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Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Gay couple in B&B row win court case

"The law is a[n] ass" supposed Mr Bumble in Dickens' Pickwick Papers. An ass it may well be, but yesterday - in a groundbreaking decision - the law judged B&B owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull of acting illegally in denying a room to a gay couple. And rightly so.

The couple were awarded £1800 each in damages.

This case has been the subject of intense debate in recent months. Conservative MP Chris Grayling even went so far as to publicly back the B&B owners' position. Some more fundamentalist Christian groups have alleged that this represents an anti-faith conspiracy and that the Bulls are victims of a deliberate campaign by the pro-gay lobby to discredit their belief system.

Hazelmary Bull issued a statement in which she complained that in today's society "some people are clearly more equal than others" and stressed that her policy not to let rooms to unmarried couples extended to heterosexual as well as homosexual people. It was a shocking admission of discriminatory practice and a strange one coming from an adherent of a religion whose founder preached "do not judge, for as you judge so you to will be judged".

The Bulls are not being discrimiated against on the basis of their beliefs - which they are entitled to hold and express. They're simply being told that legally, if they wish to provide a public service, they can't discriminate as to whom the service is offered on the basis of sexuality. Like Peter Tatchell, I would defend to the hilt someone's right to express their beliefs, even if that person happens to be expressing views I find repugnant. However, it is another thing entirely to actively deny someone the right to receive a service that is freely offered to others. Allowing the Bulls to continue with their unreasonably discriminatory practices would require a raft of equality laws to be revisited and tightened following a probable deluge of similar exemption claims.

The Bulls' actions were intolerant and judgemental; the defence of their position ill-judged and arrogant. I for one am delighted that behaviour which was clearly unethical has now also been deemed unlawful.

Furthermore, the Bulls' behaviour was far from Christian. Most Christians I know are not homophobes - in fact, some of them are gay. I was speaking with one of my gay Christian friends yesterday about this very issue. His response was along thse lines: "homosexuality is becoming more normalised now, even in the church. These people are forcing their beliefs onto others, which is hardly very Christian. They're also very judgemental and seem more pre-occupied with people's sexual practices and living arrangements than anything else about them. I can't imagine Jesus Christ behaving like that, you know, he was with the lepers, the down-and-outs, the prostitutes and other people who were rejected by their society. Come to think of it, I can't see anyone in my church holding such disgraceful attitudes towards gay people."

I completely agree. But so often whenever Christians are in the news, it's usually because of some fundamentalist stance they're making which is unfair on the growing ranks of liberally-minded churchgoers who are inevitable tarrd with the same brush. So why don't all the moderate, sensible, tolerant Christians out there reclaim their faith from the fundamentalists - and while they're at it help kick homophobia into touch?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is your advice to the Church of Scotland? What do you think of its sitting on the fence attitude?

Andrew said...

Hi, I deliberately avoided referring to the C of S specifically, but since you asked...

My own personal view echoes that expressed by the church's Life & Voice magazine in April 2009: "it's time for the Kirk to lead the way, to be true to its reforming character, as it has done over many issues over decades and centuries...dissenters, who have taken ordination vows to preserve the unity and peace of the Church, perhaps ought to agree to differ on this and allow the Church of Scotland to remain a broad and inclusive church that can celebrate its diversity".

I don't see why diversity should be a problem. I believe in an inclusive church. What can be more contradictory than a church which preaches inclusivity - and is tolerant of evolving social attitudes on many issues - yet remains firmly opposed to "the homosexual lifestyle" (whatever that is).

Of course, the Church is finally, after many years of internal struggle, going to have to tackle this issue directly later this year. I hope it has the courage to remain true to its radical tradition and its broadly liberal underpinnings.

What specific position do I think the C of S should have? i don't think it should necessarily adopt one. At least not in the short term. That doesn't mean I advocate "sitting on the fence" but that the church should recognise the healthiness of differing views within it and not seek any to-down imposition of a particular line. It must ditch the antiquated "anti-homosexual lifestyle" stance but thereafter must allow local congregations to make decisions about, for example, the ordination of gay ministers. The leadership of the C of S must lead, but not in a heavy-handed manner that could alienate traditionalists.

In my view, it's not just a question for the General Assembly of the C of S. This issue requires the more moderate, liberally-minded Christians to stand up. For too long the intolerant minority have been the most vocal and are consequently deemed to reflect mainstream Christian opinion. That must change.

Having said this, at least the C of S is in open debate. In this respect, it's being far more honest and - dare I say it - showing itself to be far more in tune with public sympathies than many other denominations.

As I said in the main post, the challenge is to marginalise the fundamentalist position and reclaim the argument from the traditionalist minority - not to develop hostility between those with different viewpoints.

Don Harrison said...

I am an out Christian in my church here in Cambridgeshire. For me it is just not an issue.

I was at Spring Harvest (a Christian workshop) in 2010. The topic was "Through different Eyes". There were two sessions about Church and Gays. Andrew Marin from Chicago was the speaker, Pete Broadbent (Bishop of Willsden) the Chairmen, and both Steve Chalke and a London Baptist Minister where on the "stage" too. The very large room was packed.
Andrew Marin a straight man told us how he works with churches to accept gays into their churches and with gays they they feel comfortable with church.
I bought his book "Love is an Orientation" which I recommend you can get via Amazon.

Andrew said...

Thanks Don! I'll definitely take a look at the book! I doin't think this is really an issue; at least not among most of teh Chroistians I know. It's a shame a few individual Christians in relation with the tabloid press and a few Tory MPs seem to want to make it one.

I know of Spring Harvest although have never been myself - good to see that it's becoming more and more common for gay people to find themselves accepted - as of course they should be!