There was a lot of coverage last week in the media on the outcome of the case of Hall & Preddy v Bull & Bull involving the clash of religious beliefs and gay rights. It wasn’t an employment case but a dispute over discrimination (against a homosexual couple) in service provision, in this case Mr & Mrs Bull, a devout Christian couple who ran a B&B and refused to allow Mr Hall and Mr Preddy to stay in their B&B because it offended their religious beliefs.
It’s a very readable Judgment, particularly the opening paragraphs. For an excellent analysis of the law see Mrs Markleham’s blog here and for a thoughtful counter-argument from Steven Mather see here.
The Judge held it to be an instance of “direct discrimination”, as opposed to “indirect discrimination”, because only married (and thus heterosexual) couples were allowed to take a double room, which disadvantaged Messrs Hall and Preddy because (being gay) they were in a civil partnership. The relevant law is contained in the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. The crucial point is that those Regulations specifically provide that there no distinction is to be made between married couples and those in a civil partnership (s.3(4)),
In the workplace both religious belief and sexual orientation are protected by legislation, as they are in service provision cases. What happens when both collide, as here? The Judge held that the gay couple were entitled to compensation and awarded them £1,800 each. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Christian corner over how their rights had been infringed. The Judge did give leave to appeal and it will be interesting to see if Mr and Mrs Bull do pursue what is a very difficult issue of competing rights in a free society.
I think there are two points to make about this;
- This case doesn’t mean that Christians have to accept homosexual people into their homes if they don’t want to. In this case they were running a business – a B&B – a very different matter. They weren’t obliged to let Messrs Hall & Preddy into their private quarters.
- Discrimination is always wrong. For instance, if the guests had been refused entry because they were black, or Jewish, or disabled (remember why Glenn Hoddle resigned as England manager?) what would have been the reaction then?
In Thursday’s The Independent a letter writer posed the question “what would have happened had a couple called Mary (heavily pregnant) & Joseph turned up at the B&B and announced they needed a bed for the night and then announced that Joseph wasn’t the biological father”? How would Mr and Mrs Bull’s religious convictions dealt with that one?