The shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling MP should apologise and retract his support for discrimination against gay couples by B&B owners. By endorsing their right to refuse accommodation to gay partners, he has stirred new doubts about the Conservatives' commitment to lesbian and gay equality – doubts reinforced by David Cameron's notable silence.
Many voters – gay and straight – will be disturbed by his failure to swiftly disown Mr Grayling's support for anti-gay discrimination. The Tory leader needs to clarify whether he agrees with Mr Grayling that B&B owners should have the right to turn away gay couples. Was Mr Grayling speaking for himself or for the Conservative Party? The public is entitled to know. Mr Grayling's position in the Shadow Cabinet is untenable. It is not acceptable for the Tories to have a shadow Home Secretary who supports homophobic discrimination and who defies the party's supposedly pro-gay rights policy. Mr Cameron should move Mr Grayling to a shadow post that does not involve equality issues.
This controversy is not just a gay rights issue. It concerns one of the basic principles of a democratic society: that everyone should be subject to the same laws and be given the same protection against discrimination. The Conservative Party's claim to have embraced this principle looks hollow. There is also more than a whiff of double standards. The Tories don't agree with B&Bs refusing accommodation to black or Jewish couples. If race discrimination is wrong, why is Mr Grayling saying that homophobic discrimination is right?
According to the equality laws, no one providing services to the public, such as B&B accommodation, has a right to discriminate. Mr Grayling is a leading Conservative and he opposes this legislation. He seems to want some people to be above the law. Many lesbians and gay men fear that if the Conservatives win the general election they will amend equality legislation to ease the restrictions on homophobic discrimination and permit further opt-outs by religious organisations and individuals. Mr Grayling has thus revealed the true face of Mr Cameron's modern Conservatism. It is is not nearly as liberal and gay-friendly as the Tory leader likes to proclaim. The Conservative Party conference has never once voted for gay equality. They don't have a single gay rights policy.