Penalising people for failing to equate marriage with homosexual civil partnerships is “Orwellian”, the former head of the judiciary has said.
Lord Mackay, writing for the influential ConservativeHome blog, said there ought to be enough tolerance in Britain to allow Christians to run a hotel in line with their faith.
He served as Lord Chancellor under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major between 1987 and 1997.
He was expressing his concern about a recent case involving the Christian owners of a B&B who were penalised for restricting double rooms to married couples.
The case hinged on sexual orientation regulations (SORs), part of which says goods or services offered to married couples should also be offered to couples in a civil partnership.
He warned that many people, not just Christians, regarded marriage as unique, saying: “To equate civil partnerships with marriage is a big step to take.
“For the law to force people to equate the two, and penalise those who do not, is an Orwellian leap.”
And while he acknowledged that Peter and Hazelmary Bull were not “forced to open their home to fee-paying guests”, Lord Mackay concluded that the devout couple had merely been trying to live out their Christian faith.
He warned that we are “in danger of putting religion in a box only to be brought out on ceremonial occasions. Religion, certainly the Christian faith, is much more than that.”
Lord Mackay also argued forcibly for “the right to liberty of conscience, freedom of expression and religious liberty” in the public sphere.
He added: “One does not lose them when one steps into the public sphere. Indeed, for the sake of everyone’s liberty it is paramount that such rights are upheld in the public realm.
“Consider an atheist who seeks to work as a teacher in a state school in full knowledge that the law requires a daily act of religious worship.
“Do we say his beliefs should be left at home? Do we say he has stepped into the public sphere and his personal views ought not be accommodated? No, the law allows liberty of conscience. A Christian deserves the same.”
The former Lord Chancellor also warned that the SORs had already forced the closure of all but one of the Roman Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales.
Since last month’s ruling the plight of Peter and Hazelmary Bull has attracted widespread sympathy.
Commenting on the case last week Ann Widdecombe, a former Conservative MP, said: “There is a difference between discriminating against somebody because of what he is and refusing to promote or facilitate what he does.
“If the Bulls ran a grocery shop which refused to serve homosexuals then that would be discrimination but to refuse to facilitate their activity or that of an unmarried heterosexual couple by providing a double bed is not. It is the once lawful exercise of conscience against particular deeds.”
Miss Widdecombe’s concern over the case is echoed by Robert Leitch, an openly homosexual Tory activist.
Writing on the widely-respected ConservativeHome blog, Mr Leitch said: “The reaction to this somewhat traditional yet harmless policy has been remarkable.
“Mr and Mrs Bull have been tagged as homophobes, taken to court, forced to justify their literal interpretation of the Bible, told by the Judge involved that their views are out of date and, finally, given a punishment which will place significant strain upon their business’ finances.
“In the end, the penalty for holding a diverse viewpoint has been extreme.”