Comment: Can we tolerate homophobia for much longer?

PinkNews logo on pink background with rainbow corners.’s Benjamin Cohen takes a personal look at the controversy concerning the comments made by Sir Iqbal Sacranie on the radio.

It used to be the case that libertarians and liberals could argue with some justification that tolerance is a necessary part of a liberal society. As a liberal, I could say to Sir Iqbal: “I disagree with you but I tolerate the right for you to be intolerant.” But can we still continue be tolerant of those who show so little respect for our liberal way of life.

Britain has moved on so much in the four decades that have passed since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Indeed the past few years have seen some of the most fundamental changes to the way that the gay community is treated in the wider society.

We have won the right to commit to our partners in what is a gay marriage in all but name, we have the same inheritance rights as straights and we can now adopt children as a couple if we so wish. We have also won the right not to be discriminated in the work place and will shortly be awarded the right to be free of prejudice in the delivery of public and private services.

In my view, Britain’s perception of homosexuality has changed for the good and I believe that the change is permanent. It is therefore no different to say: “homosexuality is wrong” to saying: “Islam is wrong” or: “Jews should be expelled” or: “send back the blacks”. All are offensive and all can no longer be tolerated in our modern society.

Sir Iqbal claimed that the introduction of gay marriage would eat away at the foundation of society. He claimed that homosexuality is morally wrong and something that he “would certainly not in any form encourage the community to be involved in.”

I have some sympathy for his point of view; he is reacting to Britain’s acceptance of homosexuality with a theological bent. I would never dream of denying him the right to express his religious view point, if he could perhaps limit his audience to those that share his particular religious stance, as it can’t be seen as advice for society as a whole.

I, like Sir Iqbal posses a strong attachment to a religious tradition, but I believe that this must not cloud my understanding of the wider society that I live in. I would never for example; wish to suggest that British society has been damaged because most males are uncircumcised, nor that we are all unhealthy due to not eating Kosher meat.

What Sir Iqbal appeared to have forgotten when he made the outbursts is that he is not a politician in a far away Islamic republic but rather the General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Perhaps he needs to consider what the inclusion of “Britain” in the name of his organisation means.

In my view, this means engaging with the realities of modern British life, engaging with our tolerance of views and practises different to our own and our desire for liberty and equality to be spread across our nation.