Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Winners and losers in a moral revolution

A few words on the "gay hotel ban" case, mainly to recommend this thoughtful and measured response by sex-law blogger Chris Ashford, which stands out amongst the jeering, triumphalism and moaning that has made up most of the online comment on all sides. As he charitably notes, however unfashionable their views the hotel owners "consider themselves good decent people [who] try to live their life as good citizens." I haven't changed my own mind substantially since commenting on a similar case last April (the one that sank Chris Grayling's chances of becoming Home Secretary).

To my mind, the most striking thing about Judge Rutherford's ruling was its acknowledgement of the magnitude of the social change that the equality law embodies. "The standards and principles governing our behaviour which were unquestioningly accepted in one generation may not be so accepted in the next," he said. In many areas - the judge also mentioned corporal punishment in schools, suicide and the laws restricting smoking - what may loosely described as the liberal agenda (though it is not always particularly "liberal") has achieved an almost complete capture of the public sphere in the space of forty years, not just in Britain but throughout the Western world. Perhaps only the triumph of Christianity in the fourth century comes close - and that was a slower process. It would be surprising if it did not meet some resistance. It is surprising that the resistance has been relatively muted.

Modern acceptance of gay sexuality in particular (which I fully endorse) represents a moral revolution as dramatic as any in history. Attitudes that were common currency for centuries are now unacceptable in polite company. What was once considered unmentionable now enjoys state approbation. Such is progress; but it has left people who have stayed true to traditional religious teachings (and most religions, not just evangelical Christianity, have always taken an extremely negative view of homosexuality) in an uncomfortable position. They have not changed. Society has reordered itself around them, leaving them morally stranded. As they become fewer in number, so the social and legal pressure against them becomes more extensive and oppressive. You don't have to agree with their views to have some degree of sympathy for their predicament.