I’ve just watched this clip from a recent episode of Question Time in which David Starkey warns against creating a ‘new tyranny’ against Christians.
Although I think he is quite a bright man, I can’t agree with his point of view.
He seems to be confusing the issue of allowing Christians (or any other group) to hold personal beliefs with the matter of services that are provided by the state and businesses that are open to the public. I don’t think that they are a single issue.
Yes, a religious person can hold whatever belief they wish, and can live their life according to that belief if they choose to, as long as they aren’t harming anyone else.
But the state shouldn’t have to endorse that opinion, or make provision for it.
In the case of the foster couple that he mentions, they would be free (unfortunately) to tell their own children that a gay lifestyle is not a good lifestyle. But the state has a duty to a child placed in their care – a child who may be gay themselves – and it has been accepted by the state that being gay is not harmful, nor is it a choice. What damage would be done to a gay child placed with that foster couple, to be told that the way they are is wrong? We may not be able to stop people harming their own children in that way, but the state has a duty to protect the children it places into foster care. It is rather hackneyed now to compare homophobia to racism, but for the sake of argument: if the couple had stated that they believe Asians are not to be trusted, would we consider them to be fit foster carers? No, probably not. Backing your argument up with religious doctrine doesn’t make it true.
The second example of the Christian B&B owners is slightly more difficult, but the court’s ruling was based on the assertion that if you are going to provide a paid service to someone, you cannot discriminate over who you provide it to on the basis of sex, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. I believe this is right and proper. It doesn’t prevent the B&B owners from believing what they want to believe; but if they don’t want to accommodate people on an equal basis, they shouldn’t run a B&B. If they had said “we believe disabled people are being punished by God for their sins in a past life, so we won’t have them in our home”, would we find that acceptable? No. If it were just their house, that’s up to them, but it is a place of business, and is therefore subject to regulation by the law.
So I cannot agree with David Starkey, I think he is wrong. And to end his speech by saying being “nice and sweet about gays isn’t wholly a good thing” just seems absurd. It is good to be harassed and discriminated against, is it? He makes it sound like it is harmless character-building. People who argue for gay rights aren’t asking everyone to be “nice and sweet” about them; rather just for them to be treated on an equal footing as everyone else, with all the hardships, annoyances and stress that life entails, but without a whole load of extra difficulties heaped upon them simply because they are gay and some people don’t think that’s OK.