Jan 032013
Ethnic minorities

Mark Pritchard, a Tory MP, has taken to the pages of Politics Home to argue (among other things) that the Conservative Party ought to drop its support for same-sex marriage in order to win the votes of ethnic minority voters. I’m a little surprised, because I would have thought that moral relativism is exactly what the Conservative Party should stand against.

Either gay marriage is right or it is wrong. There may be good reasons for thinking it is wrong, although I have to admit that most of the ones I hear seem to be along the lines of “but why not marry your hamster?” (“‘I do,’ squeaked Hammy, a look of purest joy upon her tiny chubby-cheeked face”) or “it will undermine straight marriage”, as though releasing more marriages onto the market reduces the value of existing ones, in a process of runaway wedding inflation. There are, to my mind, many more and far better reasons for thinking it is right, and apparently David Cameron agrees with me.

But either way, it shouldn’t matter whether the move will appeal to ethnic minority voters. Muslims, or Coptic Christians or Hindus, or whoever, have their own moral beliefs. Like Western ones, if you believe that in some sense that there is a universal moral truth, those beliefs are either right or wrong. Sometimes it will be hard to tell, because morality is complex and no one has made a fully coherent system (some day I’ll write about morality as an evolved human trait, which is what it is), but some are straightforwardly wrong: female genital mutilation, for instance, or forced marriage, or the vicious anti-gay prejudice of some Ugandans and Nigerians.

By legalising same-sex marriage, says Pritchard, the Tories will “alienate large parts of the very same ethnic and religious groups the Party says it needs to attract to win the next general election”. Well, maybe. But if they could win a few of those votes by making homosexuality illegal altogether, or by allowing child marriage, they wouldn’t do it, because those things are simply wrong. And if they lose a few votes by making same-sex marriage legal, then that should be OK too, because it is (or so David Cameron and I think) the right thing to do.

No doubt the Conservative Party needs to do more to attract ethnic minority votes. But if those votes can only be won at a moral cost, then they might not be worth winning. Instead, and I don’t care at all if I sound like a White Man’s Burden colonialist-paternalist whatever when I say this, ethnic minority voters (and everyone else) who think that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry need to be told that their moral code is wrong.

Perhaps I’ve got it wrong on gay marriage, though I very, very much doubt it. But if David Cameron switches position to please ethnic minority voters, then he’s abandoned any pretence of an attempt to find moral truth, and gone instead for (at best) political expediency and (at worst) a stance of total one-view-is-as-good-as-another moral relativism. By all means admit that the moral truth is complex and obscure and hard to tease out, and that neither the Western tradition nor other cultures have a monopoly on it. But it exists, and ignoring it when you think you’ve found it in order to win over the minority vote is simply sad.

Tom Chivers

Dropping Tory support for gay marriage to win the ethnic minority vote would be crass moral relativism – Telegraph Blogs