While the political rumblings might not be as severe as the 7.2 on the Richter scale being experienced by those in Mexico, Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, must have felt more than a little quake in the pit of his stomach following publication of comments he made in private to the Centre For Policy Studies, a centre-right think tank.
He was referring to the case of a gay male couple turned away from a B&B on the grounds that the owner’s religious convictions meant she could not allow them to stay.
Mr Grayling expressed his personal view (in private to the committee but secretly recorded and sent to the Observer) that: “I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences” and “if it’s a question of somebody who’s doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn’t come into their own home.”
Of course, technically at least, he is wrong as the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 states no one should be refused goods or services on the grounds of their sexuality.
But, the law does not often allow for the concept of common sense or political point scoring.
The media has been full of what should really have been a non-story and the fact it has even gained such prominence I find to be more worrying than the actual incident at the B&B itself.
Most of us would have walked away from the experience with the attitude that ‘shit happens’ and booked into somewhere else that was more tolerant of our lifestyle and was run by someone with less hostile views. Nothing would ever have been heard of the story again.
However, the couple in question, who apparently felt “we were treated as lepers in the worst possible way.” (is there a good way?) felt the need to report the B&B owner to the police and are considering suing “for a principle”.
And that is where ‘politics’ checked into the B&B and I became disturbed:
One of the couple is, apparently, leader of the Lib Dem group on his local council.
Stonewall the activist organisation promoting gay rights has warned:
“There are lots of gay people out there who are thinking about voting Conservative – many for the first time in their lives,”
“They will now be interrogating these issues much more thoroughly.”
Did you spot the implied threat?
The Observer, a paper which would be outraged if a similarly dubious recording had been made by an agency of the state, seems to find it acceptable to print Mr Grayling’s personal views when they are not even shared by the party he represents.
We are in election year and we must remember everyone wants to ‘score a goal’ against the opposition, or position themselves into a better place on the field of play.
One thing is for certain. Legislation cannot force acceptability of what is still a minority (yes, shock horror, the gay community is still a minority), albeit vocal group of people.
Acceptability comes about by behaviour and example.
For me, the couple lost all sympathy when they were seen on yesterday’s news ‘mugging’ the camera while draped in each other’s arms. It was a show of carefully staged ‘affection’ making a political point too crass even for the Camerons or the Browns to attempt.
Perhaps, the situation was best summed up by Andrea Williams, the director of the Christian Legal Centre:
“It is vital in a diverse and free society that we truly tolerate one another’s views.”
That should be taken as a two way street!!