by Jock Coats
April 4, 2010
There’s been a right royal fuss been made in the past couple of weeks or so concerning a Bed & Breakfast owner in Cookham, Berkshire (unrelated note – my school had Stanley Spencer’s “Crucifixion” – the original – as its alter piece) who, having accepted a phone or internet booking from a gentleman who happened to be a Lib Dem parish councillor somewhere in Cambridgeshire, when he turned up with male partner in tow, politely turned them away, refunding them their money and saying she could not let two gay men share a double bed on the basis of her religious beliefs and she had no singles left to offer them. And now shadow Home Secretary for the Tories, Chris Grayling has been caught saying that they should have the right to refuse people for any reason in their own home, which has sparked of a furious reactions in the media, with blogs coming out both in favour of Grayling’s position and against it.
The two men have made a complaint to the police, since under one of the many “anti-discrimination” laws passed by this government (the Equalities Act 2006 in this case) it is illegal to refuse to provide goods and services to someone because of their age, race, disability, faith, gender or sexual orientation (there are probably more but you get the idea). Under similar laws forbidding so called “hate speech” we have seen all sorts of people stopped by police, or had police turn up at their homes to question them about some derogatory or discriminatory remark they have been alleged to have uttered somewhere.
And I suppose, as a gay man, you’d expect me to support such things. After all, don’t they level the playing field for us? Well, yes, and no. Clearly if they are something we are paying for through public funds collected from all of us through tax, nobody providing those goods and services or recruiting employees should be allowed to discriminate. That’s because we are already customers or users of that service by virtue of our funding it. It would be fraud in fact to discriminate (not that we aren’t already being massively defrauded by “public” services in any case).
But for private sector organisations and individuals, as businesses providing goods and services or as employers, actually it is I who is disadvantaged by these laws. Because the supplier or employer has by law to bite their lip and serve or hire me without discrimination (and preferably no doubt with a smile) I am not allowed to know in turn whether I am about to do business with someone whose real attitude toward me would probably make me not want to patronise their establishment or contribute to their success by being an employee. Of course you might say that yes, perhaps I have a right to know, but that the supplier or employer still has no right to refuse you if you still insist – and I suppose some people might, just to “spite” the supplier, but there’s another issue here…
As a private individual i can choose what to spend my money on, how to make my money indeed, and to build up capital goods that I can then choose how to use. It’s my property. Now why, just because I am offering as a “business” to sell or rent some of my property or provide a service for money, should the government be allowed to decide for me whom I must serve? Of course, if I were simply a rational economic actor out to maximise my income and profit, I would rather rent the room out to a gay couple than to have an empty room for the same fixed costs – Adam Smith’s self-interested butcher applies, but people, even business-people, are entitled not to be entirely rational all the time, especially where that rational choice clashes with some other deeply held belief.
Anyhow, I read somewhere that the couple who own the Cookham Bed & Breakfast had had a torrent of abusive emails and letters, so I sought out their website and sent them a message explaining that I am a gay, Lib Dem, Christian (not necessarily in that order!) and that I supported their right to dispose of their own property as they choose. Here is their rather nice reply:
You have written one of the loveliest emails of the hundreds we have received in support.
You have understood we have no hate for gay people, but quite the opposite. It is also true that we would never refuse single rooms for gay people.
It is our prayer that the law will be amended to give us back the freedom which has been taken away from us in this area of our personal faith and integrity. You have been a great encouragement and we thank you so much for taking the time to write.
Thanks again and God bless
I find discrimination repulsive, but humanity has actually evolved by discrimination – it is in our genes; we have made great strides in eradicating much unjust discrimination, through inculturation, education and, well simply by living with each other, but this has to be allowed to happen naturally.
We can’t end discrimination simply by state fiat, by making it unlawful, and I find it dangerous to try. Not only is it a breach of freedom of speech, of expression and of association, but a curtailment of rights to use one’s own property as one wishes and of the rights of the purchaser of the good or service or the potential employee to discriminate against doing business with someone who doesn’t like them. But also it is artificially suppressing an instinct that lies deep inside many people and I have little doubt that one day that will return to bite us. Is it really so different from this sort of state censorship? And I for one do not relish being an innocent victim if any backlash comes.