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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Christian hotel owners caught out being economical with the truth about who can sleep in their double beds

The Christian couple who were found guilty this week of discriminating against homosexuals at their bed and breakfast in Cornwall have been challenged by the National Secular Society over their supposed policy of refusing double beds to unmarried heterosexual couples.

Peter and Hazelmary Bull claimed they have a long-standing policy of banning all unmarried couples — both heterosexual and gay — from sharing a bed at the Chymorvah Hotel in Marazion near Penzance.

At a hearing last month, Peter and Hazelmary Bull claimed they have a long-standing policy of banning all unmarried couples — both heterosexual and gay — from sharing a bed at the Chymorvah Hotel in Marazion near Penzance.

But the National Secular Society can confirm that this policy was not applied to one of its own Council members. Dr Ray Newton stayed at the hotel in a double room with his female partner in 2006. They were not trying to pass themselves off as a married couple. Dr Newton said they were never asked whether they were married – and it never occurred to him that it would be an issue.

Dr Newton said: “We made no bones about our not being married and nobody asked any questions either before we arrived, while we were there or after we left. It never occurred to us that this might be a problem in a hotel in Britain in the 21st century.

“I have stayed in hotels with my partner all around the world, from the USA to China and this has never been an issue for us,” said Dr Newton. “We had no idea before we arrived that the owners of Chymorvah Hotel were evangelical Christians or that they had a policy about unmarried couples. It was only after we went to our room and found religious tracts all over the place — including in the bathroom — that we had any indication that religion was an issue for the owners of the establishment.”

Mr Bull and his wife said their policy, in operation since they bought the hotel in 1986, is based on their beliefs about marriage rather than on hostility to a particular sexual orientation. Mrs Bull told the court: "We accept that the Bible is the holy living word of God and we endeavour to follow it as far as we are able. We have a kind of routine we go through with folk. It is never our intention to offend so we try to make it as gracious and as helpful as we can."

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society commented: “The court has rightly resisted the pernicious claim that exercising ‘conscience’, be it Christian or any other kind, is carte blanche to break the law. It is just as reprehensible to refuse accommodation on the grounds of sexual orientation as race. Lawful activities conducted behind closed doors are no legitimate concern of those running businesses. The argument that this was a private home is undercut by the fact it has a large sign outside proclaiming it to be a (seven bedroom) hotel.

“This is yet another example of the growing militancy by evangelical Christians demanding privileges for their followers through courts and employment tribunals. Fortunately, all the cases they have brought to court have so far been spectacularly unsuccessful. For them, even losing has its benefits: it becomes another opportunity to play the “persecuted Christians” card – so beloved of Lord Carey and his cronies.”

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell commented: “If the court had ruled that the Bull's were allowed to ban gay couples from sleeping together in the same room, it would have opened the floodgates to a deluge of similar religious-motivated claims for exemption from the equality laws.

"We could have ended up with some Jewish supermarket workers demanding the right to not handle pork, Muslim restaurant staff refusing to serve alcohol and Christian solicitors declining to represent gay or cohabiting heterosexual couples.”

Tatchell added: "Businesses would grind to a halt, and social cohesion decline, as religious fundamentalists of all hues claimed the right to discriminate on faith grounds. Our equality laws would soon be in shreds. Discrimination would become rampant again. It would be hugely damaging to harmonious community relations".

Read more on this story at WalesOnline

See also:

Are the law’s Judaeo-Christian roots withering?

Young gay men to be stoned to death in Iran

Published Fri, 21 Jan 2011