Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Enjoy your stay

After what seems like the longest, most depressing winter on record, it's hardly surprising that people's thoughts are turning to holidays. A chance to get away from it all and soak up some much needed R&R.

But with the recession still biting like Edward Cullen with the munchies, many people will be forced to take their vacations a little closer to home. So it's depressing to see, based on a couple of high profile news stories, that English guest-houses can't always guarantee a warm welcome.

Michael Black and John Morgan had planned on a nice Friday night away when they booked a double room at the Swiss B&B in Cookham, but when they came to check-in, the greeting they received was less than cordial.

The B&B's owner, Susanne Wilkinson, turned the middle-aged couple away because it was against her Christian beliefs to allow a gay couple to stay in a double room. Speaking to the press, Wilkinson argued "They gave me no prior warning and I couldn't offer them another room as I was fully booked."

Presumably, when she studied the Bible she missed the bit where an over-subscribed innkeeper found lodgings for a couple with an unborn illegitimate child.

Indignant at the fact that the gay couple reported her law-breaking discrimination to the police, Wilkinson argued "I don't see why I should change my mind and my beliefs I've held for years just because the government should force it on me. I am not a hotel, I am a guest house and this is a private house." Her delusion runs deeper than the fact that she thinks she is a 'guest house' - she also seems to think that her personal preferences (or lack thereof) overrule matters of law.

Sadly, she's not alone in her misplaced sense of 'injustice'. Private hoteliers Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang have also fallen foul of those pesky progressive politics. Apparently, these days you can't even hurl religiously motivated invective at a paying guest over poached eggs without the moral police getting involved.

The Vogelenzangs have been charged with using "threatening, abusive or insulting words" after they had a heated conversation with a Muslim guest at the Bounty House Hotel near Aintree. The woman's crime? Having stayed at the hotel for four weeks whilst receiving treatment at a local hospital, she came down to breakfast on the final day of her stay wearing a hijab.

The fact is, she could have entered the dining room dressed as Colonel Sanders and it would have been no-one's business but her own. And yet somehow, "pass the ketchup" quickly devolved into a 'debate' that ended with the hospitable hoteliers suggesting that "Mohammad, the founder of Islam, was a warlord" and that the unnamed guest's choice of outfit was "a form of bondage." Checkout's at noon and let us know if you used the minibar.

Of course, the Christian couple argue that they were simply defending their beliefs and deny the allegations, despite the fact that they are, by their own admission, "fully aware that a robust exchange had taken place and the woman had been perhaps a little offended". At the same time as fighting the prosecution, they're facing up to the fact that their bookings have dropped by 80%.

Apparently, the local hospital which had previously referred outpatients to the hotel felt that it was an unsuitable venue for convalescence, given the management's vocal take on personal faith. Now the self-righteous couple may have to sell the hotel to make ends meet - a handy way of turning the story back on Islam, which should always be the villain in the story.

In both instances, personal religious beliefs have crept into the workplace and ultimately resulted in discriminatory conduct. These 'wronged' hoteliers might defend themselves with cries of "religious freedom" but their first obligation should always be the provision of services to the guests.

Just like the registrars who refuse to officiate over civil ceremonies because of their faith, they're ultimately failing to fulfil their role. More importantly, they're hiding behind a wilfully misinterpreted belief system in order to validate ugly bigotry and intolerance.

In these enlightened times it's easy to look back at racist TV shows from the 70s, like Love Thy Neighbour, and laugh at their primitive take on modern life. But have we really progressed that far from an era when guesthouses often featured signs that said "No blacks, dogs or Irish"?

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