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Johann Hari

Johann Hari: How is this different from turning away black couples?

The Conservative Party's claim to have abandoned its long history of homophobia seems to be imploding as the general election approaches.

David Cameron's putative Home Secretary has just announced that he thinks B&Bs – places open for hire to the public – should, in practice, be legally permitted to put up signs saying "No Gays". How is this different to turning away black people or disabled people or Jewish people – except that Cameron would sack Grayling if he supported discrimination against them?

Meanwhile, Cameron has given two interviews to the gay press – and both have led him to tell shocking untruths, or demand the interview be stopped.

In his recent interview for Gay Times with a sympathetic former Tory researcher, Cameron offered a few tongue-tied answers defending his record – he supported the homophobic Section 28 laws until 2005, and included it in his personal election literature – before suddenly snapping that the cameras should be switched off, and adding: "Can we stop for a second?... I'm finding it... I'd almost like to start again from scratch... I'm finding the whole thing actually..." and then he petered out. No other issue has reduced him to such inarticulate stammering.

In his interview with me for Attitude, Cameron denied voting to ban gay people from having the chance to provide an adoptive home for children in care. When I showed him the vote in Hansard, he mumbled, "That's not my recollection." He repeatedly said that he wouldn't ally with homophobic parties in the European Union, but when I showed him evidence of his closest European allies – indeed, those who were invited to address the Conservative Party conference – calling gay people paedophiles and "faggots", he simply kept repeating: "I'm not allied with parties that have views on homophobia or racism that I think are unacceptable."

Only a few years ago Cameron was attacking Tony Blair for "moving heaven and earth to allow the promotion of homosexuality in our schools". It's a statement that shows he really didn't understand what homosexuality is: did he think a child can be taught to be gay?

Now he is allowing his leading law and order spokesman to advocate open discrimination against gay people. It is the intermediate stage – when he said he "abhorred homophobia", despite choosing to ally with some of the worst homophobes in Europe – that seems increasingly like a vote-wooing anomaly.

Grayling's excuses for allowing on-going discrimination against gay people are bizarre. Nobody is forced to open a B&B. They choose to do so – and that means they can't turn away people based on arbitrary prejudices.

Gay couples aren't barging into people's homes and demanding a bed for the night. They are simply trying to use a publicly advertised service, without having the door slammed in their face because of a harmless natural difference they were probably born with.

This is a tragedy primarily for the large number of naturally right-wing gay people who want to vote Conservative.

It will be a great day for Britain when gay people can choose any party on the political spectrum, knowing it won't support prejudice and bigotry against them. David Cameron told us that day had come. His actions, alas, show that it has not.

To read Johann Hari's latest article for Slate magazine - about Heaven - click here

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