Anti-Discrimination “Equality” Law Exemptions Do Not Lead to Fairness for All: An International Perspective

Apr 3, 2019 by

by Paul Coleman, Public Discourse:

Although exemptions are often billed as a compromise, the evidence suggests that they will never be enough to satisfy those who think religious believers are discriminating and getting away with it. The “compromise” soon becomes a zero-sum game with only one winner.

In recent years, almost all Western nations have adopted anti-discrimination equality legislation. At first glance, this seems like a good idea. After all, who could be against equality?

As the United States considers Nancy Pelosi’s Equality Act, it is worth pausing to survey the other Western countries that have already gone down this path.

Acceptance without Exception

Consider the following story. Peter and Hazelmary Bull were an elderly retired couple who operated a small guest-house out of their home in the south of England. Their longstanding policy, in place since the 1980s, was to rent double rooms only to married couples. As Christians, they believed that renting shared rooms to unmarried couples would violate their convictions about sex and marriage.

In the mid-1990s, an unmarried heterosexual couple was denied a shared room. The incident made it into a national newspaper, which mocked the Bulls’ policy as out of touch. The unmarried couple quickly found another guest-house, and that was the end of the matter. Many other unmarried couples had also received the same response over the years.

Fast forward to 2008. After the adoption of equality legislation in the United Kingdom, the Bulls received a letter from an organization called Stonewall—the UK’s leading LGBT organization, whose slogan is “Acceptance without Exception”—warning them that they were breaking the law. The following month, as if by coincidence, a same-sex couple turned up at their doorstep and were denied a double room. This time, the police were called, and the Bulls were sued.

The Bulls did not qualify for a religious exemption to the equality legislation, and the fact that they applied their policy equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples was considered irrelevant. They received hate mail and death threats, and their property was vandalized. After being dragged through the courts for five years, their guest-house business (which was intended to fund their retirement) was ultimately destroyed. Peter Bull passed away in 2016, having spent the last years of his life battling the onslaught of “Acceptance without Exception.”

It is impossible to look at this case and claim that equality has been achieved. Instead, in this case as in so many others, an equality law was used as a sword to attack already marginalized citizens, rather than as a shield to defend them.

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