Chris Grayling has apparently been recorded secretly (but not secretly enough) suggesting that in a B&B, owners should be able to reserve the right of service to gay couples who wished to stay there.  Chris then releases a statement making it clear that he supports equality legislation on the provision of goods and services.  Case closed?  Maybe not.

@oldholborn at his slightly deranged but unmissable blog has asked whether I would like to discuss the case of ‘Guyz’ hotel in Blackpool.  Certainly.

I tend to argue that the law is the law, and must be followed, publicly approved of  and upheld by politicians except in those circumstances where the politician in question wishes to seek to amend the law.  Chris Grayling apparently doesn’t want to amend the law; he supports party policy on equality and anti-discrimination.  So in that context, whilst it may have been a private meeting, he may have been naive to speak so freely in opposition to the requirement of providers of commercial goods and services not to discriminate in those services against people protected in the equality grounds.

But realistically, in a B&B setting, where people have opened their home to fee-paying guests, they have to accept the types of guests presenting to them, come whoever may.  It is not reasonable to offer a commercial service only to people of whom one approves. In the strictest sense, then, it is important to tell owners of B&Bs that they must not discriminate against gay couples.

What happens, though, when a service establishes itself to operate as a ‘gay venue’, only accepting males and/or gay couples?  The law is silent on the issue in the sense that there is no Gay Hotels Act, but it seems relatively clear that a hotel which markets itself as a gay venue must essentially accept bookings from straight clients, even when it’s clear that they are straight at the time of booking.  This is, according to one correspondent, a little bit silly, in the sense that, in most cases, a straight person would tend not to wish to stay in a place, as she puts it ‘full of gays’.  She presumably sees drag queens and bear-fighting in every rainbow flag.

But let’s imagine there’s a hotel run by gay proprietors, with nothing to signify that it’s a ‘gay hotel’ other than the sign saying ‘Gay Hotel’.  The decor is magnolia and stained wood, there are no bellboys in assless chaps fawning over a kitten.  A perfectly normal hotel which caters to the gay market.

Let’ further imagine there are no hotels other than this one available in town, and I traipse in with my bag requesting a room for myself and my girlfriend.  If I was told there were vacancies but I was not allowed to stay because I’m straight, that would appear to me to be mental beyond belief. It would also very likely land the proprietor in court, and I would likely win the case, and possibly be able to stay in one of Blackpool’s many swingers hotels. (Eww).

So there is a panoply of issues here.

  • Should a proprietor be able to run a gay venue for clients, making it clear that he approves of and is prepared to facilitate gay clients?  Absolutely, no question.
  • Should the proprietor be able to bar straight people from the hotel?  No, I think that’s a discrimination too far.
  • Should the proprietor be required to tone down the decor to make straight people feel more at home?  No, but shouldn’t be able to take steps to make people feel uncomfortable about their sexuality.
  • Should a B&B owner be able to advertise their B&B as something like a ‘family B&B’?  Absolutely.
  • Should the B&B owner be able to turn people away because they’re gay?  Not at all.
  • Should the B&B owner be allowed to display bible tracts from lovable Fred Phelps’ ‘God Hates Fags’ movement, the better to alienate the gays?  As long as it’s there every day, all year round.  Let’s see how much repeat custom their hate gets them.