The Conservative shadow home secretary Chris Grayling has apologised for giving “the wrong impression” when he told a meeting that bed and breakfast owners should have the right to ban gay couples.
He apologised today in an interview for BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I am sorry if what I said gave the wrong impression, I certainly didn’t intend to offend anyone…I voted for gay rights, I voted for this particular measure [the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007],” he said.
He said that he supports gay rights and said he was sorry for giving the “wrong impression”.
The interview was conducted following a day of rumours on Twitter that he was about to be sacked from David Cameron’s shadow cabinet.
Mr Grayling was recorded speaking at an event titled ‘a Conservative Home Office’, held at the Centre for Policy Studies two weeks ago.
“I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences,” he said. “I personally always took the view that, if you look at the case of should a Christian hotel owner have the right to exclude a gay couple from a hotel, 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.”
Mr Grayling was making reference to Susannne and Mike Wilkinson, who own the Swiss B&B in Berskhire and hit the national news last month for turning away a gay couple who had booked a room.
Mr Grayling did however draw a distinction between hotels and bed and breakfasts being run in someone’s 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.”
The comments put him at odds with the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, which he voted for. The regulations prevent gay from being refused goods or services due to their sexuality.
Immediately after his comments were published, PinkNews.co.uk conducted a poll of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) voters, which showed that support for the Conservative Party dropped by five percentage points in the space of a month.
The fall followed an interview first broadcast on Channel 4 News where party leader Mr Cameron was unable to answer why Conservative MEPs had not supported a vote condemning Section-28 style legislation being proposed in Lithuania, or why MPs are given a free vote on issues relating to gay rights.
Today, Andrew Bridgen, who is standing for the Conservatives in North West Leicestershire, said he had “considerable sympathy” with B&B owners.
“At the end of the day our policy is, we voted for the Equality Bill and as far as people who run a business, they have to offer the same services to everyone,” he said.
“But I do have sympathy with someone who is opening up their own home to a guest.”
“A public house has the right to refuse a customer and they don’t have to give a reason, so I have considerable sympathy for B&B owners in this case.”