A top Tory MP has been slammed by Labour and the Lib Dems for saying Christians who run B&Bs in their own homes should be allowed to exercise their conscience over who is allowed to stay.
Mike Judge debates theissue on Sky News
Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, was “secretly” recorded making the comments at a mainstream think tank and the Observer newspaper splashed the story on its front page on Sunday.
In the recording Mr Grayling says: “I took the view that 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.
“If they are running a hotel on the High Street, I really don’t think that it is right in this day and age that a gay couple should walk into a hotel and be turned away because they are a gay couple, and I think that is where the dividing line comes.”
His comments follow a case last month involving the Christian owners of a B&B in Berkshire who said they would not offer a double bed to a same-sex couple. The owners may be sued by the couple.
Labour and the Lib Dems were quick to criticise Mr Grayling’s comments. But others said there is nothing wrong with discussing “the boundaries between equality and conscience”.
Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, who is openly homosexual, said it shows “that the Conservatives have not really changed on this and many other issues”.
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “Chris Grayling’s plan would allow discrimination to thrive”.
Mr Grayling issued a statement to set out his position.
He said: “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.”
Others say the row has been blown out of all proportion.
An openly homosexual Assistant Editor at the Daily Telegraph, Neil Midgley, said: “As both a gay man and a libertarian, I can’t tell you how furious I get when these issues pop up.
“My view boils down to this. As a citizen of this country, I have rights which I hold more dear and for which I will speak out more fiercely than my right to take another man to a B&B for the weekend.
“Those more fundamental rights include my property rights in my flat, as well as freedom of speech and freedom of association.
“Labour, by contrast – and in the name of ‘equality’, which is always good for a laugh – has decided it has the absolute right to tell every single citizen of this country what to think.”
Also writing for the Daily Telegraph, Melanie McDonagh said: “I don’t know about you, but for me the oddest aspect of this story was that these views should have been captured on a ‘secret’ tape, smuggled to the Observer and revealed as front-page news as if they were the policy programme of the late Eugène Terre’Blanche rather than the unremarkable musings of a mainline Tory to a perfectly respectable think tank.
“Obviously, Mr Grayling has now been put on the naughty step and has hastily made clear that he thinks that the Equality Act shouldn’t be changed – just applied with a light touch.
“But you have to ask: what’s wrong with thinking aloud about the boundaries between equality and conscience, between people’s rights to determine what goes on in their homes, even if they rent out bedrooms, and their duties as providers of commercial services?”
And the Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn said: “The Observer newspaper prides itself on its impeccable ‘liberal’ credentials. Indeed, the latest edition carries a splendid editorial in support of free speech.
“Yet the very same paper splashed on its front page a vituperative attack on the shadow home secretary Chris Grayling, who had the audacity to suggest that perhaps people who run bed and breakfast establishments should have the right to decide who sleeps under their own roof.”
He continued: “Self-styled ‘liberals’ are now trying to destroy the career of a decent politician simply for expressing a point of view which I would guess is held by at least half the population.
“Secret tape recordings, smear campaigns. These are the disreputable weapons of fascists, not liberals.
“I have often argued in this column that those who force ‘tolerance’ down our throats are among the most intolerant bullies on Earth.
“They only tolerate opinions which chime with their own world view. Anyone who dissents must be traduced and punished.”