Marriage is, quite blatantly, a heterosexual institution. Why are gay men and women trying to assimilate themselves into straight society?"
That is the question posed by Stephen Parkinson, the Tory candidate for Newcastle upon Tyne North, in Independent political editor Andrew Grice's report on the Tory class of 2010.
Grice reports that Parkinson opposes civil partnerships as well as gay adoption, and defends the "benefits" of the section 28 legislation passed by the Thatcher government in 1988. Parkinson is a former director of research at the Centre for Policy Studies, but does not seem to have made his strong views against gay equality part of his campaign pitch.
Conservative leader David Cameron has made the acceptance of gay rights an important part of his claim that the party has changed. He has apologised for his party's record on the issue, calling his own vote to retain section 28 in 2003 a "mistake": "Yes, we may have sometimes been slow and, yes, we may have made mistakes, including Section 28, but the change has happened".
Parkinson's fears about the dangers of gay "assimilation" into "heterosexual society" suggest he is much less at ease with his party's accomodation to Britain's social liberalism.
Overall, the feature reinforces the consistent message from earlier Tory candidate surveys. Whether the source is ConservativeHome on the right or the New Statesman poll from the left, the consistent message has been that new Tory candidates are more diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity, but often more right-wing on major policy issues, most wanting to see spending and taxes cut sharply, a fundamental renegotiation in while putting climate change bottom of the list of priorities.
Grice also has quotes from Tory candidates in the class of 2010 expressing strong Euroscepticism ("you only have to ask Dan Hannan about my views" says Diana Coad of Slough), less spending and low tax, and supporting the restriction of the abortion time limit on abortion to as low as possible.
The surveys suggest those are often mainstream rather than marginal views among Tory candidates.
That Cameron's new Conservative candidates are often pretty right-wing is not new, though it does challenge the depth of the Cameron claim to have changed the party.
But one would at least hope that Tory candidates - whether centrist or right-wing - would want to strongly reject Parkinson's comments against gay "assimilation" into "heterosexual society" and to re-emphasise the party's commitment to equality.
Iain Dale says that Parkinson can not be arguing against gay equality because Parkinson is himself gay: I disagree on this first point: a woman entrepreneur who says she tries not to employ other women is no less sexist than Alan Sugar.
On the second, Dale reports that the candidate claims he never held the views set out in his Cambridge Union speech on this issue; Dale reports that "this was a Cambridge debate where you often stand up and defend positions which are not your own".
But I don't find this particularly plausible at all. It is the case in Oxford and Cambridge Union debating contests that the competitors are given one side of the argument to debate blind, and so may have to argue a case they oppose, as I remember from my own first year efforts at Oxford.
But that is not how the formal debates with invited speakers work, which are a quite different proposition. Parkinson wll have chosen to argue that side of the argument. His audience will have expected him to have been arguing his sincere view, not arguing a view which he does not hold for the hell of it. And there is nothing in the reports at the time, such as his publishing the speech on the Conservative Assocation website, to distance himself from the argument he publicly made.
Here is the speech in full. Parkinson tacitly refers to his own sexuality - "the proposition’s case tonight is in no way anti-gay or homophobic: anyone who knows me will understand why that is patently absurd" - before arguing that section 28 is simply "misunderstood" and that civil partnerships and gay marriage are wrong, and increase rather than reduce discrimination.
I do, however, accept that the tone and occasion of the assimiliation remark does slightly soften it:
I must admit that my opposition to the Civil Partnership Bill is also based on a slightly less rational reason. Marriage is, quite blatantly, a heterosexual institution. Why are gay men and women trying to assimilate themselves into straight society? Why are we mimicking the most overtly heterosexual ceremony? What have we been fighting for all these years, if not the right to be different?
Parkinson's broader argument on section 28 and civil partnerships is argued seriously. If he does not hold this view now, that is good. Whatever it is convenient to claim in 2010, it seems much more likely that (like his leader) he has changed his mind rather than that he chose to passionately and publiclly argue, in 2002, a case which he simply never believed.