In February 2012, the Court of Appeal upheld an earlier ruling that B&B owners acted unlawfully when they turned away a gay couple. Some have claimed that this is putting protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation above religious rights. But this is a false distinction.
In 2008 guesthouse owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull cancelled the booking made by Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, who are in a civil partnership, they did so on supposedly Christian grounds. However, while free to hold and express their views, in offering public services, they were obliged to treat everyone equally.
For instance, a careworker may refrain from drinking tea and eating bacon sandwiches on religious grounds, and hand out leaflets in her spare time on why this is a good thing. But if she left an elderly client hungry and thirsty because she would not make him a cup of tea or unwrap his bacon sandwich, she would not be carrying out her professional responsibility.
Likewise, however much a B&B owner detested Christianity and disliked the notion of having prayers said in his establishment, if he cancelled a couple’s booking when he discovered that they were Christian, he would be acting unlawfully. The law protects everyone, Christians included.
What is more, many Christians might believe, on account of their faith, that discrimination of the kind practised by the Bulls was wrong. Even some who were not keen on same-sex partnerships (and of course many Christians are themselves civil partners) would regard inhospitality as highly unlikely to attract others to Christ.
Many Christians would settle for trying to treat others as they would wish to be treated, in a pluralistic society.
(c) Savi Hensman is a Christian commentator on society, religion and politics. She works in the care and equalities sector, and is an Ekklesia associate.