“Sincerely held religious belief”

January 26, 2011

There’s some interesting commentary going on at the moment with regard to the Christian hoteliers who banned two married people from staying in their hotel because they weren’t, to coin a phrase, the right type of married. The couple weren’t banned because the hoteliers were Catholics and believed – with a deeply held conviction – that one of the partners was a divorcee and divorcees can’t remarry, they were banned because neither of the partners in the marriage happened to be a woman.

After the couple took the hoteliers to court for discrimination on the grounds that one of them was a divorcee they were gay, the court found in favour of the couple. This is the correct decision as far as I’m concerned. It is no more right to deny a public service to a gay couple than it is right to deny that same public service to a couple where one partner happens to be a divorcee.

What I don’t understand is the subsequent eruption of fury denouncing this judgement as starting a conflict between religious conviction and the law. Religion has been at conflict with the law for a long time, and religion has always been on the loosing side. If one accepts that the hoteliers “sincerely held religious belief” is enough to let them off the hook for denying accommodation to a gay couple, then one must accept an innumerable number of monstrous sincerely held religious beliefs. If it is enough that a law can be ignored because the person ignoring it sincerely believes it is wrong, then why have any law?

LGBT rights have been hard fought for, and they clearly have a way to go if the hoteliers in this case can freely appeal the ruling against them. But why is “I am a Christian, and I believe homosexuality is wrong” even considered a reasonable excuse for blatant bigotry?

Look at this from another point of view: The Anglican church does not have women bishops. The Catholic church does not have women bishops. Both churches refuse to even consider the idea of women being permitted to attain positions of power. Imagine if the Catholic Church owned IBM, or the Anglican Church owned Sainsburys. Imagine, for a moment, those churches, in those positions, stated – as they do within their own communion – that women cannot, by virtue of being women, hold positions of power in Sainsbury or IBM.

Imagine now that they said “and no gays either”. Religion is not an excuse for bigotry. Religion is just the cover that bigots use when they discover they’re not longer wanted.