That hypothetical B&B

The argument over the proposed gay rights legislation, already in force in Northern Ireland, has been brought to the boil once again. Much of the debate centres around a hypothetical Bed & Breakfast, where the ‘deeply religious’ proprietor would be having to go against their own beliefs in order to legally provide serivces.

Critics say the regulations would mean hotels could not refuse to provide rooms for gay couples

This is a popular argument for those arguing against the laws, because it conjours sympathy for a single person (probably white and middle-aged) being persecuted for their religion. However, it is a highly problematic hypothetical, for several reasons, and should be questioned.

First, it is not just homosexuality that all the major religions label immoral. They also say that any sexual intercourse outside of marriage is immoral too. So, the aldulterers who sneak away to a seaside hotel for the weekend are also offending religious beliefs of the owner, and could be denied service on this basis. For the sake of consistency, we would expect that the same hotel would also ban a couple with children who were not married.

To this, the ‘deeply religious’ proprietor might say “well, I didn’t know that the first couple were adulterers, or that the second couple were not married.” This would be an unwittingly ironic, since it evokes the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. If it is good enough for the US Military, it should be good enough for the good old British B&B! If they do not know for sure that those two men will be having sex, then it cannot be said that the proprietor endorses such behaviour, unless it is also said that they endorse the extra-marital heterosexual activity mentioned earlier. There is a definite hypocrisy here, and ‘religious belief’ is merely a politically correct shield behind which plain bigotry can hide.

If the claim to religious belief is genuine, then these service-providing adherents might find themselves in even more trouble. There are passages in the bible and Qu’ran which forbid inter-religious marriage and can even be interpreted to mean a ban on inter-racial marriage (for example Deut. 7). Are such couples – immoral in the eyes of the religious – to be denied services too? If not, why not?

The debate, as framed, grants the religious a special privilege which is not extended to those with other kinds of beliefs. If an exemption were made for those of a particular religious creed, an aetheist proprietor who also happened to disapprove of same-sex relationships would still be subject to the law, and would rightly claim to unfair treatment under that law. Whether or not one subscribes to the effectiveness of anti-discrimination laws, one must concede that they be applied equally. If the religious complain that their beliefs are under attack, then we who support this legislation must begin by saying “well, yes, necessarily”.

Next, supporters must assert that the debate is not between two minority groups (gay libertines and religious prudes, say)… but between the majority view (which says homosexuals should be treated equally) and the minority view (which says homosexuals should be treated differently). The onus is on those who support the legislation to explain why the values of the population as a whole trump the values of those with religious belief. Unity at Ministry of Truth has already taken a tweezer to this issue.

In balancing the respective rights in such a case; those of the hypothetical plaintiff, who has a ‘public right’ not to be subjected to discrimination, against those of the hypothetical defendent, who has a ‘private right’ to manifest their personal beliefs, one must first consider whether the matter at the heart of the complaint belongs to the public or private domain. If the matter is ‘public’ then the public rights of the complainant take precendence, if it is private, then the private rights of the defendent should win out.

I am inclined to the idea that if you charge money for people to stay in your house, you are opening it up to the public realm. I think it is difficult to argue the opposite, since you will be bound, and indeed protected, by the public laws of commerce. Furthermore, the regional development agencies will have spent tax-payers money to encourage punters in your direction – an especially pertinent point in the case of the rural or seaside B&B. If you choose to provide services, then you have to give equal access to all tax-payers, even the gay ones.

Update: bookdrunk at the Rhetorically Speaking blog is always lucid on gay and women’s rights. ‘Revisiting Asymetrical Prejudice’ was written last year, reposted as the cherry atop a couple of other blogs on this issue.

23 thoughts on “That hypothetical B&B

  1. Yes. But (tangentially) you assume that “equal” and “different” are mutually exclusive. Diametrically opposed, even. They are not.

    Next, supporters must assert that the debate is not between two minority groups (gay libertines and religious prudes, say)… but between the majority view (which says homosexuals should be treated equally) and the minority view (which says homosexuals should be treated differently).

  2. Looking up the Oxford dictionary:

    Equal: being the same in quantity, size, degree, or value
    Different: not the same as another or each other

    So yes, equal and different are diametrically opposed — equal means the same, different means not the same.

    Bob

  3. Um. I think you might have missed my point there.

    If you look in the OED, you will see there are (at least in my copy) 3 meanings given for “equal”, of which you have settled on only the first. I think in the context of Rob’s post, the third meaning :”having the same rights or status” is closer to the intended sense. And this is demonstrably not the opposite of being “different” – whatever happened to multi-culturalism??

    Generally speaking, people (and that is what Rob was talking about) do not have to be the same in all regards in order to be equal in the eyes of the law, for eg. And people who are different in certain regards are not necessarily unequal in this sense, or certainly in a just society ought not to be counted as such.

  4. What an absolute load of crap, what concenting adults do behind closed doors is entirely up to them and nobody has any kind of right to question it.
    Secondly, how the hell is anybody going to prove without invasion of privacy that they did do what they were accused of.
    Thirdly if an unmarried couple turn up at my guest house with a child, am I expected to ask whether it is adopted/fostered or from a failed marridge?
    NO!
    BOLLOCKS!
    Not practical
    Some people really should try living in the real world.

  5. What’s crap? The post, or those who are trying to get an exemption from the proposed law? If the former, I fear you may have misunderstood. I am arguing precisely from the reducto ad absurdum angle. If you do not enquire into the bedroom habits of a heterosexual couple, you should not enquire into the habits of a suspected homosexual couple either.

  6. “I am inclined to the idea that if you charge money for people to stay in your house, you are opening it up to the public realm.”

    In one sense, yes.

    However it still remains your house. If we allow property holders to decide exactly how their property will be used, for any or no reason whatever, the problem goes aways, does it not?

    Scenario: Mrs. Bloggs doesn’t allow gays in her B&B. Her property, her business, nobody else’s; some gays have lots of money, they all go to Mr. Liberal next door, who doesn’t care. He prospers, Mrs. Bloggs goes out of business and ends up sweeping Mr. Liberal’s floors. Her bad.

    Anyone have a problem with that? I certainly don’t.

    Of course, for gays you could read any other definable group, such as “white people”, “old people”, “children”, “gypsies”, etc. The argument’s the same.

  7. “I am inclined to the idea that if you charge money for people to stay in your house, you are opening it up to the public realm.”

    Legally no. A business is a private venture and the propreitors are not obliged to grant admittance any more than you are to your own home. This is evidenced in the legend “The management reserve the right to refuse admission”.
    I find it astonishing that when restaurants, clubs etc refuse entry on the grounds that someone is wearing jeans/trainers, anyone seriously belives that there is no right to refuse entry on the grounds of sexuality. Religion and sexuality are in any case intrinsically private matters. It is only the insiduous forces of PC which have made people believe that they (along with child discipline, what you eat, drink, smoke and even throw in the bin) belong in the public domain, they do not.

    “The debate, as framed, grants the religious a special privilege which is not extended to those with other kinds of beliefs.”

    Don’t follow this argument. Being gay is not “a belief”, and it is perfectly possible for an atheist to be morally opposed to homosexuality.

    After this predictable round of christian bashing from the left, I would be intersted to see the reaction to a hypothetical muslim B&B owner refusing to accomodate gays, single women, unmarried couples etc, especially if they insisted on a full English breakfast.

  8. Being gay is not “a belief”, and it is perfectly possible for an atheist to be morally opposed to homosexuality.

    Matt – I never said ‘being gay’ was a belief. The ‘other kinds of beliefs’ I was referring to were precisely atheist’s moral codes.

    I mentioned the Qu’ran above. I think my argument holds as much for Muslim’s as it does for Christians, and I would say so. However, the Muslim B&B owner would presumably not even offer the ‘full english breakfast’ service to anyone in the first place… so all clients are being treated equally. The issue is over refusal to provide services equally.

    Andrew – Your point about hays with a lot of money, staying with Mr Liberal, is all well and good. It should be pointed out that homophobes will gradually lose out, because they have imposed unnecessary restrictions on the way they do business. But in many cases an alternative might not be available, and the gay couple will be left stranded.

    And ‘stranded’ is the point here. First, B&Bs do not operate in the same maerket as clothes shops or supermarkets, where another that provides the same service is just around the corner. Hotels and B&Bs are often booked up (especially in Edinburgh, during the Festival) or there may not be an alternative (I’m thinking of the Highlands of Scotland). The gayness (or indeed, blackness, or adulteryness) of a particular couple may only become apparent when they arrive to take up their booking. For the proprietor to take a booking, but then turn the couple away on sight, is what we are trying to avoid. I think Matt’s chav with trainers is a different situation, because the nightclub isn’t actually taking a booking. If they did, we would hope they honoured it in exactly the same way.

    In any case, we don’t have legislation against dress-code, because we actually don’t care if someone is discriminated against on this basis! You can always go home and change your shoes… but you can’t go home and change your nationality, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities/disabilities, or race (I would also add religion to this list). It is on this basis that we outlaw certain types of discrimination, no?

  9. “However, the Muslim B&B owner would presumably not even offer the ‘full english breakfast’ service to anyone in the first place… so all clients are being treated equally. The issue is over refusal to provide services equally.”

    Even if he served muesli for breakfast I seriously doubt he would allow non muslims (and certainly not unmarried ones) to stay, so hardly equal treatment. And I go back to my original point, there is no obligation (legal or social) for a private business to provide services equally. You cannot stay in a 5 star hotel unless you or your employer can afford it, does that mean 5 star hotels should be guilty of discriminating against the economically disadvantaged, they are after all a minority group who have not chosen their condition ?
    The fact is that if an establishment doesn’t like the look of you for whaever reason, they can turn you away, it’s called social judgement and there is no reason why gays should be immune from it. The equality and diversity industry has made it possible for certain groups to be able to claim discrimnation if they are disatisfied with a service, whereas people who are not members of those groups have none. Far from being disadvantaged these groups are actually legally privelidged.
    If you are a christian and/or you belive that same sex relationships are immoral then I belive you are entitled to prevent them, as far as you are able, from being practiced under your own roof. I am not gay, or christian, but I have no problem with that principle.

  10. Even if he served muesli for breakfast I seriously doubt he would allow non muslims (and certainly not unmarried ones) to stay, so hardly equal treatment.

    We’re getting confused here. If a hotel owner who is muslim discriminates on the basis of race, religion or sexuality, he would be condemned as much as a Christian. I’ve made that clear. This is distinct from what he serves (everybody) for breakfast.

    And I go back to my original point, there is no obligation (legal or social) for a private business to provide services equally.

    So signs saying “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” are still legal?

    If you are a christian and/or you belive that same sex relationships are immoral then I belive you are entitled to prevent them, as far as you are able, from being practiced under your own roof. I am not gay, or christian, but I have no problem with that principle.

    Fine. And the solution we present is: If you hold those views, do not open a B&B! If there is a chance that those godless dirty gay people might come into your home, why would you?

    If you open your home up to members of the public and charge money for it, I see no problem with the principle of those people being bound by public laws. We already compel B&B owners to maintain certain standards of hygene and health/saftey.

  11. And I go back to my original point, there is no obligation (legal or social) for a private business to provide services equally.

    Absolutely.

    It is, of course, legal to run a “Christian” B&B where non-Christians are refused accommodation. Equally, I could run a Catholic cafe (refusing entry to non-Papists) or a Muslim bookshop (refusing sales to non-Muslims). As proprietor, I would have the freedom to restrict admission and sales by whatever criteria I wanted. Including racist and homophobic criteria. I am serving the public, but it is up to me to choose who I serve. Freedom is all about freedom to do things that other people don’t like.

    Of course, if I wanted to hire employees, I would have to conform to equal rights legislation. But clients are not employees.

    I think if your hypothetical B&B owner makes the “no gays” policy clear at booking time, then fine, that is his option and his choice. After the booking is made, though, there is an implicit contract between the owner and the client: the owner will provide a room, the client will pay for it. From then on, there had better be a good reason to turn someone away. If they claimed to be straight on the phone when explicitly asked, then they have misrepresented themselves and the contract is void.

    For the record I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with a business that discriminated in this kind of way, and I am sure that many people would feel the same.

  12. As I said in my original post, I really don’t think the line between public and private is as clear cut as you (S.Lock) and Matt would have us believe. John Donne rings in my ears. Tax-payers money is spent facilitating these businesses. To take money from gay tax-payers, then deny them services, is plain unfair.

    So if someone has a problem with a particular type of person, it is down to them to close their business, and not down to the rest of us to put up with their anti-social, “no gays” signage.

  13. What about Muslim newsagent/convenience stores? If they don’t discriminate against non-muslim customers, why does Matt Munro suppose that a Muslim B&B would do so? Have I missed a step of the argument?

  14. Also, S.Lock, it’s actually illegal for a business to refuse to provide goods or services on racist, homophobic, religious or gender grounds. There is some very specific legislation to this effect. If Nestle were to enforce the message on their Yorkie bars, for example, they would be breaking the law. So no, as a proprietor, you would *not* have the right.

  15. Tax-payers money is spent facilitating these businesses. To take money from gay tax-payers, then deny them services, is plain unfair.

    I thought that private businesses actually generated tax, i.e. that they contributed to the economy rather than taking from it.

    Also, S.Lock, it’s actually illegal for a business to refuse to provide goods or services on racist, homophobic, religious or gender grounds. There is some very specific legislation to this effect. If Nestle were to enforce the message on their Yorkie bars, for example, they would be breaking the law. So no, as a proprietor, you would *not* have the right.

    That sounds a bit crazy to me. I had thought that we all had more freedom than that, and could make private business transactions in any way we pleased. Apparently not. As I get older it becomes increasingly clear that this is not a free country in most senses of the word “free”.

    If you ran a B&B, would you refuse to let a racist stay there? If you did refuse, wouldn’t you be refusing access based on your own moral beliefs?

  16. and could make private business transactions in any way we pleased.

    Have we ever been allowed to do that? On the most basic level, you have to pay tax on your business profits.

    You’re right that B&B owners also pay tax, but that does not negate the fact that tax-payers money helps them to do business, and that they are protected by public laws of commerce.

  17. “So signs saying “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” are still legal?”

    The sign is illegal (although “no dogs”, is legal, for elf and safety reasons) but “thinking it” is not. As I’ve said before, censoring what can be said does not stop people thinking, it just creates an unhealthy tension between thought and action. What we have here is a debate about a mental “no gays” sign.
    Personally whether I was gay or not I would not want to give my business to an establishment which clearly had such fundamantally discrimanatory views but that is a decision I would make based on my own value judgements, and which I would not seek to impose on anyone else. I would in fact defend the owners “right” to hold them more than the perceived right of gays to stay wherever they pleased. In this situation you cannot simultanously support the rights of gay people to stay where there like and the rights of B&B owning christians not to have their beliefs offended. The “rights” debate has cancelled itself out, so the issue can only be resolved by a pragmatic aknowledgement that he is the owner and they are the guests.

    “And the solution we present is: If you hold those views, do not open a B&B! If there is a chance that those godless dirty gay people might come into your home, why would you?”

    Gay christians exist, but even so why not just find a different B&B ? By that logic no one should open a B&B in case they are forced to accept as paying guests pedophiles, murders or rapists – all of whom could argue they did not chose their condition and are therefore entitled to equal service ?

  18. I agree that Matt and S. Lock seem to have a basic factual error here.

    If homosexuality is controversial, let’s take a more clear-cut example – should B&B’s be allowed to refuse their services to black people? Andrew Duffin’s libertarian argument that the market alone will solve the problem, strikes me as hopeless optimism, bordering on the delusional. Suppose a black man goes to a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, and is refused a bed in the only B&B. Then essentially he’s forced to sleep in the gutter because of the colour of his skin, and assuming that black people visit this village infrequently, the market will be powerless to help even in the long term, and certainly not before the sun goes down. A libertarian would argue that the right of the B&B owner to do as he wishes with his house trumps the black man’s night of cold wetness – I would disagree.

    But we shouldn’t go crazy with this stuff – there is a slippery slope possible, taking differences between people which are less fundamental than race, gender, or sexuality, and goods and services which are increasingly footling. Every time the state intervenes, we should be sure that it’s worth it.

  19. My comment crossed with Matt’s there.

    …in case they are forced to accept as paying guests pedophiles, murders or rapists…

    Yes, that’s right at the very bottom of the sludge at the end of slippery slope, at a point we’d never reach even if the PC-brigade and rights-lawyers passed all the laws they wanted for the next 1000 years.

  20. S.Lock: We do not have the “freedom” to murder other people either, or steal from them – is that “crazy”? Things that can seem like a “freedom” to the perpetrator are in fact “offences” to the recipient, and I don’t see anything “crazy” about balancing these two perspectives. Quite aside from the economic argument. I suspect the laws against restricting economic activity on grounds of gender, race, religion or sexuality has less to do with ethics and more to do with the economy. But then there is also the human rights legislation as well I suppose, with the high moral ground.

    Matt Munro – no the “no blacks” sign is not actually illegal, any more than a “not for girls” sign is. Enforcing such a rule, however, would be illegal.

  21. To sidestep the debate on the morality of this for a second and go back to a point made by AMX, how the hell could allowing this hypothetical B&B to turn away customer on religious grounds possibly work? Lets look at the options for making sure this B&B can exercise its hypothetical right to turn down customers.

    Option 1 – The B&B can discriminate on religious grounds, but the customer is not forced to tell the truth to the owner. The right to discriminate on religious grounds becomes mostly redundant, customers just lie about there personal lives, apart from those unlucky enough to have some physical feature that offends a certain religion.

    Option 2 – Leave it up to the discretion of the B&Bs owner. B&Bs are given a license to turn away anyone they want, effectively for any reason they wanted, if it was religious or not, as long as they say “well he LOOKED a bit gay”. This abuse makes a mockery of both the law and religion

    Option 3 – Leave it up to the discretion of the B&B owner, but enable customers to take legal action against the B&B for wrongful discrimination. Maybe it falls to the owner to prove the customer offends there religion in some way, The courts become a mass of petty litigation, costing the tax payer many millions, until B&Bs learn that trying to prove a customer is gay just gets you sued, and the law becomes mostly redundant as in option 1. Maybe it falls to the customer to prove he doesn’t offend the religion of the owner. No one wants to have there personal life sifted threw in a courtroom, most cannot prove they are not some kind of abomination against Christ anyway, legal action is rarely taken and B&Bs are given the same powers as if option 2 had been taken

    Option 4 – In order to enter a B&B a person would be bound by law to present personal information to the owner on demand, and I don’t think I have to explain just how impractical that is, what a massive breach of basic human rights it is, how much it would cost to enforce, and considering just how many things you could do to offend a religion, the type and amount of information needed would allow for all kinds of abuse. Blackmail anyone?

    And there are also much more interesting problems associated with this hypothetical B&B of religious bigotry. Would all religious beliefs be given equal protection under the law? If so what is to prevent the rise of a holy book specially tailored to allow businessmen to discriminate against whoever they want. If not, who decides which religious beliefs are legitimate in the eyes of the law, and who decides if the owner is a true believer or just using belief as a cover? You either end up undermining all religious belief by encouraging the rise of spurious cults who exist only as a vent of there members bigotry, or you give the government the power to pass judgement on the legitimacy of a religion, on who really believes, and pass laws based on the judgement.

    Belief is an ill-defined concept, law needs to be a well defined, mix the two up and you get all kinds of chaos, and you probably won’t get the desired result after the dust has settled anyway.

  22. Matt: it is perfectly possible for an atheist to be morally opposed to homosexuality.

    Not if they have considered things rationally.

    For an atheist to be morally opposed to homosexuality, in general, one would have to take the view that there is some element of homosexuality that is harmful, either to the individual or to others, on a broad scale – i.e. one not specific to individual circumstances.

    It is impossible to frame an objective and rational argument that leads to the conclusion that homosexuality is harmful (and therefore morally wrong) without relying either on a negative, irrational, belief about the nature of homosexuality, basing one’s notion of harm on external prejudice or making use of extreme and unrealistic context for your argument.

    Feel free to have a go, if you like – anything you can come up with would be easily knocked over.

  23. Unity – any number of non-religious arguments can and are used to oppose homosexuality;

    Homosexuality potentially prevents the propagation of the human race and is therefore a threat to its survival

    Homosexuals do not share the same values as straight society and are a threat to social order

    Homosexuals are responsible for the spread of HIV

    Homosexuals could “corrupt” the youth of the country and turn them all gay

    Homosexuality is “unnatural” and should be discouraged

    If all those fail the mere fact that gays are “different” is enough to elicit a negative reaction in a large number of people

    All are spurious right wing arguments and all can be easily countered ( apart from the first possibly) but that does not stop people holding such beliefs. How much gay bashing (verbal and physical) do you think is comitted by bible carrying christains and how much by atheist chavs ??

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