Where is the tolerance for which our country was once celebrated?
Everyone now knows about the case of Peter and Hazel Mary Bull, the Christian couple whose home in the Cornish village of Marazion is also run as a B&B. Refusing to give a double bedroom to civil partners Steven Preddy and Martin Hall, they fell foul of the Sexual Equality Act, were ordered to pay £3,600 compensation by the judge and now risk losing their business (and their home).
Coincidentally, the Gospel text for yesterday’s Mass was the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people abuse and persecute you…” Just now the Bulls are probably not feeling very “blessed”; they have been punished, purely and simply, for being faithful to Christian teaching. They are not “homophobic” (whatever that means); they are not child abusers. They simply adhere to ancient Christian belief that sex is meant for marriage. Indeed, they treat unmarried heterosexuals wanting a bed for the night in the same way as they treated Preddy and Hall.
The judge told them that times had changed and that the law had moved on. An article in Saturday’s Telegraph by Judith Woods went further: she referred to their “hardline stance”, “their bizarre 1950s house rules” and described them as “narrow-minded, eccentric, singularly lacking in business nous in their batty rejection of modern mores, gay and straight”. All this gratuitously unpleasant mockery is directed at an unassuming, courageous couple who want to stick with beliefs that were held as right by common consensus for many centuries in this country – until very recently.
Some would argue that what goes on in the bedroom is nobody’s business but its occupants and that “we mustn’t judge”. But for Christians marriage is a solemn sacrament and has public repercussions; the double bed symbolises the lifelong union of the man and woman and their openness to the children that might come from the consummation in that bed. So if you are Christians running a B&B there will be an important symbolic as well as practical distinction between twin beds and double beds.
Others, probably those who have directed hate mail at them, would argue that the Bulls should shut up shop and good riddance to their “hardline”, “narrow-minded”, “batty” values. But where is the true tolerance here for which this country was once celebrated? When you read of cases like the Bulls, or that of the Christian registrar who lost her job, or the Christian foster parents rejected by their local social services, you might reasonably think that an anti-Christian ideology is at work – a kind of “secularist theocracy” referred to by Austen Ivereigh in last Saturday’s Moral Maze.
It so happens that I know a Catholic couple who run a B&B from their own home, like the Bulls. Like the Bulls they offer double bedrooms to married couples only; others are offered twin or single rooms. Like the Bulls they have reminders of their faith on the walls of their house: in their case it is crucifixes and pictures of Our Lady and the Sacred Heart. Judith Woods, although a “church-goer” (whatever that means), wrote in her article that the Christian reminders at Chymorvah, the Bull’s B&B, made her “want to run a mile”. But for the Bulls and this Catholic couple you don’t separate your faith from your life. It isn’t something you display on Sunday mornings for an hour of “church-going”; it informs your thinking and your actions every day of the week.
The difference between the Bulls and the Catholic couple is that the latter stopped advertising their B&B several years ago, fearing the very scenario that has now overwhelmed the Bulls. They simply rely on word of mouth recommendations from guests who have stayed with them and enjoyed the experience. Will this discreet filter system also come up against the Sexual Equality Act?
Why cannot this same law recognise the rights of conscience, similar to that in the Abortion Act, which allows an opt-out clause for doctors and nurses who will not take part in abortions?