Since I'm apparently only posting about the UK today, I may as well comment on the decision of the case of the B&B owners in Cornwall that turned away an English gay couple. The court found in favor of the gay couple and fined the B&B owners £3600.
There's been plenty of sturm und drang in the British mainstream media about this case, about how it's their home and Good Christians shouldn't have to accept just any behavior in their home. I wonder about how a licensed business that has to follow a myriad of laws that homes don't suddenly became sealed off from the outside world, from the community and its standards. Is it a house when we're talking about laws some people think are silly and a business when serious laws, like those about electric work and book-keeping, are being discussed?
But that's not really the problem since if the couple in question chose to discriminate in a less socially acceptable fashion no one would be pulling out their hair here. The Daily Mail, which ran a particularly wishy-washy column on the affair, actually got the bottom of the situation:
Some people have drawn parallels with landladies in 1950s London who put up signs in their windows saying 'No blacks'. But such a prohibition, though actually legal in those days, was not supported by mainstream Christian churches in this country or validated by biblical study. It was prejudice pure and simple -- nasty, mean and cruel -- and not a question of faith.
If they weren't Good Christians, there'd be no problem here. But because some people have affection for the alleged source of prejudice, it's alright to discriminate?
I don't have any particular ill-will towards Christianity so I don't buy the B&B owners' story that the religion, in some sort of vacuum and completely separated from Western, post-Enlightenment and post-industrial culture, made them homophobes. That's their story, but the court was right to ignore it. If someone could break a law and then blame their religion to get out of a punishment, what law could possibly be enforced?
If I had the fevered paranoia of a conservative, I would imagine that people would make up religions that require their favorite crime right before they commit the crimes. It's amazing how conservatives' generally negative view of society and paranoia that any loophole in the law will be cynically exploited doesn't extend to situations for when the loophole is for Good Christians.
Now the couple is going for the pity points:
The Christian hoteliers who were fined for not allowing a gay couple to share a double room say they are facing financial ruin and may lose their home and business.
Hazelmary Bull said she and husband Peter are in debt, unable to pay their mortgage and risk facing further prosecution if they stand by their religious views.
She also revealed she has received more than 50 obscene and abusive phone calls since the landmark court decision last week.
Civil partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy were awarded £1,800 each after being denied a double room under the Bulls' policy of allowing only married couples to share a bed in the Penzance hotel that is also their home.[...]
The Bulls bought the property in 1986 for £81,000 and ploughed the money they'd made from their first B&B in Cornwall into it, renovating and updating the building.
They now say they are incapable of paying their £2,800-a-month mortgage, and have come to an agreement with their lender to pay less for now.
Perhaps if this couple weren't being told by their lawyers, Religious Right activists, and half the papers in the country that their views, however illegal, are respectable and require deference, they would be able to see that they don't really have to stop doing business to avoid complying with the law? Perhaps they could be persuaded that their religion doesn't actually require them to dictate the behavior of strangers?
We'll never know. But lost in this debate is the fact that a couple of men made a reservation at a hotel, sent in a check, travelled half-way across the country, only to be embarrassingly turned away at the door when the hotel owners saw that gay people showed up at their door. People are saying that they should have just gone to another B&B, but anyone who has stayed in a small European B&B knows that they usually fill up a season in advance, are hard to find if you're just driving around, and, if there was no law against discrimination, would be just as likely to turn gay people away as well.
They won £1800 apiece, which seems like a fair way to warn the business owners in question that their discrimination isn't acceptable while not putting them out of business if they choose to eventually comply with the law.
And ultimately, as much as the people championing the B&B owners say that they favor free thought and staying out of other people's business, they're the ones judging other people's beliefs the most. The fact that they judge these particular people's beliefs to be respectable doesn't mean that they would have the same deference for a conservative Muslim couple who may one day turn away gay travelers.
As much as they say that they want to protect people's rights to set up whatever rules they want in their own home, they're the ones who want a system where people's beliefs are judged on a case-by-case basis for sincerity and theological-correctness to see if they get out of a certain law. Ultimately, that's a much more intrusive system.