Peter and Hazelmary Bull are a mild-mannered self-effacing couple who, literally, mind their own business – which for them is running the Chymorvah Private Hotel near Penzance in Cornwall. For 25 years they’ve interfered with no-one. They’ve judged no-one. Summer and winter they’ve simply got on quietly with their lives deep in the south-western corner of England.
They are committed Christians who believe in traditional marriage, as their website makes clear (here): “Here at Chymorvah we have few rules, but please note that as Christians we have a deep regard for marriage (being the union of one man to one woman for life to the exclusion of all others). Therefore, although we extend to all a warm welcome to our home, our double-bedded accommodation is not available to unmarried couples. Thank you.”
Despite this plain public statement of values, gay activists and civil partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, possibly with the active collusion of Stonewall gay rights organisation, went to the hotel in September 2008, tried to book a double room and unsurprisingly were refused.
In December 2010 Hall and Preddy, backed by the publicly-funded Equalities and Human Rights Commission, sued the Bulls on the grounds of sexual discrimination. In January 2011 they won their case in Bristol County Court and the Bulls were fined (here). They are strongly contesting the decision and their appeal comes up at the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand in November.
Just 90 miles away in Torquay, Devon, is “the UK’s first and only” gay men’s resort which, amongst other things, has been happy to promote its sauna with photos of male genitalia on its website (no link ‘cos no porn on this blog thanks). In March this year I challenged the EHRC about the resort on the basis that what is sauce for the straight goose should be sauce for the gay gander too, but they declined to take action. To the equalities watchdog it seems some are more equal than others.
Lesley Pilkington is a dignified sensitive woman in her sixties who has practiced privately as a Christian psychotherapist for 20 years. Accredited by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, she has occasionally offered ‘Reparative Therapy’ to people who are distressed by their unwanted homosexuality.
In May 2009 she was approached by Patrick Strudwick who said he was gay, wanted to change and asked to undertake the therapy. He secretly taped two confidential counselling sessions with Ms Pilkington before abruptly revealing he was an undercover journalist and gay activist. He wrote an angry belligerent article in the national press (here) quoting her directly from the tapes, and complained to her professional body, the BACP, who decided against her in May this year. She is currently fighting the BCAP decision through an appeal because it “undermines the special confidential relationship between counsellor and client”.
Last December Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, was secretly taped by two undercover reporters at his MP’s surgery. He expressed scathing views about the Coalition government and, presciently, Rupert Murdoch. When his views were published in the Daily Telegraph he was rebuked by David Cameron who reduced his ministerial role. However Cable’s claim that he had been the victim of a newspaper sting that undermined the confidentiality of an MP’s surgery was upheld by the industry’s watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission, in May (here); the Daily Telegraph was condemned for its deception on the basis that the ends didn’t justify the means.
It seems what is sauce for the Christian counsellor is not sauce for the constituency MP.
Christian sex-discrimination cases like the Bulls and Lesley Pilkington have become the most high profile of recent years and Trevor Phillips, chair of the EHRC and confused pillar of the liberal establishment, has extraordinary views about them. Under cheap headlines about Christians being more militant than Muslims, he recently downplayed claims of bias, harassment and persecution against Christians by diverting the argument; he impugned believers’ motives, asserting that many of the legal cases brought by Christians about homosexuality are driven by an attempt to gain political influence (here).
“A lot of Christian activists… want to have a fight,” he said, “and they choose sexual orientation as the ground to fight on. I think the whole argument isn’t about the rights of Christians. It’s about politics.”
Now I reckon we should celebrate when Christian activists want to get involved in politics and public life. We need more prophets and turbulent priests who get up the nose of authorities, speak truth to power and revitalise our decaying democracy. The recent death of Parliament Square’s Christian peace campaigner Brian Haw (here) was a loss to the whole nation.
But the Bulls and Lesley Pilkington? Thrust into the limelight through no wish of their own, they’ve been forced to fight for their livelihoods and beliefs.
If they’ve become prophets and political priests, it’s because the aggressive gay lobby and Trevor Phillips’ bumbling EHRC have made them so.
(This post was published as an article in The Church of England Newspaper on 22 July 2011)