More Skirmishes at Christian-Owned Bed & Breakfasts

Small-town Christians across the world have found a new way to lash out against same-sex couples whose “lifestyles” they don’t agree with: banning them from their motels and Bed-and-breakfasts (B&Bs). It’s an issue that has come up several times in the U.S. and it’s also making headlines overseas.

A decision has been issued in a major British case determining the legality of discriminating against same-sex couples in businesses (as if it were ever up for discussion). According to Law and Religion U.K., back in March 2010, Michael Black and John Morgan made a reservation and paid a deposit for a room at the Swiss Bed and Breakfast in Cookham. When they arrived, the owner, Suzanne Wilkinson, said she couldn’t let them stay in a room with a double bed because of her religious beliefs.

Michael Black (left) and John Morgan (via The Times)

The couple filed a lawsuit under Britain’s Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, claiming direct or indirect discrimination based on their sexual orientation or their marital status:

The claimants contended either that they had been subjected to direct discrimination contrary to Regulation 3 (1) because, on the grounds of their sexual orientation, Mrs. Wilkinson had treated them less favourably than she would have treated others or that her policy of restricting access to double rooms to those who were “heterosexual and preferably married” was indirect discrimination contrary to Regulation 3 (3), because that criterion put homosexual people at a disadvantage by virtue of the fact that they could never be heterosexual or married.

Britain’s Court of Appeal ruled on Tuesday that Wilkinson’s treatment of the couple amounted to both direct and indirect discrimination, according to law professor Howard Friedman‘s blog, Religion Clause, though it does give a nod to the importance of religious freedom. Christian activists seem to think the decision invites new methods of shutting out gays based on religious beliefs.

From the decision:

It is clearly established that, as a matter of general principle, (i) the right of a homosexual not to suffer discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is an important human right (article 8 and 14), and (ii) the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief under article 9(1) is also an important human right…. Neither is intrinsically more important than the other. Neither in principle trumps the other. But the weight to be accorded to each will depend on the particular circumstances of the case.

The Christian Institute, the Christian charity that paid for Wilkinson’s appeal, wrote in a press release that because religious expression is “intrinsically” just as important as equal rights for LGBT people, “there is hope” for other B&B owners who want to keep discriminating against gay couples. Because the U.K. has yet to legalize marriage equality, anti-gay Christians could simply limit their services to married couples.

The Institute says:

In this particular case, the Court said Mrs, Wilkinson’s policy would not be justified because she could convert her B&B to single bed accommodation without it having a fatal economic impact on her.

That would open the door for other B&Bs to maintain a ‘married couples only’ policy for double rooms, if they can show the policy is justified. Such cases will depend on their particular facts.

Thousands of miles away, a similar conflict is bubbling in New Zealand, where the owners of the Pilgrim Planet lodge in Whangarei turned away Jane Collison and Paula Knight, a lesbian couple, even after they had made a reservation for a room with a king-size bed.

[Owner Michael] Ruskin said he had to shut down his Facebook page after it was deluged with abusive messages from around the world, and that he and his wife received two death threats by email and in a voice message, which they referred to the police.

In a written statement agreed to at mediation, they have since apologised for “humiliation and inconvenience” caused to Ms. Collison when the same-sex couple turned up at the lodge after driving to Whangarei from their home near Kaitaia.

Though Ruskin and his wife apologized to the couple, though perhaps not by choice, they also said they would continue to forbid same-sex couples from sharing rooms with one bed.

The Ruskins added in the statement that they wished to be able to live according “to our consciences and beliefs.” When asked by the Herald if Ms. Collison and her partner would be welcome back at the lodge, Mr. Ruskin initially said: “Not as a same-sex couple.”

He then said he had nothing against the couple and didn’t want the issue stirred up again. But when asked whether same-sex guests in general could stay at Pilgrim Planet, he said: “They will not get a double bed — I’m sticking to my principles.”

Nobody is asking these people to abandon their religious beliefs. Nobody is imposing new “codes of morality” on them. Nobody is asking for special treatment. If the thought of two men or two women in your hotel room is so horrific, perhaps consider another profession — one that doesn’t require you to be a decent human being. Your beliefs don’t justify discrimination.

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.


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