Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Sunday 4 April 2010

Conservatives trying to have it both ways on gay rights

One has to wonder whether the Conservative Party has really changed or not. This latest revealing comment by shadow home secretary Chris Grayling seems to me to be trying to having it both ways on gay rights. He tells a sympathetic audience what they want to hear - that he is 'on their side' and supports the right of those who maintain bed&breakfast establishments to refuse accommodation to people based on their sexuality and [that he] wanted to be "sensitive to the genuinely held principles of faith groups". Then he goes on to say he does not want to see a change in the law.

But the law, Mr Grayling, currently says [the relevant law is - the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007]: no one should be refused goods or services on the grounds of their sexuality.

Is this 'dog whistle' campaigning a warning that a future Conservative Government might seek to change the law to water down legislation to weaken the equality afforded by the law to gay people?

What I find particularly alarming is the comment made by a Conservative party spokesman that Mr Grayling had made it : "absolutely clear that in this day and age, a gay couple should not be turned away from a hotel just because they are a gay couple.". What Mr Grayling has done, and the Conservative Party spokesman has not refuted this, is to try and draw a distinction between different kinds of business offering accommodation for payment - between hotels and guest houses and/or bed&breakfast. Many establishments calling themselves hotels fulfil the dual role of being the home (and property of) the hotel-keeper. Where would such establishments fit into the world as envisaged by Mr Grayling?

I really do think the Conservative Party needs to repudiate Mr Grayling's comments clearly and unequivocally, or the suspicion will be left that the Conservative Party has not, in actual fact, changed very much at all and would not hesitate to reverse and/or weaken equality legislation if it thought it could get away with!

PS/ Mr Grayling's subsequent attempts to 'clarify' his statement only serve to 'muddy the waters' further. The current law is quite clear and Mr Grayling says he does not wish to change it. So what exactly does wishing to be 'sensitive to the genuinely held principles of faith groups' mean, Mr Grayling. What practical effect do you seek to see brought about and how can this be achieved within the current legislation, which you say you do not wish to see changed?

Why doesn't he just come out (ho! ho!) and admit that he was caught out by an undercover recording revealing his prejudices and is now trying to row-back furiously from them, whilst passing a message to religious bigots that he really does support them?

I'd be really pleased if someone could point me to any misanalysis in my article.


  1. If you set aside the easy reductio ad absurdam of the Old Testament with its justification of slavery, genocide and the like, Chris Grayling's caveat about sensitivity to the genuinely held principles of faith groups is slippery and actually quite dangerous in practice. We should probably disregard the Aztecs but without wishing to go too far into specifics, but both the Bible and Koran allow for the heads of families to beat and even kill recalitrant family members. These might reasonably said to be matters of genuinely held religious beliefs but should our society be sensitive towards them? I think not.

  2. I entirely agree, Richard.

    The number of people in the Conservative Party who think as Mr Grayling does are fewer and fewer and fewer as the years go by, but the Conservative Party is not the only one that has members/supporters/fellow-travellers who express similar views from time to time, whether it be a Roseanna Cunningham or a Jeff (of SNP Tactical Voting), or a LibDem candidate using 'dog whistle' tactics against a gay opponent (i.e. Peter Tatchell in the last election where he stood as a Labour candidate).

    I think, however, as someone who basically supports the Conservatives even if I am not a member any more because of this particular issue, that I am rather more honest and objective about the matter than some other partisan individuals. The odious Souter has given money to both the Conservative Party and the SNP and both parties accepted his support with unseemely alacrity.

    We are a secular society, not a theocracy. Personally I find the privileges (fiscal and political) afforded to religion to be completely unacceptable - as a taxpayer I have every right to drone on about this, although I tend, for a quiet life, not to do so very often.


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