Monday, 5 April 2010

B&Bs and the right to refuse trade

The Guardian has reported comments by shadow home secretary Chris Grayling in a secretly recorded meeting of the Centre for Policy Studies:
"I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences," he said. "I personally always took the view that, if you look at the case of should a Christian hotel owner have the right to exclude a gay couple from a hotel, I took the view that if it's a question of somebody who's doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn't come into their own home."

He draws a distinction, however, with hotels, which he says should admit gay couples. "If they are running a hotel on the high street, I really don't think that it is right in this day and age that a gay couple should walk into a hotel and be turned away because they are a gay couple, and I think that is where the dividing line comes."
Subsequently, according to The Telegraph,
Mr Grayling said: "Any suggestion that I am against gay rights is wholly wrong. It is a matter of record that I voted for civil partnerships. I also voted in favour of the legislation that prohibited bed and breakfast owners from discriminating against gay people.

"However, this is a difficult area and on Wednesday I made comments which reflected my view that we must be sensitive to the genuinely held principles of faith groups in this country.

"But the law is now clear on this issue, I am happy with it and would not wish to see it changed."
This level of hypocrisy would be shocking if it weren't exactly what we've come to expect from our politicians. More disturbing, if equally unsurprising, is the fact that neither The Guardian nor The Telegraph questioned Mr Grayling's muddled view of rights and freedoms.

Should the right to refuse trade really depend on whether you run your business from your home or on the high street? Is faith-based bigotry deserving of special consideration?

There are two consistent positions in this debate. According to one, all citizens have a right to purchase goods and services, and the state should enforce this universally. My own view is that financial transactions should always and everywhere be voluntary.

This means that hotels, as well B&Bs, should be free to refuse anyone, for any reason. I might be inconvenienced by a policy of "No whites, heterosexuals, or libertarians", but the proprietor's right to freely manage his property and direct his labour trumps my desire for accommodation.

Tim Carpenter of LPUK considers the four possible restrictions on voluntary exchange:
Is it right to force someone to take/pay for a service? No. That is a form of extortion, racketeering. It is coercion.

Is it right to prevent someone seeking a service? No. This is oppression. Witness the great wrong in preventing girls gaining an Education under the Taliban.

Is it right to prevent someone offering a service? No. This too is oppression.

Is it right to force someone to deliver a service against their will? No. This is oppression and coercion, i.e. a form of Slavery.
There are many well-meaning people who view interpersonal relationships not according to universal principles of right and wrong, but instead through subjective, historical perspectives of weak and strong. Without fundamental principles, the rule of law degenerates into victimhood poker. Can a restaurateur refuse to admit dogs? What about seeing eye dogs? What if the restaurant owner is a Muslim?

Carpenter gives another case to consider:
imagine if the B&Bers were Prostitutes. Now revisit your stance on the right to refuse trade.

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