Oh dear, dear sticking to their religious beliefs put a pair of hotel proprietors on the wrong side of the law yesterday when judgment was given in the Bristol County Court. For those who may have overlooked not so recent changes in our law, we do have civil partnerships (aka gay marriage) for gay couples and it is also unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. If therefore as Mr and Mrs Bull found out you hold deeply set religious beliefs to the effect that “monogamous heterosexual marriage is the form of partnership uniquely intended for full sexual relations between persons and that homosexual sexual relations (as opposed to homosexual orientation), and heterosexual sexual relations outside marriage, are sinful” it’s best not to practice what you preach and when letting double hotel rooms make sure that they are available for both married couples and those in Civil Partnerships alike.
His Honour Judge Rutherford gave a wonderful explanation, which I am repeating verbatim as to why, despite our Christian heritage, our laws may not always enshrine what might be regarded as traditional Christian beliefs:
“In 1882 Her Majesty Queen Victoria opened a new court building,” he said. “It is in the Strand just at the entrance to the City of London. It was built to house the superior courts of this land with the exception of the House of Lords. No one who enters can fail to be struck by the similarity of the Great Hall with the interior of those gothic cathedrals with which this kingdom is so richly endowed. But if, before entering, you gaze upon the façade of the building you will notice 4 statues.
There you will find King Alfred who made such a notable contribution to Saxon England by codifying the laws of his day. You will find Moses to whom was given the ten commandments and to whom, by tradition, is ascribed authorship of the first 5 books of the Bible in which you will find in great detail the laws governing the children of Israel. Also there on the façade is King Solomon whose wisdom has become a legend and who displayed outstanding qualities as a judge when sitting in the Family Division in the only reported case of which we have details. And the 4th statue is that of Jesus Christ who, I imagine, needs no introduction to those involved in this case.
Why are those statues there? Perhaps there were many reasons for them but I venture to suggest that one was to emphasise the Judaeo-Christian roots from which the common law of England was derived.
A great deal has however happened since King Alfred and his Saxon laws, and even more has changed since Moses, King Solomon and Jesus Christ walked upon this earth. Those Judaeo-Christian principles, standards and beliefs which were accepted as normal in times past are no longer so accepted.
…..We live today in a parliamentary democracy. Our laws are made by the Queen in Parliament (leaving aside any European dimension). It is inevitable that such laws will from time to time cut across deeply held beliefs of individuals and sections of society for they reflect the social attitudes and morals prevailing at the time that they are made. In the last 50 years there have been many such instances – the abolition of capital punishment; the abolition of corporal punishment in schools; the de-criminalisation of homosexuality and of suicide; and on a more mundane level the ban on hunting and on smoking in public places. All of these (and they are only examples) have offended sections of the population and in some cases cut across traditional religious beliefs. These laws have come into being because of changes in social attitudes. The standards and principles governing our behaviour which were unquestioningly accepted in one generation may not be so accepted in the next.
In our parliamentary democracy it is for Parliament to frame laws which reflect these changes in attitude or which give a lead to such changes. Whatever may have been the position in past centuries it is no longer the case that our laws must, or should, automatically reflect the Judaeo- Christian position.”
Of course one might wonder whether or not the learned Judge heard the case in a court room displaying the Royal Coat of Arms and the words “Dieu et mon Droit” but if he did, it didn’t feature in his judgment. Nor did the Judge find favour with the attempt to defend the case on the basis that because the same double rooms were not made available to unmarried couples either, there was no discrimination based on sexual orientation. Leave to appeal has been given, but it is inevitable that laws made for a multi-cultural society in the 21st Century are going to be very different to those from 150 years ago. After all would any Victorians have actually known what a Civil Partnership is?*This blog entry contains public sector information licensed under theOpen Government Licence v1.0