There has been a great deal written about the decision of bed and breakfast owner Ms. Wilkinson to turn away a gay couple because she disapproved of their sexuality. Ms. Wilkinson claimed that they hadn’t given her any warning of their sexuality (why should they have?) and there were no other rooms available to place them in. Ms. Wilkinson is in the wrong. If you take bookings from people you can’t then turn them away because you don’t like their sexuality, since that condition wasn’t stated as part of the agreement.
What should be the legal position on this though, given that Ms. Wilkinson might face prosecution? Initially I took the line that the consumer should decide. Let people who aren’t homophobes (and don’t approve of sheer rudeness) stop doing business with them. As Graeme Archer put it:
Ms Wilkinson, I hope you don’t end up being prosecuted. But you should edit your website. Remove the nonsense about a ‘warm & friendly welcome’, and replace it with words that express what you really mean: ‘No Poofs’. Then we’ll let the market decide what happens to your business.
Yet this is not an entirely satisfactory solution. In of itself it doesn’t really matter. One small guest house’s policies won’t affect anything. However, what if this happened in a different setting on a larger scale; would it be okay for the market to decide in a, say, a BNP-supporting village with five shops, all of whom decided not to serve non-whites? Free marketers like myself would (rightly) say that someone would see a gap in the market and sell to non-whites, but that would take time. America had legalised segregation (the Jim Crow laws) in the South for a long time, and that helped to entrench racism and division.
I don’t think Ms. Wilkinson should be prosecuted, but I am unsure of how the law should be framed in a situation that shouldn’t be solely left up to the free market (given the precedents of yesteryear).
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Filed in: Civil liberties,Current affairs