Fasten your seatbelts. Just before I went down to the studio to talk about Labour posters on the Stephen Nolan Show I saw the breaking story about Chris Grayling. Tomorrow's Observer has a recording of him saying that he felt that the rights of bed and breakfast owners to refuse admission to gay couples should be respected. He differentiated between B&Bs and hotels, which he thought had no right "in this day and age" to refuse admission to gay couples. It turns out that he voted for the legislation in 2007 which prohibits B&B owners from doing this and he says he would not wish to turn the clock back.
I fundamentally disagree with him on the main issue. This is not about property rights. If you open your house to paying guests, it is no longer just your house. You are running a business, just the same as anyone else, and you should be subject to the same laws as anyone else. If you do not wish gay people, black people, Jews or anyone else in your house, don't open it to the public. Simple as that. No one would accept a shopowner refusing to serve a particular type of person, would they?
We all know the reaction of any right thinking person to any B&B owner who refused an Asian couple accomodation, so I see no reason why it should be different just because of your sexuality. If I and my partner booked into a B&B and were refused at the door we'd probably feel an inch tall. So what, some may say. Get over it. I disagree. Discrimination is wrong in whatever form it takes. Period.
So on the radio I made clear my disagreement with Grayling. Of course, that wasn't good enough for some. Should he apologise, I was asked? I said that he should only apologise if he meant it. Too often we demand apologies out of political correctness. My opponent in the discussion was ex-Mirror editor David Banks, who is normally quite pleasant. This time he went totally over the top and accused the Tories of wanting to go back to sexual apartheid and apartheid by race. That rather lost him the argument.
The trouble is, this will feed those like Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant who pick upon any sign of apparently anti gay comments in the Conservative Party as a sign that the party as a whole hasn't changed and would secretly like to bring back Section 28. It's rubbish of course. I know it, you know it, they know it, but it suits their agenda within the so-called gay community to feed fears and worries. It's what they do best. And of course they have already been at it tonight.
Do I believe Chris Grayling is homophobic? No, I do not. Do I believe that his views, as expressed, will be damaging. Yes I do. He has just issued the following statement...
"Any suggestion that I am against gay rights is wholly wrong - it is a matter of record that I voted for civil partnerships. I also voted in favour of the legislation that prohibited bed and breakfast owners from discriminating against gay people. However, this is a difficult area and on Wednesday I made comments which reflected my view that we must be sensitive to the genuinely held principles of faith groups in this country. But the law is now clear on this issue, I am happy with it and would not wish to see it changed."
All fine words, but I have to say I still disagree. I do not think we must be sensitive to faith groups who promote discrimination and bigotry. We wouldn't be sensitive to groups who provoke racial discrimination, so why should we be sensitive to those who appear to condone sexual discrimination. As someone just said on my Facebook thread...
I know why he said it - Christian rights etc. And I don't suppose I'd want to stay at their B&B but you can't back gay civil partnerships with tax credits and then let those same gay couples be refused a roof over their head for the night cos someone doesn't like what they do in bed. B&Bs are not churches. They are a business "service".
Exactly. However, let's not go overboard about this. Grayling voted for the current position and said on the recording, I believe, that he is content with it and would not change it. He expressed a personal opinion, which, however much I might disagree with it, he has every right to do. But he is Shadow Home Secretary and will have to defend himself. Because I am afraid I can't.