Comment: ‘Offended by marriage equality’: the admission of a lost argument

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A number of MPs recently have stated they will oppose marriage equality because they don’t want to ‘offend’ religious people. It is not merely anti-democratic, but anti-faith, writes Adrian Tippetts for PinkNews.

If there is one consolation from the sad, sorry debate on the supposed ‘redefining’ of marriage, it is that the opponents do not have a rational, consistent case against equality. In a nutshell, it runs like this: gay people marrying is said to demean marriage, yet gay people are equally capable of love and commitment; marriage is said to be about procreation, but people contribute to society in many ways, lots of straight couples are childless and, anyway, thousands of gay couples are bringing up children; gay couples can’t be biological parents, but neither can any parents of adopted children. It’s not a priority yet there has been a lavish year-long, high-profile campaign the cost of which could have funded a five-star hospital. The narrative swings from one absurdity to the other, like the arrow of a weathervane swivelling in a gale, catching any favourable wind of hot air that blows.

With no arguments left, our opponents are proving that they have no time for differences in either nature or opinion.  A number of MPs are coming out against marriage equality because they don’t want to ‘offend religious people’. This is a dereliction of democratic duty, not only because it unduly elevates one opinion over another, but because it makes debate pointless. In civilised, adult discourse, we work out the truth by suspecting, not respecting, opinions. They stand or fall by challenges to their claims based on reason, evidence and logic.

Evidence doesn’t matter, my book has all the answers

The fear of offending religious belief is the most insidious threat to equality, for it presumes that religious belief has more to say about families and relationships than what evidence and observation tell us, simply for the fact it is a religious belief. Applying it in the case of LGBT rights is homophobia by proxy: it treats the belief that expression of same-sex love is sinful, inferior, unnatural, or damaging to society, as one that is worthy of protection and beyond investigation.

It protects how, as well as what you think, providing the incentive to stay hermetically sealed from the truth. To hell with the modern understanding of human psychology and observation of committed, stable, loving, happy same-sex couples and their families, then: a 2,000 year-old book and the private contemplations of religious leaders with no experience of sexual relations have all the answers. The attitude is exemplified by Philip Tartaglia, the Catholic Bishop of Glasgow, who has all the answers he needs, when he warned the Scottish government that his church would never celebrate civil partnerships, “not now, not in the future, not ever”. Privileging beliefs for no other reason than the fact they are religious sends the message that it’s OK not to bother doubting, questioning and challenging what you believe and why. The state is thus protecting prejudices that so often manifest themselves in violent form on our streets.

Many of the religious lobby groups who co-founded or actively support the ‘Coalition for Marriage’ have no intention of changing their minds either. They are motivated to campaign so fiercely because they find the very existence of out, proud gay people in loving relationships offensive. Brief research shows that the organisations involved in the campaign to stop marriage equality are actually opposed to gay people having any rights or recognition in law whatsoever. For example, the Christian Institute is open about its continued opposition to every single piece of gay rights legislation, from the lowering of the age of consent from 21, allowing gay people to serve in the armed forces (see their crackpot reasoning here), to the equalities act, as their judgement on the morality of MPs’ votes shows.

CARE (Christian Action Research and Education), sponsored an infamous gay ‘cure’ event in 2009, and its Scottish division campaigns against the funding of LGBT groups. The Family Education Trust and Christian Concern campaigned as vociferously in 2006 as they do now in the case of marriage, against laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination. In opposing the repeal of Section 28, the lowering of the age of consent, adoption laws, or the introduction of civil partnerships, they claimed gay people were predators and more likely to be paedophiles, only wanted to adopt children as trophies, and were responsible for spreading disease and more likely to take drugs.

State protection of bigotry

They hate to be called bigots and homophobes, but that is what they are: the very arbitrary nature of the opposition to marriage states as its premise, that no gay relationship, no matter how loving, supportive, stable, faithful or committed can match the standard of a heterosexual relationship, however abusive, adulterous, deceitful, dysfunctional or short-lived. And behind all this is the notion that gay people should live a loveless life of chastity. Why on earth, in 2013, are we wasting our time worrying about whether people with such poisonous views as this are offended or not? They deserve to be, for their cruelty and stupidity.

Moreover, it is time we got offended with politicians who want to pussyfoot around such people or appease such viewpoints. They should be openly calling them and the MPs who show no shame in their bigoted voting records and to account. You could have a field day with the double standards of this cabal of irritable Tory backbenchers. Sir Roger Gale has been married three times, yet had no qualms about voting against any legal recognition of gay unions. Challenge his hypocrisy. In 1999, Gerald Howarth’s reaction to the overdue decriminalisation of homosexuality in the armed forces was as follows:

“This appalling decision will be greeted with dismay among ordinary soldiers in the armed forces, many of whom joined the services precisely because they wished to turn their back on some of the values of modern society.”

Lazy language must be avoided in challenging outrageous statements like this from years gone by, so as not to excuse insincerity. American politicians excuse themselves by saying their views have ‘evolved’. What does this mean? Evolution implies adapting to the environment; perhaps it means camouflaging bigotry in platitudes that the people want to hear, to ensure they remain politically fit to survive in a new paradigm? Equally meaningless is the expression ‘to move with the times’, as if acceptance of homosexuality were a fashion, or time itself were some invisible hand guiding society to a utopian tolerance. No: we need to hear how such people have, or are capable of, moving with the evidence and their natural human instinct for compassion, and respect them for doing so.

Moved by evidence

Polls show strong majority support for marriage equality. But the momentous shift in attitudes towards gay people is far more interesting. The most likely explanation is that more LGBT people have come out to friends, relatives, team-mates, neighbours or work-colleagues, some of whom may have never known a gay person before, and only had the stereotype of tabloid newspapers to go on. They change their minds because of what they observe: the better people know and the more they learn about LGBT people and their relationships, the more likely they are be supportive of their relationships. This highlights precisely why we should respect the dignity and liberty of people, and not respect beliefs, simply because they are ‘strongly held’.  If beliefs about gay people are formed by ignorance, opinion polls cannot determine a just outcome on the issue of equality. A prejudiced point of view is not made less ill-informed because more people hold it. This is precisely why we can dismiss the one thousand Catholic priests who have come out in force against gay marriage. Just ask these people: what is you experience of loving sexual relationships? Do you have a reason to believe what you believe? How do you know it is true?

Respecting religious opinion is anti-faith too!

Even if one is not moved by evidence, any proponent of opposing marriage on religious grounds must consider that to take offence on behalf of one religious interpretation is also arrogant and anti-religious. Such a viewpoint pretends to know which religious interpretation – the reactionary one – is the most in tune with the supposed mind of god. This in itself is offensive to the majority of Christians who do not see homosexuality as a sin, and an attack on the religious freedom and conscience of those liberal faiths, including Quakers, Unitarians, liberal Jews and many Anglican congregations, who are denied the right to conduct same-sex marriages in line with the teachings of their faiths. This religious call for equality will only intensify: just this week, one of Britain’s leading evangelicals, the Rev Steve Chalke, has come out in favour.

Opposing equality is even inconsistent on biblical grounds. If all sins are equal, why is there no call for denying marriage to the divorced, or all those who have had sex before and outside of marriage, and to atheists? These points would be self-evident to any politician. In which case, the call for protecting the status quo on grounds of preventing ‘offence’ is probably nothing more than an excuse to cave in to the lobby group that shouts the loudest. Such a politician is likely to make a dog’s breakfast of any legislation going, from tobacco packaging to regulation of financial services and deserves deselection to prevent any more damage from being done.

The opposition to marriage equality, for all the self-pity, has one privilege in which they can take all the consolation they like: the knowledge and satisfaction that no gay people have been, or will ever be, married in the eyes of their particular god. I suspect LGBT people would regard this as a deliverance, too.

Adrian Tippetts is a freelance journalist, human rights campaigner and PR consultant specialising in the graphics industry.

The views expressed in this article are his own and not those of