This article is part of our In praise of… series. Find the others here.
Peter and Hazelmary Bull do not approve of gay sex or sex between unmarried heterosexual couples. Many Christians, including this writer, do not believe this view of Christian moral teaching is justified or necessary.
Nonetheless, extramarital sex (gay and heterosexual) is condemned in the Bible for reasons which seem sound to the Bulls, and which they would patiently explain to anyone who asked.
Consequently, they make no secret of their wish that only married heterosexuals sleep together when staying at their home. They have, however, turned their home into a bed and breakfast hotel, which is why, when they refused to book two gay men into a double room, they found themselves booked in for a series of court appearances.
They lost. They have been fined £3,600, their business has been imperilled, they face considerable hardship; and posts have appeared on the TripAdvisor website alleging that the B&B is dirty, infested with vermin and the Bulls themselves rude and surly.
The Chymorvah Private Hotel’s policy of providing double rooms to married couples only is clearly stated on their website and the booking forms, complete with helpful definition of marriage as “the union of one man to one woman for life to the exclusion of all others”. Moreover, the Bulls’ business publicity carries the Icthus, the universally known Christian symbol.
Whether, despite all this, Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall were surprised to be offered two single rooms instead of a double is not recorded. They were though, as is the modern fashion, ‘offended’ and duly took themselves off to the police (yes, really) and then to Stonewall, the gay rights lobby group, and then the taxpayer-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission to bring a civil action under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations of 1987 (the police had decided to record the episode as ‘a non-crime homophobic incident’ and leave it at that).
Those who supported Preddy and Hall did so on the grounds that the Bulls were offering a public service, albeit in their home, and were therefore obliged to do so on the terms dictated by the law and the equalities industry. This was also the justification for forcing nearly all Roman Catholic adoption agencies to close because they would not agree to go against Church teaching on adoption by gays and lesbians. Thus, the public square is ‘cleansed’ of dissent.
What opportunity do we have to be morally autonomous, rational agents if only officially approved visions of the good life can be promoted openly?
Behind the demand for bans and proscriptions against people like the Bulls and RC adoption agencies lurks a fear that if people are allowed to ‘get away’ with discriminating against homosexuals then ‘we’ are condoning it and putting sexual minorities back on the road to a nightmare of violence, fear and blackmail.
In the words of Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill: “Religious freedom shouldn’t be used as a cloak for prejudice.”
The general attitude just described and Summerskill’s comment in particular reveal much about the insecurities, intolerance and bigotry of the contemporary equality establishment.
The insecurities are not hard to understand, yet there can be little doubt that attitudes to sexuality have changed radically in much of society. Indeed, the progress made is testament to the capacity of human beings to persuade each other to change and to change themselves. It is strange, therefore, that Summerskill and others should be so lacking in confidence in the strength of their arguments that they feel the need to petition the courts to enforce obedience to their wishes.
In their characterisation of religious disapproval of gay and lesbian sex as motivated by nothing more than prejudice, seen as a seething, boiling brew of hatred and rage beyond the control of reason, Summerskill and other campaigners betray their ignorance.
When Hazelmary and Peter Bull say they ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’ I have no doubt that they mean it. The Roman Catholic Church’s disapproval is rooted in centuries of natural law philosophy and they are usually careful to distinguish between ‘sin’ and ‘sinner’.
Summerskill’s line that this is mere camouflage for ‘homophobia’ (a nasty term implying mental derangement in anyone who disagrees with you — see also, ironically, ‘Islamophobia’), leaves those who wish to promote gay equality perilously under-equipped for responding to a rigorously-argued, intellectually coherent, pro-life belief-system which sees an insistence on the indissoluble bond between sex and the creation of life as inseparable from opposition to abortion, nuclear weapons, the Iraq war, capital punishment and the commodification of sex (aka ‘the culture of death’).
Those who argue that people like the Bulls encourage violence against gays and lesbians miss two points: firstly, under no sensible reading of Christian beliefs can the violently-inclined possibly think they act with the Church’s blessing; secondly, people must place responsibility with those who commit violence, not those who argue a point of view free of incitement to criminality.
There is something preposterous, sinister and self-defeating about Ben Summerskill presuming to dismiss what people say as dishonest cover for what they ‘really’ think and claiming to have divined their ‘real’ motives. His attitude is typical of the response of the equality ‘n’ diversity industry to any dissent from its orthodoxies: we know what you’re really thinking and it isn’t what you say you believe.
It’s intellectually shoddy, not least because its exponents think it excuses them from engaging with the arguments; and it’s risky because the same line of argument can be used against gay activists: ‘What is your interest, really, in education? You say you want to help schools encourage children to be more welcoming of their gay and lesbian peers but this is a cloak, isn’t it, for sexual proselytisation? After all, your allegedly enlightened and ‘progressive’ attitudes are just a cloak for your unrestrained lusts, aren’t they? Why are you so much more likely to be motivated solely by what you believe to be a rational vision of the good life rather than your basest desires than anyone else?’
In short, Summerskill’s ill-considered remark provides an excellent rationale for anyone who wants to limit freedom of expression and debate. Freedom, religious or sexual, might be a cloak for anything: you can’t trust anyone.
The priggish, self-righteous nadir of Summerskill’s gloating over the Bulls’ defeat in court came when he said, “For the estimated £30,000 that this court case cost Mr and Mrs Bull and their supporters during the last month, Oxfam or Save the Children could have vaccinated 100,000 people against meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa. That would have been a more Christian way to spend their money during the festive season”.
Presumably, on those grounds, Mr. Summerskill himself devotes all his spare cash to good causes and does not spend any of it on, say, going to the theatre, expensive meals out and exciting holidays.
And he will have a great deal more spare cash than the Bulls: in 2010, two employees at Stonewall earned between £70,000 and £89,999. I think we can take it that one of them was Ben Summerskill.
No-one at the Christian Institute, the Bulls’ principle backers (not taxpayer-funded), earned anything like that and, given the seriousness with which they take the letter as well as the spirit of biblical teachings, I have no doubt that many of the Institute’s employees tithe their incomes (set aside a tenth for good causes).
The Bulls should be applauded for having the courage to stand up for what they sincerely believe to be true, and for insisting that matters of conscience are for the bearer of each conscience to resolve within their own lives, and are not the business of the state. Those who take issue are entitled to say so and to live by their own standards.
In defending the Bulls, libertarians assert the rights of all citizens to conduct their lives with integrity and to resolve their disputes by means of rational argument rather than legal force majeure or, if agreement is not reached, to coexist in conditions of mutual tolerance which need mean nothing more than sullenly putting up with each other.
For the Bulls, God alone is sovereign in each individual life, but secular libertarians should have no difficulty in seeing that they are, in effect, defending the sovereignty of the individual against an increasingly authoritarian state ‘equalities’ apparatus and its para-state enforcers such as Stonewall.