Interview: Gay couple hope to find closure in 2013 following Christian anti-gay B&B case

Andrew Murray December 20, 2012
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John Morgan and Michael Black, the Cambridgeshire gay couple who were on the receiving end of abuse from BNP leader Nick Griffin, after they won a discrimination case against the Christian owner of a B&B have spoken in depth about their legal fight, which still continues, to journalist Andrew Murray.

As 2012 draws to a close, John Morgan and Michael Black will likely look back on it as a year of partial closure.

The gay couple, who hit the headlines in 2010 when they were refused an overnight stay at the Swiss B&B in Berkshire, claimed a legal victory in October against owner Susanne Wilkinson.

However, with the case set to go to appeal in 2013, the ongoing battle, for what the couple see as a simple matter of equality, continues.

Reading County Court’s judgement, that the pair had been victims of direct discrimination, came after two years of attention that they had been little prepared for.

Speaking at their Brampton home, Black explained how they felt compelled to raise some awareness of their treatment by the B&B’s Christian proprietors.

“What we decided to try and do was contact the local papers in the Cookham area and try and get them to put in a paragraph about it,” he said.

“The point was that what she had done was illegal so we wanted local people to know that so that they wouldn’t recommend the place to visitors.”

After initially appearing as a piece on BBC Radio Berkshire, the story was picked up by the BBC’s national website and from there was circulated internationally by the Press Association.

Black joked: “On the Sunday evening, I think it was, it was the most read story on the national BBC website in Australasia.

“I think it only got to about number seven in South America”.

Although jovial in recalling their introduction to the sharp lens of the press, the pair also reflected on the intensity of satisfying the media’s hunger for information.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, they remembered taking part in up to 12 interviews a day with their phone ringing from the crack of dawn to last thing at night.

“It wasn’t difficult but it was tiring,” said Morgan.

“In the previous lot (of interviews), I said something I wished afterwards I hadn’t.

“So you do have to think before you answer the question, even if it seems quite an obvious question with an obvious answer.”

When asked whether the sacrifice of their peace and privacy was worth it, both Morgan and Black were adamant in their response.

“From a purely personal point of view, we had mild inconvenience,” explained Black.

“What we did was drive home from Cookham the same night instead of staying overnight….it was no big deal.

“So if it had been purely for ourselves, that would have been it.

“But, because the law against discrimination is intended to protect Gays, Christians, Muslims, Blacks, Chinese…whoever, it is important that people have the self confidence to book and not feel ‘oh I better not in case they turn me away.’”

As well as recognising the importance of clarifying the law, for Morgan, the response was also one symbolic of personal pride and a refusal to be submissive in the face of prejudice.

“It took me a long time to come out of the closet and I was very determined that I would stand up for myself as a gay man,” he said.

“There was no way I was going to be sent scurrying back apologising for my existence.”

In a matter that cuts to the heart of how the pair identify and present themselves to the world, one might expect their response to be fuelled by emotion or a quest for revenge.

However, both men are fairly analytical in the discussion of their experience and seem to bear no particular ill will to the Wilkinsons.

“We don’t agree with their beliefs, but they have the right to believe what they like, so we’re didn’t prosecute them because of their beliefs but because of their actions,” explains Black.

“In a way, they are not important and we’re not important, it’s the legal principle which is important.”

The next stage of establishing this principle will take place at the Court of Appeal some time between May and June of next year.

The couple are determined to follow the case through the full process of the law but admit they will be relieved when a conclusion is finally reached.

“I’m looking forward to it being over,” said Black.

“Partly because, if we were to lose at the Supreme Court, it’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs.

“Although we are fairly confident of winning, there is always that thought, so until it’s over that won’t go away.”

Throughout the saga, the men have been touched by the support they have received from neighbours, friends and even complete strangers.

“One of the nicest things that’s happened was when I went to see a lady to mend her computer a couple of weeks after the 2010 publicity,” recalls Morgan.

“When I arrived she looked at me and then went away to make a coffee and brought it in and said ‘I just need to thank you and your partner because my grandson is gay and if he turned up with his boyfriend and it  happened to them it would really upset him – so thank you!’”

Morgan concludes: “If that’s the only good thing that comes out of it then that’s enough.”

While this may well be true, the significance of the legal case should not be underestimated.

Morgan and Black are not in a civil partnership and it is this distinction from other similar cases that marks this as a landmark one.

“That’s why Liberty took us on – because it was important to get this law clarified both for the Christian side and us really,” said Black.

When asked to reflect on how their experience has made them reflect on wider issues of discrimination and inequality in today’s society, the couple offered tempered optimism in their response.

“The gaps have got to narrow,” said Morgan.

“We all live on one earth and we’ve got to learn to get along with each other – if this helps this cause and the other discrimination causes then it is really worthwhile.”

“I think it’s the law and how society operates as a whole that is more important than individual beliefs,” added Black.

“In a multi-cultural, pluralistic society there are going to be lots of different beliefs and values, but society is structured, and the law is structured, in a way that more and more aims to make it possible for the different groups to co-exist.

“In a way the ironic thing is that when I came out in 1975 we were trying to get the law changed because gays were second class in regards to various laws.

“Now we’re on the side of the law, or the law is on our side, which is a measure of how far the society has evolved since 1975.”

While these wider issues may not be resolved any time in the near future, 2013 may at least offer some conclusions for this particular couple.

Related topics: anti-gay christians, bed and breakfast, Berkshire, BNP, Cambridgeshire, Christian, civil partnership, Cookham, court of appeal, Discrimination, England, John Morgan, liberty, Michael Black, Nick Griffin, Twitter

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