Penalising Christians for their beliefs about homosexual behaviour is intolerant, oppressive and tyrannical, gay historian David Starkey said on BBC’s Question Time last night.
Watch David Starkey’s comments
But Labour’s Margaret Beckett, a former Foreign Secretary, said racists should not be foster parents, and neither should those who believe homosexual behaviour is wrong.
And the Tories’ Iain Duncan Smith claimed that foster parents should not be allowed to push their views on children in their care.
But fellow panellist, Liam Halligan of the Daily Telegraph, said Mr Duncan Smith had got it wrong.
He said: “I’m a tolerant guy, but sometimes if you absolutely push tolerant people they become intolerant because you go past the point of no return.
“And this is a situation where the absolute letter of the law, which may have been drafted with good intentions, has completely blown away any proportion of common sense.”
Lord Malloch Brown, former UN Deputy Secretary General, shared Mr Starkey’s concerns about the state deciding morality.
Speaking on last night’s show Mr Starkey said: “It seems to me that what we are doing is producing a tyrannous new morality that is every bit as oppressive as the old.”
Mr Starkey, a self-professed atheist, warned that this new morality was intolerant, oppressive and “intrusive into family life”.
He illustrated the danger by pointing to the case of the Christian guesthouse owners who were recently fined £3,600 because of their policy of restricting double beds to married couples.
He said: “The way to do that is not to ban them, not to fine them. It is for them simply to put up what seems to me to be a quite proper notice in a small privately run hotel which says we are Christians and this is what we believe.
“Otherwise, we are as I said, we are producing a new tyranny.”
Mr Starkey said direct discrimination against homosexuality should be illegal, but insisted that Christians should be entitled to hold their beliefs without fear of state interference.
Earlier this year Michael Portillo, discussing the plight of the Christian B&B owners sued over their double bed policy, expressed concern at the dangers posed by a “secular theocracy”.
Although Mr Portillo did not agree with the B&B owners’ beliefs, he was concerned about the erosion of personal liberty.
The former cabinet minister made the comment on BBC Radio 4’s the Moral Maze, examining the ongoing conflict between religious belief and human rights law.
Other members of the show’s panel also expressed concern that the law had gone too far in restricting the rights of people to manifest their religious beliefs.
Referring to the dangers posed by the emergence of “secular theocracy” Mr Portillo said: “I’m not on the receiving end of this at the moment at all because I’m not a religious person.
“But I can easily conceive of how I could be on the receiving end of some future legislation.”