When I go on holiday, I want to be able to share a room and a bed with my partner; whether we are married or not should be of no consequence. In last week’s news, I read a story of a thirteen room bed and breakfast establishment in Wales that has removed all double beds in order to get round an Equality and Human Rights Commission comment about it being illegal not to allow unmarried or gay couples to share a bed.
This issue has arisen before when in 2008 Peter and Hazelmary Bull, a Christian couple in Cornwall, refused to allow a gay couple to share a bed in their guest house. This led to a successful prosecution under the Equality Legislation and a subsequent ruling by the Supreme Court last November stating that their decision was sexually discriminatory. On the surface this may seem like an easy judgement to make, but when one person (or group’s) rights conflicts with another’s, it is usually more complex than first it appears.
In this second case, should Sue and Jeff Green, of the Highland Moor Guesthouse in Llandrindod, have the right to determine what goes on (or doesn’t) in their guest house? They claim their traditional Christian values are undermined by equality legislation and the demand made by the EHRC, suggesting that the ruling compromises the way they want to raise their children.
As it happens, it is irrelevant whether or not we agree with their position, for as soon as they opened the guest house they were bound by the Equality Act 2010, as were the Bulls in the previous case. The Green’s response to the ruling was to remove the double beds from their establishment – a creative, and it appears, successful compromise.
In our work places we find that disagreements and conflicts arise far too often and usually as a result of two people thinking their position is right. Do managers have the skills to help them find the middle ground solution, which may demand a little creativity, thinking ‘outside of the box’, and individual give and take – Sue and Jeff Green showed this is possible. It helps if the protagonists try to see the position of the other people in the conflict and come back from the polarised positions they find themselves in.