Tuesday, 18 January 2011

You've made your bed, now can we lie in it?

The case of Martyn Hall & Steven Preddy has raise some interesting thoughts, as well as some interesting points of law. The case (in case you're not aware) concerns a homosexual couple in a civil partnership who booked to stay in a Cornwall B&B and who were refused a room with a double bed by the owners of the B&B because the couple were not married. This policy was based on the religious beliefs of the owners, who are both Christians.

The judgement passed down today makes it clear that, in law, there is no difference between marriage and civil partnership, and to treat people who are in a civil partnership as if they were not married is discriminatory.

There will, I have no doubt, be some Christians who see this as another nail in the coffin of Britain as a 'Christian Country'. Their understanding of Christian ethics would not want to equate civil partnership - particularly between a couple of the same gender - as the same as marriage: marriage is the God-ordained union of one man and one woman, and anything else, however much it may look like marriage, ain't marriage.

There will, though, be other Christians who see nothing wrong in two people who love each other, and who have decided to commit themselves to each other in that mutual love, sharing the practical benefits enjoyed by married couples - and that includes being able to share a bed on holiday as they would at home.

Some who know me may be surprised that I have no problem with the judge's ruling in this case. As one correspondent has written: "Everyone in British society enjoys equal protection of their right to live the way they choose.But if your particular beliefs or actions unreasonably impinge on someone else's right to live the life that they do, then the law will find you in the wrong."

No-one, Christian or otherwise, has the right to impose their beliefs - theological or ethical - on others. In our relativistic society, where truth is a personal choice rather than a universal given, that will always be the case. What we can do is live according to our beliefs and values in such a way that, instead of judging others or seeking to impose our will on them, we convince them of the veracity of our choices and their relevance for others in their lives. This may be a more Christian response.