LGBT rights shouldn’t be stopped by offensive cardinals

by James Asser

Last week, Kevin Meagher in his article for UncutGay rights and testy cardinals” raised some interesting points about the balance between faith and politics and the need for religion to have its voice and it’s say. Quite agree. All sections of society have the right to speak out, my concern over the comments at the weekend by Cardinal O’Brien, is less what he wants to say more the way he has chosen to say it.

Kevin makes the point that the cardinal “doesn’t mince his words” which is a nice way of saying he’s bloody rude and offensive. How else can we interpret the assertion that gay marriage will lead to the “further degeneration of society into immorality” or that gay marriage is “grotesque” or that in a convoluted and bizarre analogy that it is comparable to legalising slavery?

We’re told that tolerance and respect is a two way street, I agree and I respect the cardinal’s right to disagree, and to articulate it, but I see no tolerance or respect in the remarks he made, just abuse.

Of course what is being missed is that the government’s proposed consultation relates purely to civil marriage. There are no proposals to require churches to undertake same sex-marriage, no proposals that they should be made to embrace it; in fact the government consultation doesn’t even cover it. It’s not even as if this is a revolutionary new concept, it is the logical progression from civil partnerships and the work done by the last Labour government and we should be proud of that.

LGBT Labour would argue that if and when same-sex marriage is introduced churches should have the ability to opt in, much as they now have with civil partnerships. That way those faiths such as the Quakers, Unitarians, Liberal Judaism and Reform Judaism that have expressed support and a desire to carry out same-sex weddings can follow their own path, as much as the Catholic Church and C of E.

That said no-one wants to make the church have same sex-marriage (and I’ve spoken to my Lib Dem and Tory counterparts as well as the politically neutral lobby groups on this), it’s a matter for them and I would argue that is respect and tolerance for their beliefs on this issue.

On that basis Cardinal O’Brien’s call for religious liberty is being upheld, what takes place in his church relating to marriage is matter for him, his congregation and Rome; what goes on in the local register office is a matter for Parliament and the state.

But there is also a worrying undertone to the piece on the wider issue of LGBT equality that hints that the gays have had lots of advances but now should pipe down a bit.

Kevin makes the point “that the plain fact is LGBT equality has run its course”. Has it? On what basis has it run its course? Yes, huge strides have been made transforming the legal status of LGBT people which has led to a wider acceptance of things like civil partnerships and an equal age of consent.

The Telegraph who ran the original article by Cardinal O’Brien have  supported the cardinal’s position, although interestingly in an online poll it turns out their readers don’t, with 78% backing same-sex marriage. This is an indication of how much the debate has moved on. It’s hard to imagine a similar measure even a few years ago getting the full support of the leadership of all three main political parties let alone the readership of the Daily Telegraph.

But the fact that we have a senior cleric able to oppose marriage equality in such virulent and hateful terms would in itself make you wonder how much progress is yet to be made.

We could also look at sport, in which it is so rare to be honest and open about your sexuality that it is news when a referee in New Zealand comes out; and coming out as a footballer will end your career. Or perhaps look at schools where homophobic bullying is rife and that young gay men are subsequently much more likely to take their own life.

Kevin rightly raises the point of hate-crimes against Catholics in Scotland, which is shockingly high but we also continue to see frequent homophobic and transphobic hate crime. Recent surveys showed 1 in 5 LGBT people had been subject to violence or abuse with 75% not reporting it as they didn’t think it would be dealt with seriously. I don‘t suppose they think gay equality has run its course and I don’t imagine the strident and intolerant tone of Cardinal O’Brien’s message will help either, in fact it will probably make it worse.

Equality means equality, and it hasn’t run its course until is achieved and the current tone of the debate on marriage would suggest we still have some way to go. Marriage is just one part of that continuing campaign and debate, albeit a high profile one. Over the last 15 years we have made big progress on LGBT equality but it remains unfinished business.

And my advice to those people who don’t want gay marriage? Well if you don’t want one, don’t have one but there are plenty of others who do.

James Asser is co-chair of LGBT Labour

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4 Responses to “LGBT rights shouldn’t be stopped by offensive cardinals”

  1. James Reade says:

    (1) It would be great if your final statement was all there was to it. Fact is there’s a high probability that under equality legislation, people are being and will be prosecuted for denying services to particular groups of people (not just LGBTs). So it’s not a huge skip and a jump to churches being prosecuted for refusing to marry gay couples. I personally have no problem with gay marriage in itself as a conservative Christian (church and state should be separate), but I am very concerned about whether or not churches will be free from being prosecuted.

    (2) The offensiveness runs both ways, as essentially Meagher pointed out. Yes, a Christian proclaiming you to be immoral is offensive (particularly when he/she shouldn’t be doing it by his/her own reference point – the Bible says it is God’s alone to judge) – but equivalently calling a Christian who holds a different viewpoint to the liberal majority a bigot and a homophobe is also offensive (and more often than not, inaccurate).

  2. Les Abbey says:

    The problem for the RC Church is that they have already been pushed into a corner once over gay adoption. Will they face something similar with marriage. Drive it underground and you will make it stronger, just as the Romans found out. Is there an answer? I’m not sure but I do think there should have been some sort of opt out over the adoption issue, but the gay community and the then government gave no ground. Maybe you reaping what you sowed as the Scottish cardinal may well say.

  3. John Murphy says:

    Personally, I’m of the view that the historical accident that has co-joined religious and civil marriage ought to be permanently annulled. Perhaps campaigners might willingly leave the word ‘marriage’ to the church and everyone should be required to contract a Civil Partnership with equal rights before the civil authorities. But this begs the question who owns the word marriage and its meaning. If my proposed solution is taken to mean that gay men and women are not entitled to equity and equality in their relationships before the civil authorities that outcome must be unacceptable.

    Many of those who now speak up for ‘marriage’ as meaning only what they wish it to mean have steadily opposed the advance of gay rights at every turn and used every means to prevent the its legal achievement. As our equality is not bestowed it cannot be for them to award to us some diminished status before the law. And if civil marriage is the only vehicle to ensure that society takes our human, sexual and personal freedom seriously then so be it – after all we endured unrelenting legal persecution for long enough to understand the importance of the law in the affairs of the heart and in the affairs of state….

    Taken from a longer article on the Web Page

  4. Steve says:

    @ James Reade: I shouldn’t worry, churches are already exempt from virtually all other equality legislation.

    Has the RC church been forced to accept women priests, almost 40 years after the Sex Discrimination Act? No.

    Has the CoE been forced to change its stance on non-celibate gay clergy, almost 10 years after anti-discrimination regulations for LGBT people? No.

    But it’s not even just churches, is it? Have faith schools been forced to change their policies on preferring staff from that faith (including, most worryingly of all, “living by the religious ethos of the school”)? No.

    So not much to worry about here, is there? (Especially if you are in favour of same-sex marriage as you claim.)

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