Britain's not so equal equality laws

Conservative Christians are finding that, regardless of what the law says, in reality they are not as equal as some.

Christian guesthouse owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull have since 1986 let out their double rooms to heterosexual married couples only. This decision, they say, was based on their deeply held belief about marriage and “not hostility to anybody”.

Now they have been told by a court judge that their policy is unlawful and they must pay £3,600 in damages to civil partners Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall, who were turned away from the guesthouse after it became apparent that their booking had not been made for a heterosexual couple.

That they felt inconvenienced and even offended is reasonable enough – the Bulls had failed to warn Preddy and Hall about their policy at the time of booking, meaning that the pair had travelled all the way to the Cornish guesthouse only to be told that their booking would not be honoured.

Yet this case has rightly horrified even non-Christians and homosexuals, including Peter Tatchell, for a number of reasons, not least because of what it says about the right – or non-right now as it appears - of Christians to live according to their conscience.

Not only has Judge Andrew Rutherford effectively redefined marriage in the eyes of British law, his ruling has pierced through the last line of defence for Christians and into the one sphere where they were able to live according to their faith beliefs without the interference of the state – the privacy of the home.

Had the Chymorvah guesthouse been a business run on a solely business premises, the judge’s ruling would have made legal sense, whatever one may think of it personally. But the Chymorvah is also the family home of the Bulls. The reason for the policy was the Bulls’ unwillingness to facilitate what they regarded as immoral activity under their roof.

It is incredible that anyone, let alone a quite harmless elderly Christian couple, could be penalised for a policy that upheld the notion of marriage between one man and one woman, which until Judge Andrew Rutherford’s ruling last week had been the state’s definition of marriage too.

Some Christians feel that this case is the perfect example of Christians imposing their beliefs on the rest of the world where they have no right to. Yet this case begs the question: who was forcing their beliefs onto whom?

Regardless of their own personal views about homosexuality, the Bulls offered to accommodate Preddy and Hall in separate single rooms to spare them the greater inconvenience of having to find somewhere else to stay at the last minute. They essentially offered a compromise. Accepting the offer and putting the incident down to a bad experience would have been the generous thing to do on the part of Preddy and Hall.

Instead, they sued the Bulls knowing that a ruling against them was not only likely to have a detrimental impact on their business, but would also force them to withdraw their policy and accept behaviour in their own home that they deem to be unconscionable. Effectively, Preddy and Hall sued the Bulls with a view to imposing their own beliefs onto them.

What this case has sadly demonstrated is that when it comes to the rights of homosexuals and the rights of Christians to live according to their different beliefs, the rights of homosexuals take precedence in the eyes of the law.

There is something stifling about the inflexibility with which the equality laws are being applied towards Christians and it is society as a whole that suffers, because who wants to live in such an intolerant world where laws that are supposed to enhance life are in effect being used to prod those who do not hold the majority view?

Although we’re a long way off being persecuted in Britain, it remains the case that if there were true religious freedom in this country, then we would not have seen such disgracefully biased applications of the equality laws against Christians – the closure of Catholic adoption agencies because of their stance on homosexuality is a case in point.

This is a development under the equality laws that must be challenged by Christians and rectified by the Government, because time and time again Christians are being made to pay one way or another for staying true to the convictions they are entitled to hold – and express.

As Hazelmary Bull said after the ruling, "It seems some people are more equal than others."

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