is appropriate for what type of customer. It’s up to the customer to decide what type of bed they want. I’m assuming that if you have a partner you would want to sleep in a double bed with them on holiday. Gay people deserve that same right.

“And if not a single B and B accepted gay people on this basis, that would be unfortunate, but it would not justify forcing people to do something that they felt was morally objectionable to earn their living.”

Oh, just ‘unfortunate’ is it? Then I’m sure you would accept people turning *you* away from holiday accommodation because they didn’t happen to like who you slept with, or your skin colour, or your face, or your gender identity… after all, people’s right to discriminate must be protected.

“Where there’s a market, there’s a service. Plenty of B and B’s market themselves as “gay owned” or “gay friendly””

Yeah, segregate the holiday destinations. That’s fair! What if a gay couple wanted to go on holiday to Devon but the nearest ‘gay B&B’ was in Norfolk? Tough tits, right?

I respect your right to express your opinions Ally but I find what you’re saying very offensive.

Shea // Posted 25 March 2010 at 4:38 pm

“I think there should be a conscience exception for any business not listed as a public company and how far that exception limits the remit of equality legislation would depend on the nature of the service and how much it puts someone in the position of facilitating something they believe is morally wrong”

This would be disastrous and leave the gate wide open for active discrimmination against all kinds of people. You run a business– you run it for the benefit of your shareholders to make a profit. Not to allow crude, illogical judgments of other people’s lifestyle choices, which have absolutely nothing to do with you and no bearing at all on your business.

As BareNakedLady put it- if you don’t like it, don’t run a B&B.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 25 March 2010 at 5:43 pm

At the risk of being controversial- feminism has often been on the side of inviting the state into the home/ into the private.

Legislation on domestic violence, marital rape, child abuse etc etc has in effect demanded that the state take an interest in the home- in interfering in the private.

In fact the home has often been the place where the interface between feminism, the state and private rights have met. The question then becomes why is it different if you have a B&B?

Julie K // Posted 25 March 2010 at 5:55 pm

I’ve been thinking about this since I first read the story.

Mr Black says: “She said if we’d told her in advance she would have told us not to come.”

Can you imagine having that conversation? “By the way, we’re gay.” “Oh, in that case, I’m afraid you’re not welcome.” Why should anyone have to put themselves in that position? Nobody would expect someone when booking a B&B over the phone to say “By the way, I’m black, I thought I’d better let you know in case you’re a racist and don’t want me in your B&B”, so likewise why should anyone have to announce their sexuality in advance, just in case the provider of the service is prejudiced? It seems ridiculous to me.

Anyway I did toy with the idea of opening a B&B at one stage and I decided against it partly for this very reason, because I wasn’t comfortable with having to accept and welcome strangers, who I might dislike or find unpleasant for whatever reason (NOT because they are gay or for any discriminatory reason!), into my home. Mr and Mrs Wilkinson should not have decided to open a B&B if they are incapable of complying with the law and treating their clientele equally.

Actually on second thoughts, maybe I should open a gay-friendly B&B next door to the Wilkinsons :)

Ally // Posted 25 March 2010 at 7:02 pm

Providing a room to a straight couple with a double bed facilitates them having sex, (I don’t know why Mr and Mrs Wilkinson do not check whether the guests are married if they are so keen on defending Christian sexual morality, but anyway) the same applies to a gay couple. If you think gay/extra-marital sex is immoral it is understandable that you would not want to be responsible for providing the venue. The personal nature of the service also shoves that fact in their face somewhat.

Your argument about VAT is completely disingenuous-the recovery of VAT is not there as a perk, it is just part of different scheme of taxing business, which taxes the profits rather than initial expenditure. Also, not paying tax just results in less revenue, it doesn’t take money from the state, it just doesn’t give it. It is perfectly conceivable that the tax mr and mrs Wilkinson have paid exceeds what the state has spent on them, in which case one can’t really argue that they are being paid for by the taxpayer!

If it is not a publicly listed company there are no shareholders except those who participate by private invitation. Family businesses are not really a commercial venture in the same way that companies open to the public to buy shares or with large numbers of employees are. They don’t raise revenue from the public in the same way, so they ought not to be regulated in the same way. The appropriate response to establishments like the Wilkinson’s is to boycott them and hope they go out of business-not subject them to regulation.

Ally // Posted 25 March 2010 at 7:18 pm

@Amy Clare yes I would accept being refused a double room on moral grounds, for instance because I am not married to my partner, which I assume would exclude me from the same establishments. I don’t think there is a right to go into someone else’s property, even if I am expecting to pay.

And I don’t think B&B distributions really work like that. Christians don’t all move to Norfolk.

Amy Clare // Posted 25 March 2010 at 8:01 pm

@Ally: My point about Devon/Norfolk was a thought experiment intended to show that your reasoning is completely unsound. Straight people have the right to go on holiday wherever they like – gay people deserve that same right, they shouldn’t be restricted to establishments which specifically stipulate they are ‘gay friendly’. Imagine the ridiculousness of ‘straight friendly’ or ‘white friendly’ B&Bs.

At the risk of repeating myself, no-one is forcing the B&B owners to change their beliefs about the morality of gay sex, or gay bed-sharing, or anything else. Providing a gay couple with a double bed for the night *does not change* what the owners believe. The couple may have sex, or they may not – this *does not change* what the owners believe (and whether sex takes place is none of their damn business more to the point). They may find jizz-stained sheets or they may not – still, this *does not change* what the owners believe.

Here’s a question: should landlords be able to refuse to rent a house or flat to a gay couple? How about home-owners – should they be able to refuse to sell their house to a gay couple? How about building companies – they are facilitating gay sex by building houses where there are double bedrooms, right? Your position is absurd.

No-one is going to lock those B&B owners up for believing gay sex is a sin. Therefore they have their right to religious freedom.

Suppose a person owns a shop – this shop is their property, so according to you, they could turn away gay people too right? And black people? Disabled people? Every business premises is *someone’s* property. You say you don’t believe you have a right to go into such property, and you would accept being turned away, but if that really happened I doubt you’d be so calm about it. It is a privilege to be able to say ‘oh I wouldn’t mind if it happened to me’ – because it probably won’t happen.

Please try and think about what you’re saying in your comments – you are essentially advocating that certain business owners can discriminate and give free rein to their prejudices as they see fit. You have already said you think ‘No Blacks No Irish’ signs are acceptable. This is just outrageous.

*All* businesses need to be regulated in exactly the same way and none should be exempt from any legislation be that health and safety, equal rights or anything else. Otherwise, people potentially suffer – particularly employees or customers of that business. A B&B may not make billions of profits, or have shareholders, but *it is a business* that *makes money* – income for its owners and any staff they may have. It is the business of hospitality, their product is a room and food, which they sell in order to make money. Gay people have as much right to buy that product as straight people; that right is enshrined in law.

As myself and many others have said, you can believe what you like and control your own life choices but you can’t discriminate. If you don’t like the laws, don’t go into business.

Ally // Posted 25 March 2010 at 8:35 pm

A RIGHT to GO ON HOLIDAY where you want?WTF??!!! If somebody owns property they have a right to dispose of that property as they wish, including excluding people for capricious reasons, if they so wish. If that restricts your choices for where to go, tough shit, you should not have the right to claim access to someone else’s property.

Where public listed companies are concerned, there is additional regulation that is acceptable because companies accept those responsibilities in exchange for access to an economic facility, and banks and individuals provide the working capital to allow the business to run so. It is not regulation that should be applied just for opening your home to paying guests.

Ultimately this boils down to the following: I believe the right to do what you wish with your own property is a more important right than the right to equality in accessing someone else’s property. I don’t think anyone has any kind of right to go on holiday anywhere (unless they own the property), it is a luxury made available by people who are willing to provide that service.

george // Posted 26 March 2010 at 10:06 am

@Ally: like a jewish rabbi recently said, ‘rights leave no room for tolerance’. i think that’s half the issue right there. ‘rights’. there were these ancient desert nomads who believed not any one person should ever have rights. they did however believe everyone had responsibilities. that we were responsible for one another and our own well-being. but once we became responsible for our own well-being, it automatically assumed responsibility for protecting the needs of others.

if they at all claim a business, the laws & expectations are a bit different on what is and what isn’t acceptable.if we lose sight of that in this argument than we should be commenting on a different subject.

Julie K // Posted 26 March 2010 at 10:14 am

People have a right to access commercial goods and services without being discriminated against. It’s not a case of “a right to access someone else’s property” per se – obviously, I can’t just invite myself to go on holiday at Ally’s house, even should I wish to do so. But surely when you offer a product or service and advertise it to the public (as I presume the Wilkinsons did with their B&B) you cannot pick and choose which members of the paying, law-abiding public you are going to permit to purchase your service, or accept bookings and then turn people away as has occurred here.

Amy Clare // Posted 26 March 2010 at 10:27 am

@Ally:

Yes, a right to go on holiday where you want. What I meant by that is that all holiday accommodation is accessible to straight people, therefore straight people can pick and choose exactly where they want to go out of all the options available. Gay people deserve that same right.

I fear we’re going round in circles with this ‘it’s their property’ argument, because myself and several other people on this thread have pointed out repeatedly that a business run from a private home is still a business. It still makes money, and members of the general public are still paying for a service. Therefore it is still bound by the relevant legislation because *the general public need to be protected* in certain ways when purchasing goods and services. This is why health and safety and food hygiene laws exist, and also why anti-discrimination laws exist.

Most small businesses in the UK are not public limited companies – therefore what you are proposing is huge amounts of small businesses being able to behave exactly as they like towards their customers (and employees for that matter).

As another commenter pointed out and I have repeated, there are *already* laws which protect a home or business-owner from guests who are abusive/suspicious. You still have the right to eject someone from your home or business if they are behaving threateningly, causing trouble, haven’t paid, etc; what you don’t have a right to do is eject someone from your business purely because of their sexuality, race, etc.

The rights of business owners need to be balanced with the rights of the general public who buy their goods or use their services. If customers’ rights did not exist then you would have a world where you could die in a fire at a guest house from lack of fire exits or extinguishers, get food poisoning from a tin of beans, drown in a public swimming pool, or get left out in the cold with nowhere to go when your booked accommodation turns you away… all with no comeback in the law. Obviously you feel so strongly about the rights of businesses that you would gladly waive your rights as a customer, but not everyone should be expected to do so.

What it ‘boils down to’ actually is: the right of gay people to purchase goods and services on an equal footing with straight people is now enshrined in law – if you don’t like it, Ally, I suggest you lobby your MP for a change in the legislation.

@everyone: I’m aware that this thread is turning into a back-and-forth between me and Ally, and I apologise for that – I probably won’t post again. I’ve said everything that can be said on the subject anyway!

BareNakedLady // Posted 26 March 2010 at 2:02 pm

Ally: If somebody owns property they have a right to dispose of that property as they wish, including excluding people for capricious reasons, if they so wish.

By the same token, if someone rents a room for a night, they have the right to do what they want there. Including be gay.

Now you might say ‘no, certain things are not allowed’ – and no, they’re not, there are all sorts of laws preventing people from eg., dealing drugs while staying in a B&B. ***Being gay does not fall into this category.*** The law does not permit discrimination on grounds of sexuality.

“I don’t think anyone has any kind of right to go on holiday anywhere (unless they own the property), it is a luxury made available by people who are willing to provide that service.”

OK, hypothetical example: you travel from Cornwall to stay at a B&B for the Edinburgh Festival. You’ve gone by train, it’s expensive, you’ve carted your luggage about, you booked months in advance because everything fills up so early for those weeks. You turn up at the door, the owner looks at you, and says ‘oh, sorry but I see you bite your nails, I have a real thing about that. I know you booked and everything, but you can’t stay here.’

Do you think you would find that ‘capricious’ reason for rejecting you to be acceptable?

Ally // Posted 26 March 2010 at 8:23 pm

@Barenakedlady: you do not “rent a room” in a BandB you get a licence-a crucial difference:one is a contract, the other is a proprietary interest,so your remedies against the other person are on the contract.

Obviously, mr and mrs w breached their contract, and should be forced to pay damages for the cost and inconvenience of having to find somewhere else to stay as a result of that breach because they did not make it clear that gay couples were excluded. I would also argue that they should be liable for punitive damages-not recognised in english law currently- because they committed a strategic breach by not publicising that they did not allow gay people and therefore denying others the right to not give them their custom on that basis.

That is quite a different proposition from liability under Equality legislation which could force them to open their house to people they do not want there or lose their livelihood.

Sam // Posted 29 March 2010 at 4:41 pm

Brilliant post.

If you don’t want individuals whose lifestyles you disagree with in your home, don’t open up your home to the public. No-one *has* to have anyone they don’t want in their home, until they open their home to the public as a business. No-one forced them to open a B&B.

I wonder if they’re so discriminating with their Christian “values” when they’re taking money from their less obviously “un-Christian” guests. Do they do a CRB check to ensure they’re not allowing any criminials into their B&B. Or perhaps they send out Private Investigators to be clear that they won’t profit from any adulterers – the Bible’s not keen on them either. Do they require a marriage certificate from heterosexual couples just to be on the safe side – you wouldn’t want any pre-marital sex going on (pre-marital jizz is the worst! Although after gay jizz obv!)… Anyway, I can’t imagine this is a problem this establishment will have in future. Most gay people don’t hate themselves as much as it seems most “Christians” would like them to.

Christians like this pair of twerps don’t want “religious freedom”, because “religious freedom” gives their gay clientele as much right to NOT share their beliefs as they have to think gay people are hideous sinners.Voila – there we have it right there, religious freedom! What they want is exactly what this post says – privilege.

Paul Stanton // Posted 4 April 2010 at 10:51 pm

As usual, a few militant “we speak for all gay people!” activists are making a mountain out of nothing, and giving the rest of us a bad name. This B&B is run by deeply religious people (whether you think they are narrow minded bigots or not, it’s their views and their house). So what if we can’t stay there? For goodness sakes….. There are thousands of other B&Bs in this country which will take our pink pounds!

G // Posted 12 April 2010 at 1:10 pm

I find it interesting no one has mentioned the case that did occur last year in Austria: when a B&B owner told a Jewish family from Vienna (the B&B was in the Austrian Alps) that she didn’t want their kind there. This exact same type of discussion went on. The reality is: this discrimination on the basis of sexual preference or religion is illegal in both Austria and in the UK. Why does it require further discussion. Btw, that woman, as far as I know, did not have her license stripped nor was fined. In Austria, it’s apparently considered acceptable to discriminate agains Jews (they have a long history with the concept). I see that in the UK gays are in the same position.

How can one argue against laws protecting groups from discrimination by pretending they are being discriminated against? It is a form of mansplaining, but perhaps more majoritysplaining.

Julie K // Posted 12 April 2010 at 1:44 pm

@Paul Stanton, there may well be many B&Bs happy to take the pink pound, but unless they advertise themselves as such, how are you supposed to know which ones they are? I can’t see why gay people should be ghetto-ised into only staying in the doubtless very small number of B&Bs which advertise themselves as “gay-friendly” or whatever, when straight people can stay anywhere they like (funds permitting). The alternatives are either that you phone up beforehand and say before even trying to book a room, “oh, by the way, I’m gay, do you have a problem with that?” (and why on earth should anybody have to put themselves in that position every time they want to go away somewhere?) or turn up to a place you have pre-booked and risk being embarrassingly turned away.

I’m with G above, I don’t see why this requires discussion. It’s illegal discrimination, end of. If the B&B owners can’t abide by the law, they shouldn’t be running a B&B in the first place.

Troon // Posted 13 April 2010 at 11:19 am

I hate it when people seek to add ‘extras’ to discrimination posts, as if discrimination is fine against some well-off folk (esp. middle-class women), so please don’t see this as doing so, it’s just that the OP and Julie K (enjoyed your post, summarised the whole thread. Also congratulations on your part in the small Sainsbury’s re-labelling victory, credit on this site given to Pink Stinks ignoring the activism of its own members) have made the basic point in this context already.

This whole thread has discussed B&B clientele as merrie holidaymakers off to the tweeside or, at most, people with alternative homes seeking accommodation for a mini-break or one or two nights. Yet B&B and hostel accommodation provides for many of those who have no other shelter, who are not housed in response to ‘invitations to treat’, and who have every desire to avoid courts, not launch suits breaches of contract. And, although I accept Ally’s superior knowledge of the difference in conditions, it is the same legislation, with its deliberately loose definition of service, which protects people at the margins from being refused a house to rent or food to eat on the basis of their gender or sexuality. Given that the basic legal rights these people have are already not protected, how on earth does extending a property owner’s rights so they can refuse to accommodate anyone they disagree with help? Untrammelled property rights are not just about the evil of depriving people of a holiday, they are a legalised right for property owners to contribute (indirectly enough to escape sanction) to the already disproportionate numbers of deaths of women, gay, trans and mentally ill people in the most vulnerable groups. And until you can draw a clear legislative line between their rights in a B&B and those of happy sojourners, or between their right to food and that of a millionaire with a craving for caviar, always will be.

PS: Please note I am not attacking Christians’ record on homelessness here. Even if I don’t share their reasoning, the work done by many Church groups is essential. And I wouldn’t want those who provide those services to stop doing so because of the links I suggest here. Somehow, however, I don’t think it’s these Christians who are backing the calls for the religiously based right to discriminate. I wonder what this particular couple would have done when a scruffy young woman who looked as if she might bothersomely give birth at any point, whose partner wasn’t the father of her child, and who came from the wrong part of Judea, turned up at their inn, without even having bothered to book.

Ally // Posted 13 April 2010 at 6:48 pm

@Troon: there are plenty of ways of forcing institutions who profit from/ deal with homelessness in legal ways that do not affect their property rights e.g. by making it a requirement for their charitable status or by refusing to give them government contracts unless they comply with the policy. Obviously those ways require the responsible local authorities to, y’know actually think, and will be slower to be effective than just pushing out overreaching equality legislation that does the job rather crudely but does some violence to the property rights of individuals, and their ability to make a living without violating their own personal moral code.

It’s precisely because the legislation has been done in just such a crude way that it is open to contest- it ends up being inconsistent with other legislation and has to go to court where it will be balanced by a non-democratically accountable judge. Well done government.

Jeff // Posted 13 April 2010 at 7:35 pm

Troon – “I wonder what this particular couple would have done when a scruffy young woman who looked as if she might bothersomely give birth at any point, whose partner wasn’t the father of her child, and who came from the wrong part of Judea, turned up at their inn, without even having bothered to book.”

Amazing paragraph, really amazing.

Ally – “That is quite a different proposition from liability under Equality legislation which could force them to open their house to people they do not want there or lose their livelihood.”

This argument is utterly, utterly disingenuous. You are being fooled by the fact that the majority of B&B’s look like a house. This does NOT mean that their owners can flount equality laws anymore than the Chip Shop owner who lives upstairs in his/her shop can. Or the Doctor who lives in the flat above his/her surgery. Just because you happen to permanently reside in the same building that you work does not give you the right to refuse service to people of the wrong race/sex/sexuality/whatever.

Julie K // Posted 15 April 2010 at 12:36 pm

Love your last paragraph there, Troon, I would be fascinated to see how the B&B owners would respond if this scenario was put to them directly!

Ally // Posted 15 April 2010 at 3:28 pm

@ Jeff the same analysis would apply to a chip-shop. The point is that it’s their property, not just that it’s their home.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 15 April 2010 at 6:38 pm

But unless it is own by the state, every business premises, rented accommodation, even medical centres and hospitals are owned by somebody. So, you are basically saying equality legislation shouldn’t exist.

This also suggests your beliefs only apply in capitalist system. If we were all communists and no one owned any property, presumably B&B owners couldn’t turn people away?

Jeff // Posted 15 April 2010 at 6:45 pm

Ally,

Presumably, Barclay’s owns the property that their bank is in on the Nottingham High street. Do they have the right to refuse to serve gay people, because it’s their property?

Politicalguineapig // Posted 15 April 2010 at 8:45 pm

Ally: If a chip-shop owner, who was Christian, refused service to a woman in a hijab, would the woman have the right to sue? According to your logic, she would not, but I believe the courts would say something different.

If these guys wanted to discriminate, they should’ve gone into business as a “Christian B&B.” As it stands, they’re guilty of false advertising, at the very least.

polly // Posted 16 April 2010 at 5:08 am

“”As usual, a few militant “we speak for all gay people!” activists are making a mountain out of nothing, and giving the rest of us a bad name. “”

Giving the rest of us a bad name by expecting equal treatment? Expecting to be treated like human beings?

I actually don’t give a flying wotsit whether bigots let me book a room in their B&B or not. Indeed I hope that people will vote with their wallets in future and avoid this particular B&B. But that’s not the point.

As virtually every other commenter has said, if they don’t want to abide by the law, they shouldn’t be running a business. If their religion means they’re anti gay, fine, their choice. But they shouldn’t be running a business that conflicts with it. Why not start a different business that doesn’t involve people staying in their home in that case – no one forced them to run a B&B.

Whether your home is a ‘private’ or a ‘public’ place is beside the point, you still have to observe the law there. It’s not legal to murder someone if you do it at home, rather than on the street. So if you are running a business from home, you need to observe the law on running a business.

Ally // Posted 16 April 2010 at 12:01 pm

Barclay’s is a legal person, not a natural person, and it is entirely reasonable that a non-natural person should have different rights in respect to property than a natural person.

What the law is and what the law ought to be are not the same thing. Yes, I do completely oppose equality legislation, unless it relates to employing people, because I think everyone has a right to as wide a range of choices at making a living as possible. General equality legislation takes that further to force people to treat each other in a certain way. That belongs exclusively to the moral sphere, it is not something that the state can justify using coercion to bring about. It amounts to saying that people have rights to buy other people’s property, to demand services from them etc and that is a massive infringement on personal autonomy.

I find communism a morally repugnant system at the very core-freedom and autonomy require a capitalist system.

Yes as,I said, earlier, what the couple did in not advertising that they would refuse gay couples in advance is commit a strategic breach of contract which ought to result in punitive damages (but won’t because the doctrine does not exist in English Law). The appropriate response to people making such choices is for everyone to vote with their feet and choose not to go there-not to bring in the machinery of the state to stamp on a shrinking sphere of liberty.

Jeff // Posted 16 April 2010 at 12:50 pm

Ally, the “certain way ” that equality legislation forces people to treat everyone is EQUALLY. That doesn’t mean people have a right to buy other people’s property, it means people have no right to refuse to sell on the grounds of race/religion/sexuality/etc. It’s an infringement on autonomy in the same way that laws against theft are; what these laws are stopping are things that people had no right to do in the first place.

Quite honestly, these arguments you’re putting forward are what I’d expect from the BNP, not a feminist.

Julie K // Posted 16 April 2010 at 1:03 pm

Surely it wouldn’t be legal anyway for them to advertise that they discriminate against gay couples? I realise that Ally would probably disagree with that too, from the libertarian free-market standpoint which she seems to be adopting. But discrimination on grounds of sexuality is now illegal, whether or not the Wilkinsons and their supporters approve of that fact.

micearenice // Posted 16 April 2010 at 1:38 pm

@Ally

“..I do completely oppose equality legislation, unless it relates to employing people..”

I would be really interested in you defining your version of ‘feminism’ for us. I am surprised by the amount of time you spend arguing from a generally opposing point of view to the other commenters on a feminist website and was wondering what we have in common.

Ally // Posted 16 April 2010 at 3:11 pm

Julie K: the debate isn’t about what is and isn’t legal. It’s about what should and shouldn’t be legal.

I am a libertarian, first and foremost. I believe any rights a human being has come from self ownership and behaviour should not be restricted in any way unless it threatens the bodily integrity or property rights of someone else. Restrictions on people who are profiting from someone else’s labour on the circumstances in which they can do that is acceptable because there is always a form of duress involved in employment contracts. But whom you choose to sell your goods to, or provide your services to, or allow into your property is another matter.

Being a feminist as far as I am concerned requires me to 1. Believe that women and men are equal 2. Conduct my own life in a way that promotes that as the dominant view. I don’t think it requires me to believe in a more than minimal state, or to believe that state power is an acceptable road to political ends I would like to see achieved.

As far as that relates to the B&B: I wouldn’t be a customer at a B&B with such a policy, I wouldn’t invest in one, and if I was in a position to do so, I would not sell my own property to someone who I thought would operate such a policy (yes that’s right, sometimes my principals require me to treat people unequally!).

Feminist Avatar // Posted 16 April 2010 at 3:49 pm

Ally, I am not sure how these views are feminism. First and foremost, feminism is a social justice movement and the place of the state in enforcing social justice is a central tenet of feminism in modern democratic societies.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 16 April 2010 at 4:06 pm

Julie: I believe if they reorganized as an explicitly religious B&B, they would be allowed to discriminate. At least in U.S. law they probably would. I don’t know if English law makes a provision for religious businesses.

confused // Posted 16 April 2010 at 5:33 pm

Ally – I really, really don’t see how being 1) anti-choice 2) pro-discrimination and 3) anti-equality legislation fits with being a feminist. Are you sure you’re in the right place?

george // Posted 16 April 2010 at 6:37 pm

Om Anandham Namah.

have christians sinned against the gospel?

Julie K // Posted 16 April 2010 at 6:46 pm

“Julie K: the debate isn’t about what is and isn’t legal. It’s about what should and shouldn’t be legal. ”

Oh, is that what the debate is about? I do appreciate that’s your viewpoint – that it shouldn’t be legal – which was what I tried to put across in my post in saying that you would disagree with the fact that it is illegal. However while I know I’m not as well up on political issues as many people here, I think it’s clear that Ally’s particular, firmly held, brand of free market libertarian politics are likely to be at odds with the views of most people on here, as her view (as far as I can gather) is that state intervention should be minimal or non-existent with regard to restricting anyone’s autonomy, whereas I suspect most other contributors would feel there is a role for the state in tackling discrimination, and are inclined to welcome rather than oppose anti-discrimination legislation. I think these views are probably irreconcileable and there may not be much point continuing to argue about them!

Ally // Posted 16 April 2010 at 7:11 pm

As I’ve said, I don’t think believing in equality means believing that state coercion is a justified route to that end. There are lots of ways of supporting political change without supporting an extension of the state, so I don’t think the two things are incompatible. And there are lots of ways in which the state already interferes which need changing-such as the huge gulf between paternity and maternity leave.

Ulla // Posted 16 April 2010 at 7:57 pm

I think the whole argument boils down to the question whether different rules apply to different kinds of services: Should there be a difference in the demand for equal treatment if someone seeks employment, accomodation or food?

As far as I’m concerned, the answer is quite simply of course not. The reason for this is that there are lines to be drawn which are impossible to draw: What distinguishes a meal served in a restaurant from a bed provided at a B&B? That – potentially – sex is involved? That would mean that you could sell condoms to married couples only for a similar reason. The more one thinks about it the more absurd it gets.

Neither is it a valid argument that the B&B owners should get to decide who they allow to enter their property: If I hire someone for a job in my household (not that I had the money to do such a thing) I don’t get to discriminate on the basis of gender, ethnicity or anything else.

It would be different if the provider of the service in question excluded people beforehand. Even hotels and bars for women or gays only are not actually allowed to turn away heterosexual men, if they should seek their services. At least they aren’t in Germany, I don’t know about legislation in other countries.

@Ally: I, too, am against state control. I consider myself to be an anarchist. The point is, though, that social reality does not provide everyone inhabiting the earth or even any of our countries with the same means and opportunities.

Therefore, until we have achieved a state of human affairs in which everyone is capable to interact with everyone else as free and equal individuals, action has to be taken to alleviate social inequality.

polly // Posted 16 April 2010 at 8:53 pm

General equality legislation takes that further to force people to treat each other in a certain way.

No it doesn’t. Christians can still disapprove of me and I can still disapprove of them. They can refuse to invite me round to dinner if they want, they can refuse to be my friend, what they can’t do is refuse me a B&B room purely on the basis of my sexual orientation.

The supply of goods and services is a pretty essential thing. If I were banned from all the shops in my town on the basis of my sexual orientation, how would I get food? Similarly if I turned up at a room I’d pre booked to be told I wouldn’t be let in (say at 8 at night, after a day hiking) where am I supposed to stay instead?

Political guinea pig:, there are certain exceptions to equality legislation for religious organisations in the UK, however I don’t think you could stretch them to cover a B&B.

polly // Posted 16 April 2010 at 8:55 pm

Oh and communism is nothing to do with equality legislation. The central tenet of communism is that the workers control the means of production. In other words, it’s a co-operative, like the ones the Tories want to introduce.

Miloronic // Posted 17 April 2010 at 12:47 am

All very Philosophical but:

Do you not think that turning someone away because they are homosexual is just not very nice?

Isn’t it that simple?

polly // Posted 17 April 2010 at 9:35 am

Also Ally, your reiteration that you thought the owners of the B&B should have punitive damages awarded against them for breach of contract WOULD be a way of punishing them (that’s what punitive damages are). And the concept of punitive (or more correctly exemplary) damages does exist in English/welsh law, just not in breach of contract cases. (That’s enough law).

Semen is semen by the way, I’m not aware that gay men produce excessive amounts. And sometimes people can share a double bed without having sex at all, you know.

Ally // Posted 17 April 2010 at 1:23 pm

Oh, and my point about communism was in response to someone’s comment that a property analysis would not work in a scenario where property did not exist. In some formulations of communist ideology all property must be owned collectively.

Ulla // Posted 17 April 2010 at 4:19 pm

@Miloronic: I really don’t think that one could or should reduce the matter in hand to a question of good manners or politeness. Where would you draw a line between not being very nice and potentially harmful discrimination? Should someone be legally allowed to turn away said gay couple late at night if there is a gay friendly B&B next door, which is able to offer accomodation? If there is another B&B which is not run by religious people on the same street? If there is one at 20 minutes walking distance? etc. The way I see it, the whole point of anti-discrimination legislation is that I don’t have to tell people about my gender identity if I don’t want to and can expect equal treatment wherever I go.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 18 April 2010 at 7:30 am

Polly: Thanks for enlightening me. As I said before, I don’t really know the rules, but I’ve always understood that if one tacks on the word Christian to a business, it basically gives them a licence to discriminate in hiring, what services they will provide, etc. And if the B&B owners had explicitly advertised themselves as Christians, the couple in question would have known to avoid the business.

Melaszka // Posted 18 April 2010 at 11:09 am

My understanding of this case (correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I heard this on the TV news) is that the B and B owners did not refuse to rent this couple a room – they were happy to rent them two single rooms or a room with twin beds – but would not rent them a room with a double bed.

While I think the Wilkinsons’ position is ridiculous, discriminatory, utterly humiliating for the gay couple, totally wrong and quite rightly illegal, I don’t think it’s the thin end of the wedge that would allow gay couples to be excluded from restaurants/thrown out on the street late at night without anywhere to sleep.

I imagine the Wilkinsons would argue that their position is not analogous to the “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish” notices of the 1960s, because they are not excluding people based on who they are, but forbidding certain behaviour on the premises. They would be happy to have gay people staying in their guest house, but not to allow them to have gay sex on the premises. I imagine that they would see this as being analogous to no smoking B and Bs or vegetarian B and Bs (who are happy to accept smokers and meat-eaters respectively, as long as they don’t smoke/eat meat while they are in the B and B).

But, of course, it is not analogous, because no smoking/vegetarians don’t allow anyone to smoke/eat meat in their house, while this couple are allowing other people to have sex on their premises, just not gay people. So it’s still discriminatory.

gadgetgal // Posted 18 April 2010 at 11:24 am

@Melaszka – she didn’t offer them an alternative, I found this quote from her on the BBC:

Ms Wilkinson told the BBC: “They gave me no prior warning and I couldn’t offer them another room as I was fully booked.”

So no, no alternative offered, and yes, B&B owner still an idiot.

Julie K // Posted 18 April 2010 at 11:39 am

If that’s true, Melaszka, it’s pretty stupid of them to believe, or claim to believe, that sex can only take place in a double bed! (Or, indeed, that two people sharing a double bed automatically means they will have sex.)

Ally // Posted 18 April 2010 at 2:56 pm

Julie K; it is not stupid to control what is within your control just because it is not a foolproof method of stopping someone determined to do something. Not letting your teenager sleep over at a girlfriends’ house won’t stop him/her having sex in the day, but it will send a message about what you do and don’t think is acceptable and keep them out of the circumstances when they are most likely to engage in it. Also it isn’t just gay sex they disapprove of but gay romantic relationships, so just being in the same bed is objectionable to them.

As far as I am aware the Christian religion does not require christians to do everything in their power to stop gay people having sex, it just requires them not to behave or speak in a way that affirms the behaviour.

Julie K // Posted 18 April 2010 at 4:43 pm

Ally: But they would be having a romantic relationship whether they slept in the same bed or not. Or is that OK as long as the B&B owners can pretend they don’t know about it?

Anyway, I’ve shared beds, for the sake of convenience, with many people over the years including my children, my mother and my friends (not all at the same time…) with none of whom I was engaged in a romantic and/or sexual relationship. Bed-sharing or not bed-sharing is hardly a foolproof indicator.

Legible Susan // Posted 18 April 2010 at 5:30 pm

@Ally:

the Christian religion […] just requires them not to behave or speak in a way that affirms the behaviour.

I no longer call myself a Christian, but I’m pretty dam’ sure it does no such thing. Yes, some churches are riddled with homophobia, but don’t accuse the whole religion.

childerowland // Posted 18 April 2010 at 6:49 pm

Actually, Christians have different views on homosexuality. There are plenty of Christians who regard it as completely acceptable.

http://www.outcomeonline.org.uk/index.php?pageid=linkchri

Anna // Posted 18 April 2010 at 7:13 pm

Actually, I believe the Bible says they should be put to death by stoning. Religion, indeed.

Amy Clare // Posted 18 April 2010 at 7:53 pm

@Julie K:

I agree; the same B&B owners who turned away the gay couple have probably had several gay people staying at their B&B before. Gay couples have probably booked a twin room, pretended to be ‘friends’ and either pushed the beds together, or slept separately but had sex in one of the single beds, or any combination of the above… etc… And the owners probably took their money and thought ‘what nice people’.

Mobot // Posted 18 April 2010 at 7:57 pm

Well I’m oddly glad to see that the F word is practising what it preaches about inclusion (by letting Ally continue extolling her views). I’m aware that there are liberal feminists whose main concern is with seeing women achieve economic parity with men and who believe that the capitalist system makes this possible (which I personally find naive at best). I’d hate for any feminist to feel excluded in a feminist safe space. I’d also hate for a majority to dictate to a minority who gets to be in the ‘feminist club’… but at the end of the day, we have to define feminism somehow, and if you hold views that deliberately leave room for discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexuality, I’d say think twice before labelling yourself as a feminist.

Anyway, I just want to say that being Christian or even running a Christian business does not require you to discriminate. Nor does it stop you from ‘affirming the behaviour’ of LGBT people. I am a card carrying feminist, and believe a prerequisite for this is having strong views on sexuality and gender identity. I am an agnostic but I work for the YMCA, which is of course a Christian organisation. There’s no way you’d catch me working for an organisation that even hinted ever so slightly at not being cool with people’s diverse sexualities. I also find it odd that some of the comments about how gay people would just choose not to access a service if it proclaimed itself to be Christian. Do you seriously think there are no (openly) gay Christians? Ok, I’m in no way religious but I don’t like to see a massively diverse community written off like that, particularly when I know plenty of fair-minded Christians of all sexualities.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 18 April 2010 at 8:58 pm

Mobot: In my experience, it’s taken as a given that any business that advertises as a ‘Christian business” is usually run by fundamentalists. Thus, it would be unfriendly to homosexuals.

And yes, I know that not all Christians are fundamentalists, but the fundamentalists are the ones who shout the loudest.

Melaszka // Posted 18 April 2010 at 9:39 pm

@gadgetgal

Thanks for the clarification. I obviously heard wrong. OK, so perhaps it IS the thin end of the throwing gay couples out on the street wedge…

Ally // Posted 18 April 2010 at 9:43 pm

Obviously I meant the particular interpretation of Christianity that mr and mrs w would have to be following to hold those views, not every possible Christian view. Either you think I am very very stupid or you’re simply looking for things to trip me up on.

I’ve stated what my view on feminism is, and I think Mobot outlined it pretty well. You better give me a card or else I might faint and need smelling salts and then where would we be!

Ally // Posted 18 April 2010 at 9:53 pm

Just as an aside: I’ve had relationships with both men and women, so I am both on board with the aim of getting people of different sexualities treated equally and have a personal vested interest in bringing that about. I’ve also come close to being turned away from a B and B when I had nowhere else to go for precisely the reason that this couple did (fortunately in the end the muslim owners were content with just mocking). But I strongly believe that this isn’t the kind of change that ought to be brought about by legislation. It should be brought about by boycotting places with such policies and patronising, owning or investing in businesses that do treat people equally.

Julie K // Posted 19 April 2010 at 9:26 am

Mobot – I agree, I don’t see why “Christian” should automatically be seen as a synonym for “homophobic” (although it might be a warning sign in some circumstances).

I’m not religious, but I know there are plenty of gay Christians out there who obviously don’t feel that Christianity should exclude them.

Julie K // Posted 19 April 2010 at 10:40 am

I feel that relying on the market to bring about change is a pretty hit or miss method of achieving equality. Do you think that if sex discrimination and race relations legislation etc had never been introduced, these things would come about naturally? I don’t believe so. Even with legislation in place we still don’t have equality, I dread to think what the situation would be like without it.

gadgetgal // Posted 19 April 2010 at 10:48 am

@Mobot, Julie K and Politicalguineapig

I think the difference here is the UK and the US (so far as the word “Christian” equalling homophobic, I mean). I agree with Mobot and Julie K that in this country the two words aren’t necessarily synonymous, but I also get where Politicalguineapig is coming from – it’s not the same in the US, and however nice some of the Christian people are that I know there, it’s generally a rule of thumb that the two go together. Of course this isn’t always the case in more populated areas like the big cities, but most Americans don’t live in big cities and are more traditional in their outlook and I found many more instances of people taking the bible literally (seriously).

But Mobot and Julie K are right about this country – most Christians I’ve met here (and I include some among my closest friends) would NEVER discriminate against LGBT folk. They consider Christianity to be their guide for their OWN behaviour, not anyone else’s, and they genuinely don’t judge. In fact two of my Christian friends are dating two of my LEAST religious friends (and coming from an atheist that’s way not religious!) but they’re not going to try and save their souls or anything – they all realise across the board that it’s all a matter of personal choice. When we chat I don’t feel I have to hide the experimentation and pre-marital sex any more than they have to hide that they don’t believe in sex before marriage and they hang out with church groups for fun!

Respect is extolled as a biblical virtue – that’s where this couple missed the point, both legally and religiously!

Troon // Posted 19 April 2010 at 11:02 am

@Melaszka

As far as I understand it in terms of law, were the Wilkinsons themselves discriminated against they’d have to show not just belief but a consistency in behaviour across their life (not just in their business), which is tricky, since not doing anything which facilitates homosexual romantic relationships is almost impossible. Which may be why all their defenders have added ‘in their home’ to the list of justifications. And that’s why I feel the ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument is important, because if it is accepted as a point of principle that property holders should be able to discriminate, then it is accepted that they should be free to turn away a starving woman because she’s a woman, or refuse her accommodation. And since property is disproportionately held by men, this means a practical transfer of potentially life-saving women’s rights to men.

I’m not saying that I think Equality Legislation does guarantee rights-in this respect I agree with Ally. It is effectively a cost free statement of what should be from the powerful, that is rarely acted upon (the Wilkinsons admit to breaking the law, imagine proving it if they just went ‘sorry, double booked, silly us’). For all the public-private discussion here it bears most strongly on devolved governmental functions-local authority housing and welfare provision-where it overrides the will of local electors, and makes discrimination much less likely. Yet it is important, because those services deal with some of the most marginal groups, and generally because it shows a state willing, on our behalf, to be clear that its most vulnerable citizens need protection from those with property and power, and that discrimination is absolutely wrong. If there is a worrying ‘thin end of the wedge’ here it is arguing that from this case those principles should be abandoned. But I’m not sure this is what Ally is doing and hence how far that point is worth making-she seems to be saying those principles are flawed and that property holding is and should always be key.

Mackenzie // Posted 26 April 2010 at 3:58 am

If the issue was really “jizz covered sheets” couldn’t they just have a “No Fucking” rule and be done with it? Keep the straight jizz, the gay jizz, and the bi jizz out of the way!

Though if the issue is “no sinners”… do they turn away people wearing linsey woolsey or poly/cotton blends? What about unmarried straight couples? Married straight couples in possession of condoms? Women who’ve had abortions? Divorced people?

gadgetgal // Posted 15 May 2010 at 10:19 am

Update – the gay couple are going to sue the B&B owners:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8683949.stm

coldharbour // Posted 16 May 2010 at 10:00 am

“I am a libertarian, first and foremost. I believe any rights a human being has come from self ownership and behaviour should not be restricted in any way unless it threatens the bodily integrity or property rights of someone else.”

The word ‘libertarian’ is not to be used in relation to the structure of capitalistic tyranny. If your confused about the nomenclature I would watch this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxPUvQZ3rcQ

Sandi // Posted 16 May 2010 at 4:29 pm

Mackenzie, your post makes me laugh! If they’re worried about their precious sheets, maybe they should also ban menstruating women in case there’s any bloody little accidents. Or what about kids who might be bedwetters? The list goes on and on….

These freaky B & B owners have issues with knobs on! Wooooooooo.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 16 May 2010 at 5:58 pm

Mckenzie: If any hotel did have a “No fucking” rule for straights, I’d suspect they’d go out of business.

gadgetgal: I’m glad to hear the couple isn’t taking this lying down. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts.

Amy Clare // Posted 17 May 2010 at 9:46 am

Please note that I won’t be publishing any more comments along the lines of ‘it’s their house and they can do what they like’, as I feel this argument has already been stated and refuted several times on this thread, and so it adds nothing to the debate – which is pretty much over, in any case.

Dan // Posted 18 May 2010 at 10:07 pm

All those people who try to argue that because their B&B was operating out of their home they should be allowed to discriminate need to understand something. No body is forcing them to have and operate a B&B. They made the choice of opening a B&B and open up those rooms to the Public. When they did that the where now required to abide by the rules of society in respect to public accommodations and public business. Now if they didn’t realize that this meant that they had to accommodate gays and lesbians than they always have the choice of shutting down their B&B but they do not have the right to violate the law. Banning gays and lesbians from a B&B is no different from banning someone who is Black or an interracial couple, or who is Jewish. The only difference is that some people still think it is social acceptable bash gay people. If the B&B owner had tried to argue that letting a Jew, Black couple, or even unmarried heterosexual couple, from staying at the B&B violated their religion and that they should be allowed to discriminate society would come down on them hard. That is why society came down on that Justice of the Peace in Louisiana who tried to argue that he had a legal right to refuse to perform interracial marriages. Main stream society sees such actions as discriminatory, archaic, and unacceptable. Unfortunately that kind of condemnation has not yet come to be applied to matters respecting gays and lesbians.

gadgetgal // Posted 19 August 2010 at 8:12 am

The case for the B&B hasn’t come up yet but the Catholic charity versus gay adoption has and it’s been rejected, so things looking good for the Equality Act!!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11019895

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