2 MIN RANT: Christian B&B verdict is right – but is the law itself really necessary?

Mr and Mrs Bull rightly lost their case because they weren’t upholding the law. But how necessary is the law in the first place?

Instinctively, most liberals think yes; most libertarians think no. The question isn’t, for most people, one of whether they like the idea of gays being turned away from B&Bs, or whether a B&B owner is being reasonable to expect their homes to be exempt from the laws that bind other businesses. It is a question of whether we can trust the market or not.

Mr and Mrs Bull broke the law, and it’s right for the law to be enforced. But why did they break it? Morality and faith is generally accepted as their reasoning, allowing the whole discussion to be portrayed as two minorities whose conflicting rights are up against each other, with the law taking the side of gay rights over Christian rights. This confuses the issue. If Mr and Mrs Bull believed that what they wanted to run – a B&B where only married heterosexual couples could share a room – was legal, which they apparently did, they could have checked, when taking a booking, that anyone wanting a double room was a married, heterosexual couple. It’s up to them, surely, to check potential customers meet any unique standards they might have before taking their money? If your event has a dress-code, for example, you state it in advance, don’t you? But they didn’t. The fact that they didn’t, despite feeling so strongly about it morally, is interesting. They must believe that they would lose business, significant business, if they were open about their homophobic beliefs. They must have some level of faith in the market. Perhaps the law can actually focus on honest trade practices, rather than social equality. Perhaps we, as a society, are actually more enlightened and decent than those who pass laws think we are. Perhaps the majority of us are actually old enough and ugly enough to choose these things for ourselves? Ironically, Mr and Mrs Bull seemed to believe we are.

The law should be enforced, to everybody, equally. But the presentation of this case as being about one minority’s rights clashing with another is misleading, and helps neither side of the argument. The real issue is the provision of services, and rights of the consumer. And legally, if you’ve been mistreated as a consumer because you’re gay, that reason should legally be of no more relevance than if you’re breaking the law because you’re religious.


5 thoughts on “2 MIN RANT: Christian B&B verdict is right – but is the law itself really necessary?

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  1. I wonder if that is what we’d get nowadays. Perhaps we would – I wish we didn’t need such laws though. It is a positive sign that the appropriately-named Bull couple did not feel comfortable putting such signs as that in their windows. They presumably wish they could – but they know they’d lose more business than they’d gain. When you tell them they have to say what they allow and don’t allow out loud, it makes it obvious to everyone just how insidious it really is, so they don’t bother. It is a shame we need the laws but I can appreciate why we do. Unfortunately.

  2. Laws also say something about the kind of society we are. It’s partly because we have laws against discrimination that the starting point for discussing such matters is that it is wrong. Take away the law and the bigots will claim they have as much right to say and do what they like as anyone else – they don’t. Defend a bigot and they’ll come back to destroy you.

  3. Interesting… but where do the ideas that it’s ‘wrong’ to be gay/marry inter-racially/etc come from? I don’t believe we naturally have those views, the reason we became a society like that was because of stupid laws in the first place, namely religion getting mixed up in our legal (and moral) processes. Before the law started banning gays etc I don’t think anybody had a problem with them. So perhaps we now unfortunately need temporary laws to balance things out because culturally we have a generation of people who remember homosexuality being illegal and find it hard to unlearn the idea that it’s wrong, but the cause of the problem is excessive authoritarian law-making, not people having too much freedom.

  4. Lou – I wish I could agree. History is littered with scapegoating and persecution of minorities no matter what religion or where or when. That such practices are frowned upon is due to education (largely) and a knowledge of where the end point of such thoughts is found.

    The law is more than a set of rules circumscribing actions – it is a statement of how we see ourselves. The law leads as well as follows and people will always need to be led, not because they are stupid, but because false gods are very clever indeed.

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