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.