Equality is a peculiar concept. In essence, it is a simple belief that all people ought to be treated with the same level of respect, kindness, love and fairness. It seeks to ensure that the same unrestrained opportunities are available to all, leading to the fulfilment of potential and contributing towards the continued progression of mankind. This is the "pure"', unhindered version of extreme equality that the likes of Harriet Harman et al follow with near evangelic fervour.
At this point, equality certainly sounds like an admirable virtue, one that should perhaps be encouraged and celebrated. After all, surely all people, regardless of their differences, should be treated the same. Indeed, those who promote equality often claim to be sticking up for the disadvantaged and the unrepresented, the little guys of the world who need a voice. Equality, they protest, protects those of different sexualities, those of different ethnicities, those of different ages, those with differing opinions…ah, wait a minute. Those with differing opinions?
This is the sticking point. The extreme interpretation of equality that has been forced upon British society over the past decade is in itself a remarkable contradiction. On the one hand, it claims to protect diversity and variation yet, on the other, it ruthlessly strikes down any dissenting voices, any individual who would rather maintain the status quo. Extreme equality is, of course, better known as political correctness and its ultimate failing is that it attacks the very diversity which it seeks to promote.
Let us take a story from this week's newspapers as an apt example. Unsurprisingly, I am referring to the case of Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the Christian hotel owners from Marazion in Cornwall. As many readers will know, Mr and Mrs Bull were taken to court following their decision to deny a gay couple a room at their hotel.
Judge Andrew Rutherford ruled that Mr and Mrs Bull had broken the law and that they were in breach of 21st century equality. The hotel owners will now have to pay thousands of pounds in damages. Equality, it is claimed, has won the day. In truth, however, the State-led boot of political correctness has merely tramped once again on the truly marginalised voices of modern day society.
You see, when Mr and Mrs Bull decided to prevent the gay couple, Mr Preddy and Mr Hall, from staying in their hotel they were not making an instant judgement about the couple, nor in fact were they taking a stand against homosexuality. Rather, they were simply following a policy which they first put into practice back in 1986 – that no unmarried couples should share a bed under their privately-owned roof (which is, of course, also their business).
The reaction to this somewhat traditional yet harmless policy has been remarkable. Mr and Mrs Bull have been tagged as homophobes, taken to court, forced to justify their literal interpretation of the Bible, told by the Judge involved that their views are out of date and, finally, given a punishment which will place significant strain upon their business' finances. In the end, the penalty for holding a diverse viewpoint has been extreme. As Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, commented "equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield". Frankly, this whole situation is just wrong.
I am not a Christian. I do not hold any such stringent views about married or unmarried couples. Yet, as an openly gay man in a happy, long-term relationship, it infuriates me when equality groups tell me that cases such as the above should be celebrated as victories for the 'homosexual community'. Sorry, but I refuse to be confined to any such sub-section of society.
Obviously, it goes without saying that I am truly appreciative of the sacrifice and dedication of certain gay rights campaigners in years gone by and I welcome the fact that same-sex couples can lead honest, open and free lives in the same way as heterosexual couples. Indeed, at certain points in the not-so-distant past, gay rights activists carried out tremendous work through their tireless campaigning.
However, the true test facing all reformers is knowing when to stop; being able to accept that the battles have been won and that the fighting can finally end. Likewise, an appreciation that pushing a reform agenda too far risks the pendulum being swung only from one extreme to the other, thus simply transferring the original prejudice rather than erasing it, is a rare quality to posses.
Ultimately, though, I believe that a truly progressive society is not one where its members live in fear of a slip of the tongue with punishment awaiting those who hold a minority view, but rather one where equality is reached naturally through the unconstrained expressions of freedom. Alas, in light of Mr and Mrs Bull's fate, I fear that my view of society is fast becoming the distant memory of a by-gone age, if not an idealistic vision of a future that will never be. Not least until this tidal wave of extreme equality is radically challenged by those at the heart of power in Westminster.