by Leah Waldron
This week in Reading County, England, a gay couple is suing a bed & breakfast for denying them a shared bedroom in 2010, which led to a ruined vacation and a long drive home back to Brampton. Michael Black, 64, and his partner John Morgan, 59, were turned away from the Swiss B & B because the Christian owner, Susanne Wilkinson, could not condone a homosexual act occurring on her property. Not wanting to appear homophobic, Wilkinson blamed the situation on the lack of separate beds. Never mind that gay sex—or any sex—does not require a bed.
At today’s hearing, Wilkinson’s lawyer argued that his client, a married mother of four, did not act based on anti-gay discrimination, but based on her human right to ban homosexual acts, which is protected by both the 2010 Equality Act and the 1998 Human Rights Act: “If Mrs Wilkinson had simply said, ‘don’t come in because you’re gay’, that could never be justified. It was simply the provision of the double bed which Mrs Wilkinson believed was wrong.” In other words, denying a gay couple a B & B room is wrong, but denying them a double occupancy bed for religious reasons is perfectly legal (the irony is almost too unbelievable).
Wilkinson’s lawyer also pointed out that the Swiss B & B is not only a hotel, but his client’s “private home.” Like the scores of other gay couples turned away from “private home” B & Bs (two gay couples are currently suing in Hawaii and Illinois; a Vancouver B & B was shut down after a lawsuit this summer; and a Cromwell, England B & B was fined for refusing beds to “unmarried couples”), this latest case is just another example of the gray line between a couple’s residence and a commercial accommodation business. Homeowners keep converting their humble abodes into B & Bs, only to act surprised when there is an (obvious and expected) culture clash.
The court case in Cromwell, England has already set a precedence in B & B anti-gay discrimination law, but in this new case, the issue is not about accommodating gay couples, but outlawing certain sexual acts in an (allegedly) “private” guest suite. This is a slippery slope for innkeepers, and one that should never be given the light of a court room…let alone be called a right associated with the Human Rights and Equality Act. If B & B owners knew what went on in their perfect little “private homes,” they wouldn’t be serving pancakes in the morning and asking guests how they like their eggs.
Believing that something is “wrong” does not justify taking the law into your own hands. And if an innkeeper doesn’t want a stranger off the street staying in their home, they should probably find a new line of work. Hopefully, this unusual Reading County case, which will be decided in the coming weeks, should put this issue to bed once and for all.
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