Comment: What exactly is a ‘bigot’?

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Writing for Nicolas Chinardet assesses the ‘bigot’ row that has hit Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg in the past 24 hours.

The Daily Mail, there’s a surprise, is leading the charge against Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg about supposed “fury” at the use of the word “bigots” in a draft speech to describe opponents of marriage equality. The offending word has now been replaced by “some people”.

The new version of the speech was delivered last night at a celebrity-studded event marking the end of the consultation on proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples.

Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, is quoted in the Mail as saying that “many Christians and non-Christians […] will be highly offended to be called bigots” adding that they “should not be treated in such a way”.

While he stops short of making his usual deluded claim that Christians are persecuted in the UK, this is clearly the subtext here.

He also has the gall to claim that he is “totally for equality” while in the same breath saying that same-sex couples should be excluded from marriage. How is that equality, exactly?

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Right-wing Tory MP Peter Bone and Colin Hart, of the Coalition for Marriage campaign group, are also asked for their wisdom on the subject. One calls for Clegg’s dismissal, the other claims that the DPM is attacking the British public as a whole and should concentrate on fixing the economy.

Nick Clegg has now reassured every one that this is a word he “had no intention of using, would never use. It is not the kind of word that [he] would use.”

There has been claimed on social media that the inclusion and retraction of the word from the speech had been planned all along. Whether that was the case or not, it certainly put the cat among the pigeons.

But what is a bigot exactly?

According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance.”

Since the government announced its intention to open civil marriage to same-sex couples, the usual phalanx of religious leaders, mostly, have been highly vocal in airing their opposition to the move. They cite their deeply held beliefs on the subject as reason enough.

The Catholic Church has been at the forefront of the attacks, sometimes using some rather questionable rhetoric in the process.

For example, Cardinal O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has described marriage equality as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.” The Pope has said that it is a threat to “the future of humanity itself”.

There are many more examples of such outbursts and never are the slightest rational arguments ever produced to support those farcical claims.

If this is not hateful prejudice stemming from obstinate devotion to an opinion, then I don’t know what is. Carey and Co may not like the word and could probably find others they prefer but the cap clearly fits.

The only reason why parts of the hierarchy of some religious groups are so vociferous, can, I think, be found in the consistent erosion of religious influence in the social and political life of the country.

A survey of young people published only today shows that only 4% of 16 to 24-year-olds said that having religious faith or beliefs is the most important moral issue for them.

Could therefore attacks on LGBT people be a last-ditch attempt at regrouping and unifying a dwindling and disparate flock by targeting an easily recognisable, perceived threat?

LGBT people are, sadly, one of the last identifiable groups that it is still remotely socially acceptable to attack. Thankfully mentalities are evolving fast and this will hopefully not be the case for much longer.

In any case, let’s not forget that the proposals only concern civil marriage. The views of religious bodies are therefore far from relevant to the debate and should certainly not be given the prominence they enjoy in the media.

Coming back to the Daily Mail and Lord Carey’s mock outrage at being finally publicly called what they really are, it is important to remember that the consistent attitude and words of those that listen to them are often much more hurtful than the one-off use of a word that seems to describe them fairly accurately.

Around the country, LGBT people are daily submitted to very real abuse, sometimes physical abuse. The complaint that offensive language is being used against opponents of equality would perhaps be taken more seriously if those people also rose against the offensive language so regularly thrown at LGBT people and if they refrained from employing such language themselves.

Nicolas Chinardet is involved with various LGBT community organisations and charities. Find out more at

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