Tuesday 18 January 2011

Gay couple's B&B victory and the value of civil partnerships

A gay couple who were refused a double room at a Bed & Breakfast establishment (because they were not married) won their legal action today against the B&B owners. The judge (according to the BBC report) found that the B&B owners' refusal was illegal discrimination.

The defendants, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, maintain that they have a "double bed" policy which excludes unmarried couples. Both they and the judge appear to have approached the case on this basis — that the refusal was not based on sexual orientation, but on marital status.

The couple, Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy who are in a civil partnership, appear along with their backers, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, to be spinning the judgement as a victory for gay rights. The BBC report quotes EHRC director John Wadham:
"The right of an individual to practise their religion and live out their beliefs is one of the most fundamental rights a person can have, but so is the right not to be turned away by a hotel just because you are gay."
Peter Tatchell is quoted saying:
"People of faith should not be permitted to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against other people."
Stonewall's chief executive Ben Summerskill is quoted saying:
"You can't turn away people from a hotel because they're black or Jewish and in 2011 you shouldn't be able to demean them by turning them away because they're gay either."
It seems from the report that the discrimination against which Judge Rutherford ruled was discrimination against unmarrieds rather than discrimination against gays. That said, the case does highlight something very wrong about the law regarding civil partnerships. Contrary to Steven Preddy's reported statement that the judgement showed civil partnerships were legally the same as marriages, it appears to have exposed civil partnerships as a sop to gays.

According to current UK law, only same-sex couples can enter into a civil partnership, and only opposite-sex couples can get married. The law needs to be changed, so that marriage and civil partnership truly are equal — and therefore non-discriminatory. This case shows why. Clearly Peter and Hazelmary Bull don't consider civil partnership and marriage to be equal. I can't help wondering if in the future they would happily allow a legally married gay couple to share a double room. I suspect not.