Gay couple told: Single beds only, if you stay here

By Mathew Dearnaley

Backlash in NZ and overseas over lodge owner's 'not in my home' response to guests

Jane Collinson (right) has lodged a Human Rights Commission complaint over a lodge-owner's rebuff to her and partner Paula Knights. Photo / Supplied
Jane Collinson (right) has lodged a Human Rights Commission complaint over a lodge-owner's rebuff to her and partner Paula Knights. Photo / Supplied

It will be perfectly legal for them to get married soon, but Northland couple Jane Collison and Paula Knights are outraged and hurt at being denied accommodation because of "who we are".

So are gays in New Zealand and overseas after word of their treatment at a Whangarei lodge spread over the internet.

Pilgrim Planet Lodge owner Michael Ruskin - who insists he has a right to prohibit "same-sex sex" in what he regards as his home - said yesterday that he had been forced to shut down his Facebook page after it was deluged by abusive messages from around the world.

"I'm totally happy if people want to be homosexual or whatever, but not in my home," he told the Weekend Herald.

Ms Collison, 30, said she and her partner were not planning a night of debauchery after driving two hours from their Kaitaia home on Tuesday, but were simply seeking the same rights as other guests of the lodge.

She said those were denied to them by Mr Ruskin's wife Karen when they tried to check in to a room they had booked with a king-size bed.

"We sleep in double beds wherever we go, and she was taking that right away from me and asking us to pay to sleep in separate beds."

The trouble began when Ms Collison reported to the lodge's office, and offered Ms Knights' business card to Mrs Ruskin to confirm the booking.

"She said she only had two single beds available, so I said give us the linen and we'll put them together.

"Then she said she did have a king-size bed available but we would need to split it.

"I got very confused, but started to click about what the issue may be and said, 'Are we offending your religious beliefs', and she said 'Yes and you might have to find accommodation elsewhere'."

Ms Collison said she and Ms Knight had to drive 50km to Waipu Cove to find a room.

She said the couple had visited four Pacific countries in the past 18 months without having similar difficulties and felt free to walk hand-in-hand down Kaitaia's main street.

But she said her "no room at the inn" experience in Whangarei had shattered her confidence, to the extent she had laid a complaint under the Human Rights Act alleging unlawful discrimination on the basis of her sexual orientation.

Mr Ruskin acknowledged the complaint might be valid if he was running a motel, but he regarded his as a "bed and breakfast" establishment, putting it outside the legislation's ambit as part of his home.

"We are entitled under current legislation to discriminate on the basis of sex in shared accommodation," he said. "It's my own personal integrity to say I don't want same-sex sex in my house."

He had previously allowed homosexual guests to share a room with single beds, but was not prepared to "facilitate behaviour I disagree with because that would be hypocrisy".

"The Government can legislate for same-sex marriage but it can't legislate that I allow them to have their honeymoon in my home."

Green MP Kevin Hague, who is gay, said he understood an exemption in the Human Rights Act was designed to cover flatting or boarding arrangement, not commercial accommodation providers.

He said such discrimination had been illegal for 20 years "so to find someone still doing it is surprising to me, and will be appalling for this couple".

A Human Rights Commission spokesman confirmed receiving Ms Collison's complaint but could not comment.

Jacqui Stanford of GayNZ.com said the website had received an "outpouring of anger" from readers since publishing the Northland couple's story yesterday - making it clear they would "take their pink dollars nowhere near this lodge".

- NZ Herald

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