Attorney General John Larkin has criticised the UK’s highest court for finding against Christians who refused to rent a double room to a gay couple.
In a defence of Christians’ rights to live out their faith, Mr Larkin said that November’s decision by the Supreme Court seemed to leave such Christians with the option of either leaving business or “being complicit in what the Christian must regard as deeply sinful”.
Addressing the topic ‘Do Christians have rights?’, at a conference organised by the Presbyterian Church, Northern Ireland’s first Roman Catholic Attorney General made clear his dismay at the implications of the ruling.
He said that Christians needed to be “sensitive” to someone who found themselves refused a room because of their sexual orientation.
But, referring to the case of Hazelmary and Peter Bull, who were found to have discriminated against Stephen Preddy and Martyn Hall, Mr Larkin said that the case was a strong example of “the clash of rights” — between the right against discrimination and the right to freedom of religious observance.
Referring to Baroness Hale, the deputy president of the Supreme Court and one of those who found in favour of the gay couple in a majority decision (another was Lord Kerr, Northern Ireland’s former Lord Chief Justice), Mr Larkin said that her comments demonstrated “the extent of the failure to understand the orthodox Christian position”.
The outspoken Attorney General focussed on a single paragraph of Baroness Hale’s decision, in which she said: “There is no question of replacing ‘legal oppression of one community (homosexual couples) with legal oppression of another (those sharing the defendants’ beliefs)’.
“If Mr Preddy and Mr Hall ran a hotel which denied a double room to Mr and Mrs Bull, whether on the ground of their Christian beliefs or on the ground of their sexual orientation, they would find themselves in the same situation that Mr and Mrs Bull find themselves today.”
Referring to those comments, Mr Larkin said: “If these words are intended by Baroness Hale to be reassuring to Christians, I do not think that their intended outcome is likely to be achieved.
“What is striking in the passage that I have just quoted is, it seems to me, the extent of the failure to understand the orthodox Christian position.”
Mr Larkin said that if Mr and Mrs Bull had refused to serve a meal to a gay couple, that would be not just unlawful but “incapable of moral justification”.
However, he said: “On the other hand, a Christian who wishes to adhere to traditional Christian moral principles cannot without committing serious sin make available premises to facilitate a purpose which that Christian believes to be gravely sinful. To do so, the Christian believes, is to be complicit in the sin...”
He said that Baroness Hale offered “a false equivalence” and said “she doesn’t appear to appreciate the nature of Christian objection”.
“A homosexual couple who ran a hotel would not be troubled on some philosophical ground connected to homosexuality at the thought of a Christian married couple occupying a room in their hotel...on the other hand, were a Christian couple to make accommodation which they think ought to be reserved for married couples available to unmarried couples it does violence to their beliefs and makes them complicit in what they regard as deeply sinful.”
Mr Larkin said that he did not believe that “some boor who for his own obscure reasons does not like homosexual people should be able to deny services to them as an expression of his own dislike; the law prohibits such a denial of services, and in my view, rightly so”.
“On the other hand, I do think that a Christian in business should not be placed in a position in which he now seems placed by the Supreme Court decision in Bull and Hall where she or he must choose between withdrawing from business or being complicit in what the Christian must regard as deeply sinful,” said Mr Larkin.
See Morning View, page 44