In what is being described as a landmark case, a gay couple have just been awarded £3,600 damages because a family-run small hotel refused to allow them to share a double bed. The hotel owners are devout Christians and claim they won’t have couples who aren’t married bed-sharing under their roof, since it is against their religious beliefs. They state this on their website (though not very prominently) and claim that the couple’s original telephone booking didn’t specify that they were of the same gender. (Incidentally, the gay couple are married by civil partnership).
Christian activists have turned out in force to defend the hotel owners, alleging that the whole thing was set up by gay rights groups, because Stonewall had sent them a letter before the incident pointing out that they were acting illegally. Press coverage has been pretty polarised, with papers like the Daily Mail going out of their way to take the hotel’s side, while unsurprisingly the more liberal Guardian takes a different view.
Often, the comments made on such articles are more revealing than the articles themselves. I found one of the most unpleasant responses was that the gay couple shouldn’t have tried to book into a hotel that was described on its website as suitable for families. A hotel that happens to be near a nice beach and has a high chair in the dining room is, arguably, suitable for families. Are gay people supposed to go out of their way to avoid staying in any place where children might be scarred for life by seeing two blokes or women come down to breakfast together? If they don’t do this and trouble ensues are they, like a woman in a short skirt who gets raped on the way home, asking for it? The mind boggles.
I was an evangelical Christian for most of my adult life, and the most awkward thing about travelling with the man who is now my husband, but wasn’t back then, was that the number of small, reasonably-priced hotels in rural areas that can offer you two comfortable single rooms is more or less zero. Hoteliers understandably detest single rooms; almost as much work as a double with much less profit. If they have them at all, they will probably be in a broom cupboard under the eaves. That, rather than any uncontrollable perversion, was what finally got me to compromise on my Biblical principles.
Now the hotel in question has only one single room and charges a single occupancy supplement. That’s standard practice in the industry, unlike their moral stipulations. But one of the reasons I left evangelical Christianity was that I was sick of clergy, with safe jobs and tied accommodation, telling hard-pressed young families and single people to "give till it hurts" and trust God to sort out details like mortgage payments. I have very little respect for these hoteliers. But I might, just might, have slightly more if they were prepared to stick their money where their mouths are and offer at least two well-appointed singles at a reasonable price, and advertise them in the Christian press for those guests who struggle with this particular issue.
And, if anyone reading this from outside the UK has a moment to spare, I’d be interested to know how this case would have panned out in their corner of the world.
Finally, if you’re ever visiting Cardiff, I strongly recommend Ty Rosa – even though I’m straight!