Sunday, June 5, 2011

Discrimination, pt2/3 - Gays

As well as employment, discrimination legislation applies to the provision of goods and services.

Back in March this year, Michael Black and John Morgan had booked a room to stay the night in a Bed & Breakfast in Berkshire. Unfortunately, when they arrived, they discovered that because of their religious beliefs, the owners only allowed married couples to share double rooms. Mr Black and Mr Morgan's civil partnership was not good enough, and they were turned away. They took the B&B owners to court for discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation, and won their case.

Here we have a conflict between two different rights: the right to practice religious beliefs and the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of sexuality. In this case, the law imposes duties on the provider of the service, and not on the users. It may seem hard on the B&B owners, who wanted to do what they thought was morally right, but imagine if they had been refusing rooms to other people - no (guide) dogs, no blacks, no irish. Would they be sympathetic then? In law, at least, gay people have the same protection from discrimination as races, religions, etc.. Would the B&B owners be more sympathetic if they were Muslims, or Jewish?

What makes this case a little more complex is this: the B&B owners were not directly saying "no gays." They were saying "no unmarried couples can share a double room." However since same-sex couples cannot marry, this has a discriminatory effect. What the judge ruled was that marriage and civil-partnership were equivalent. Meaning that it may be legal to refuse to take people who were not married or in a civil partnership, but not to refuse people who are in a civil partnership, but to accept people who are married. And also not legal to refuse to take people who are married, but to accept people who are in a civil partnership.

Incidentally, you might wonder "why is it always christians in these cases?" There may be some more interesting reasons behind this, but a simple and obvious one is: because over 70% of the UK population call themselves christians, while only 5.4% are believe in other religions.

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