Activists are concerned that a Western Cape Equality Court has failed to rule in favour of a gay couple unfairly refused service by a guesthouse.
Neil Coulson and his husband Jonathan Sedgwick were denied accommodation in November 2013 by the Watershed (renamed House of Bread) B&B in Wolseley, near Ceres, because their sexual orientation was in conflict with the owners’ personal Christian views.
The men, who are also Christians, wanted to be in the area to be near their son who was going to attend a school camp. They were humiliatingly told that the venue was not “gay friendly.”
The couple, assisted by the SA Human Rights Commission, then took guesthouse owners Marina and Steph Neethling to the Equality Court, as is their right under the Equality Act.
Outrageously, the Neethlings argued that it was their constitutional right to freedom of religion that was being discriminated against.
According to media reports, Magistrate Jerome Koeries at least in part agreed and last week failed to rule in favour of the gay couple, instead referring the matter to “an appropriate body for mediation, conciliation or negotiation.”
Speaking to Daily Maverick, Coulson said that the court should have taken a position on the issue. “[W]here does it all end? If I go to a town where all the guesthouses have a religious belief that my lifestyle is inappropriate, what then? And if a restaurant feels that it is inappropriate that my family is seated there, what then? It is humiliating and it makes you feel like a second-class citizen,” he said.
Dawie Nel, Director of OUT Well-being, the Tshwane-based LGBT organisation, expressed his disappointment at the court’s indecisive and unfair decision.
“The law is entirely clear. Gays and lesbians may not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation, and may not be denied a service by an establishment serving the public. The Neethlings have a right to their religious views, but not to use these to treat selected people like second-class citizens,” he insisted.
Nel continued: “The court’s failure to uphold the law could have serious and dangerous consequences for the rights of LGBT people in South Africa and could be used to bolster companies or services that use religious justifications to discriminate. These cases are becoming increasingly common and should not be tolerated.
“In addition, this disturbing lack of action by the court may well further dissuade LGBT people from pursuing the often disruptive and time consuming path of taking these matters to the Equality Court.” he noted.
OUT urged the courts to do their job and uphold the law rather than pandering to unjust and discriminatory religious views.