Sunday, 4 March 2012

Oy! Cardinal O'Brien! Your homophobia's showing

Another day, and another violently homophobic rant is published in the Telegraph (this is what, the 3rd this week?). This missive, penned by Britain's most Senior Catholic Cardinal O'Brien, pulls every homophobic trope out of the book in what is basically politely written hate speech.

I'm going to write this Cruella Blog style, with an-almost line by line deconstruction of why every word in this article is ill-informed, ignorant and motivated by hatred and fear of gay people.

As regular readers of my blog will know, this is not the first time I have written about this. After my parents divorced when I was four, my mum moved in with another woman and they have been together since then - over 23 years. My brother and I were raised by them and maintained regular contact with my dad and his wife. Despite one blog commenter telling me I should not use my personal experience because it's cliche, I am not prepared to hide or apologise for my history and my family. This issue is personal to me, but that isn't the only reason I care about it. I care about it because I despise homophobia and prejudice and I am sick of bigots moaning that they are oppressed when they are wielding oppression.

Let's start at the top. Cardinal O'Brien is Britain's most senior Catholic. Well, I don't want to go religious-bashing, but I can't help but be a bit cheesed off with somone who has chosen to live a celibate life telling other people who they should and shouldn't have sex with, and how they should conduct their family.


'Civil partnerships have been in place for several years now, allowing same-sex couples to register their relationship and enjoy a variety of legal protections.

When these arrangements were introduced, supporters were at pains to point out that they didn’t want marriage, accepting that marriage had only ever meant the legal union of a man and a woman

No they didn't. Some campaigners don't want marriage rights extended because they believe that marriage is an outdated patriarchal institution that has no place in modern society. Some campaigners did campaign for equal marriage rights. And some people campaign for straight civil partnerships. No-one ever signed a contract to say 'this civil partnership right...and no further!'. What people want is equality - whether that's in
marriage or civil partnerships or an end to distaste for straight unmarried couples and gay unmarried couples.

'Those of us who were not in favour of civil partnership, believing that such relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, warned that in time marriage would be demanded too. We were accused of scaremongering then, yet exactly such demands are upon us now.'

Apparently committing to love someone and share your life together is deadly bad for you if you share the same genitals. But if you are straight, and you're making a commitment in a legal, civil or church ceremony, then you are immediately protected from sadness, illness and atheism. Who knew?

'Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples, it is clear that this proposal is not about rights, but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists.'

This isn't true. If it was true, no-one would be campaigning for equal marriage rights. The fact is that this two tier system is unfair. Secondly, the annual British Social Attitudes survey and research by the EU’s Eurobarometer research arm says that now 45 per cent of British people agree that ‘homosexual marriages should be allowed throughout Europe’. The anti-crowd was around the same percentage, and a few percentage points said 'I don't know'. So this is not the whole of society being forced to change because of a minority of activists. Nearly half the population are in favour, and if history's anything to go by, that percentage is likely to keep increasing. Instead, a positive change for society is being denied 'at the behest of a small minority of activists' like O'Brien. Pow!

'Redefining marriage will have huge implications for what is taught in our schools, and for wider society. It will redefine society since the institution of marriage is one of the fundamental building blocks of society. The repercussions of enacting same-sex marriage into law will be immense
But can we simply redefine terms at a whim? Can a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history suddenly be changed to mean something else?

Ahh, the first 'won't somebody think of the children' argument. Listen O'Brien. I grew up in a gay family under Section 28. Throughout my school life, my reality was never reflected back to me. Gay people and the idea of gay people was silenced, and that, more than anything else, is upsetting and traumatic for gay children or children in gay families. Not that being gay is bad, because it isn't. Being told that gay is bad is the problem. Your life being totally silenced and ignored is the problem. If schools are forced to talk openly and positively about gay relationships then that is a good thing.

Also, marriage isn't static. In our Christian history, and still in some religious communities, if a woman's husband died she was expected to marry his brother. Marriage has traditionally been a deal between male powers, to ensure women breed, rather than anything to do with love and stability. Divorce was banned for years, unless the woman failed to deliver the goods and then she could be cast aside (I'm looking at YOU Henry VIII and founder of the Anglican church). Some changes to marriage have been positive. This is another positive and progressive step.

'If same-sex marriage is enacted into law what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?
Will that teacher’s right to hold and teach this view be respected or will it be removed? Will both teacher and pupils simply become the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?

Well, thanks to a lack of will to encourage comprehensive and healthy sex and relationships education by this government, we know that a teacher will be perfectly free to preach that marriage is a holy union between a man and a woman. Schools are magically exempt from the equalities act and there's even a virulently homophobic booklet doing the rounds that Gove seems perfectly happy to have as curriculum material.

However, I think that a teacher should be reprimanded for being homophobic, just as, one would hope, they would be reprimanded for racism or sexism or ableism. Because imagine if you were me, aged 5 or 12 or 15. And your teacher turns around and says that your family, your upbringing, is wrong and evil and shameful. How would that make you feel? Shamed? Embarrassed? Guilty? And how would your classmates, who use gay as an insult, then react to you? You'd keep your family a secret. You'd feel secretly shamed. And the fault would be with that teacher, and the government who is turning a blind eye to homophobia in schools. Not your parents. Not your own sexuality. The fault is with homophbia and biphobia.

That didn't happen to me because I went to a school with lots of nice non-homophobic teachers. I did go to school with lots of homophobic kids though, and it was Section 28. So I can't emphasise this enough. The problem for gay kids and children of gay parents is other people's homophobia and the silencing of your experience. The problem is not with your parents or your sexuality. That is why it is so important to end this hate, this prejudice.

'In Article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, marriage is defined as a relationship between men and women. But when our politicians suggest jettisoning the established understanding of marriage and subverting its meaning they aren’t derided.

Instead, their attempt to redefine reality is given a polite hearing, their madness is indulged. Their proposal represents a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.

Erm, I actually don't think it is. I remember arguing this point with someone on CIF. The right is for men and women to marry, not marry each other. Therefore subversion of this accepted human right is refusing men and women to marry the person of their choice.

But don't let facts get in the way of you telling us that women like my mums' friends who are marrying soon are grotesque!

'today advancing a traditional understanding of marriage risks one being labelled an intolerant bigot.'

Here's a tip O'Brien. If you don't want to be called an intolerant bigot, stop writing articles that make you come across as an intolerant bigot.

'There is no doubt that, as a society, we have become blasé about the importance of marriage as a stabilising influence and less inclined to prize it as a worthwhile institution.

It has been damaged and undermined over the course of a generation, yet marriage has always existed in order to bring men and women together so that the children born of those unions will have a mother and a father.

This brings us to the one perspective which seems to be completely lost or ignored: the point of view of the child. All children deserve to begin life with a mother and father; the evidence in favour of the stability and well-being which this provides is overwhelming and unequivocal. It cannot be provided by a same-sex couple, however well-intentioned they may be

Yes, there probably is less respect for marriage these days. Kim Kardashian is the oft-given example. Newt Gingrich and his mutiple affairs and divorces. Britney and her speedy wedding. Funny how none of these people are gay...

Anyway, my main beef. The point of view of the child. Well, O'Brien, I am one of the children you are talking to. My mum has been in a gay relationship since I was four, and I'm now 27. As I said, I have always had contact with my dad and his wife.

My home life was loving and stable and supportive. I don't want to big myself up, but I am a well-adjusted, successful and intelligent woman. I'm happy and caring and I'm a damn good writer. My parents weren't just 'well-intentioned', they were good parents. All of them. Like all families, we had our ups and downs. But stability and well-being - these are two words I would use to describe my upbringing.

Here's some research that backs up my own experience:

You have no right to sit there from your throne and try to tell me that my childhood was wrong. You have no right at all.

If anything undermines the security and well-being of children in a gay household, it is the homophobia of people like you. The people who preach hate and intolerance and look askance at the families you disapprove of. People like you, who tell others to look down on and judge my family. The problem is not with my parents who love me, but with you, who hate my parents.

If all the history of intolerance and hatred of lesbian, gay, bi, queer and trans people has told us anything, it has told us that the prejudice must end. Because it is that hatred that makes life difficult for LGBQT people, nothing else.

I would also like to point out that having a mother and a father, married, doesn't gurantee stability. I have friends with straight parents who have been victims of physical and sexual abuse in their own homes, or who have chaotic home lifes, etc. Heterosexuality is not a magic spell against unhappiness. Look at the domestic violence statistics if you want proof of that (of course all these things also happen in gay and lesbian families, I am not denying that. It just angers me that O'Brien suggests it would never happen in straight families and that the sex of your parents is the issue, not the people).

'Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father.'

No it doesn't. Equal marriage rights isn't going to prevent me from marrying my boyfriend and having children if we so choose. It just means that my gay friends can do the same.

'Other dangers exist. If marriage can be redefined so that it no longer means a man and a woman but two men or two women, why stop there? Why not allow three men or a woman and two men to constitute a marriage, if they pledge their fidelity to one another? If marriage is simply about adults who love each other, on what basis can three adults who love each other be prevented from marrying?'

First of all, poly marriages aren't exactly unheard of in Christianity! And secondly, if people in a consensual and happy poly relationship (as opposed to some of the unhappy and coercive arrangements that occur in some religious communities) want to get married and raise children, then they should be able to.

'In November 2003, after a court decision in Massachusetts to legalise gay marriage, school libraries were required to stock same-sex literature; primary schoolchildren were given homosexual fairy stories such as King & King. Some high school students were even given an explicit manual of homosexual advocacy entitled The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century. Education suddenly had to comply with what was now deemed “normal”.'

My very good friend who has a daughter with her femal partner has recently campaigned to have books that feature gay characters used in her daughter's school. This is a fantastic thing to do. It prevents children from gay families feeling that there is something wrong with their upbringing. It stops them feeling invisible. When I was at school, such books were, effectively, illegal. My reality was never reflected back to me or talked about. It is vital that teachers and schools make the effort to be inclusive and sensitive to the needs of children from all types of families. It is so important to teach equality and tolerance from an early age, and to recognise that not all families look the same so that children from gay families don't feel marginalised.

Further, talking openly about gay people and particularly gay people in history has shown a reduction in homophobic bullying. This is vital in a world where young LGBQT people are often bullied to suicide.

'The Universal Declaration on Human Rights is crystal clear: marriage is a right which applies to men and women, “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.

This universal truth is so self-evident that it shouldn’t need to be repeated. If the Government attempts to demolish a universally recognised human right, they will have forfeited the trust which society has placed in them and their intolerance will shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world

Interestingly, O'Brien gets it right here. Marriage is a right which applies to men and women. Whoever that man or woman is, they have the right to marriage.

What really pisses me off is that O'Brien is talking as if straight married couples are being attacked by this extension of their rights. To use an example from history, not so long ago marriages between two people with different colour skin was illegal in America. That law was overturned because it was wrong, and although we know that some racist people felt that their all-white marriages were threatened, it's now nothing to blink at. The same will be true when marriage rights are extended to all. If you're homophobic, you'll be cross. But if you're homophobic, then that is your problem (and, don't be mistaken, if you are anti equal marriage rights because you think marriage is just for straight people, then I'm afraid you are homophobic, whether you think you are or not. If you're anti equal marriage rights because you think marriage is an outdated patriarchal system that should be abolished, then you're possibly excluded from that accusation!).

Throughout my life, I have been so proud and happy to be part of my family. If I ever experienced upset it was the result of other people's homophobia, from kids at school to comments in the workplace, to hate preaching by those like O'Brien. This upset can be remedied, because it will happen by ending homophobia.

Hating people for who they fall in love with is not normal. Marginalising and mocking the children of those relationships is just cruel. Refusing to tackle homophobia that leads young people to suicide is morally wicked. O'Brien, well done. You've just advocated all those things.


Rebecca said...

Great post, a thorough take-down of such horrible attitudes. I also enjoyed that you could add a personal touch to your post, with your own experiences. It shows that these issues are close to home for so many normal people; ourselves, our families and our friends. I know it's frustrating to have to repeat yourself with arguments against homophobia but hopefully more people will see the below;

"The problem for gay kids and children of gay parents is other people's homophobia and the silencing of your experience. The problem is not with your parents or your sexuality."

Let me tell you that I'm bloody sick of homophobic victimhood. The last person I spoke to against gay marriage painted himself as a martyr who fancied that he was only bravely saying what others are thinking, but fear to say for being "branded" as homophobic by the politically correct. They fail to see that this is not a mission of silencing the brave homophobic oppressed masses, who gay rights activists are apparently stealing a voice from; this is a mission to be seen as equals. Two gay people in love, wanting to marry, won't affect these people in any way; this is solely about the preservation of bigoted beliefs, and seeing gay people as less deserving of rights.

Sometimes I think "why is this conversation necessary, it's 2012!" and then I think that maybe in 100 years, or 200 years, people will study us and laugh at us because of how we treated each other. Onwards and upwards!

Werner said...

Well done and well argued! Not single shred of logic in his argument. These religious bigots are SO tiresome, as is their outrageous hypocrisy.
I think what we really need is a 'third book' - a 'Millenium Testament' written by latter-day disciples. It could even get people going back to church...

sian and crooked rib said...

Thanks Rebecca. I think it's important to talk about my own experiences because so often the anti LGBTQ family people are so determined to silence any positive voices - they refuse to listen to or believe that their view is not representative of our experiences. And yes, it's always interesting how they think they are 'saying the unsayable' and are being silenced and oppressed when they are given mainstream media platforms to express their bigoted views!

Thanks Werner.

Paul McMichael said...

Great Post indeed. Saw it on Twitter. I've retweeted. Saves me writing because I agree with every damn word.

Also,this "Some high school students were even given an explicit manual of homosexual advocacy entitled The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century. Education suddenly had to comply with what was now deemed “normal”

Yet another misrepresentation - another 'who'll look out for the children" lie. The booklet was made available at a conference in error. It was not handed out. The leaflet might just save a life given to the right young teenager who knows nothing about the ways you can protect yourself from HIV. Of course Cardinal O'Brien is not that concerned with real risk, only percieved. Just as the Church was not concerned about the real risk of child abuse but about the perception it brought down on the church.

Chris Ward said...

"Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples"

You also forgot to mention that in 11 EU states, a UK civil partnership is recognised as absolute zilch. So his assertion about the "same legal rights" is actually nonsense.

Caroline said...

If same-sex marriage is enacted into law what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?
Will that teacher’s right to hold and teach this view be respected or will it be removed? Will both teacher and pupils simply become the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?

Some time ago, my dad, a teacher, worked with a man who genuinely believed that God created the earth in 4004BC and that all evidence to the contrary was a test of faith.
Occasionally, this man was obliged to cover such lessons as geology, biology + evolution that ran absolutely contrary to his very deeply held beliefs.

Dad asked how he coped with this

"I am here to teach, and my contract states that I teach the syllabus. My private views and beliefs have no place in the classroom and no part in what I teach. I am here to teach what the school says should be taught. If that causes me problems, then that is my problem and I have the choice to break my contract and leave."

That was 20 years ago. Teachers in state schools do not have the right to teach their private views in place of what is on the syllabus.

Aside from the Cardinal's slightly bizarre idea that teaching is matter of standing in front of kids and talking about personal feelings, the idea that extending rights to a group of people may infringe the non-existent rights of a theoretical group is making my head hurt.

sian and crooked rib said...

that's an amazing story. good for that teacher! and exactly. I know lots of christians and people of faith who find o'brien's views offensive.

john b said...

Great piece; the personal stuff re your mum and stepmum elevates from just bigot-smackdown to something more.

"If you don't want to be called an intolerant bigot, stop writing articles that make you come across as an intolerant bigot" is an awesome line.

And agreed that the chap in Caroline's story is awesome; if more religious folk followed his example, the world'd be a better place.

Chris W: would that be any different if the UK allowed gay marriage, or do those countries just disallow all recognition of gay partnerships irrespective of their label?

Phil said...

Thank you so much.
When I woke up this morning and read the story, I was furious beyond belief.
You have summed up pretty much all of my rage (in a much more controlled and objective way than I would have managed).

My only consolation is the hope that the fact the cardinal isn't even trying to hide his hatred is a sign that he feels he's losing the battle.

Anne-Marie said...

Truly excellent, a clear, articulate response to a maddening (and, itself, quite insane) letter in the Telegraph. But I hope some good can come from Cardinal Keith O'Brien's statement, that it will force discussion and debate on gay marriage that will lead to it being legalised. A letter such as O'Brien's can only serve to highlight how bigoted and homophobic it would be to keep gay marriage from being legal and accepted.. I hope.

AnnikaT said...

Great review of the article, I agree with you through and through. I loved when you said:

"The problem for gay kids and children of gay parents is other people's homophobia and the silencing of your experience. The problem is not with your parents or your sexuality."

It reminded me of the constant 'but the kids would get bullied' argument against gay parents. As you say, it's the not the sexual orientation of the parents that's the problem, it's the fact that other children, or adults, constantly get away with being homophobic. Yet somehow this is a valid argument and its gay people that get punished, not the bullies.

Jamie said...

Apologies for the blog spam, but you might be interested in a charity I support - Diversity Role Models. They go to schools where teachers feel ignorance is ruining the lives of LGBT children and the children of LGBT people and run workshops that show how normal we are in every way.

Also, I agree with every word you've written here, including "and" and "the". Thanks for speaking up! (apologies if this double posts, Blogger is being weird)

sian and crooked rib said...

Thank you, will check it out!

Stu2308 said...

Fantastic post.

Agree with everything you say.

The audacity and offensiveness of the Cardinal is astounding.

He demeans LGBT people and seeks to dehumanise them.

This was my response:

Elizabeth xx said...

I am pretty ignorant of what the difference between civil partnership and marriage is. I assumed it was a different phrase for the same thing just indicating that one had a two people of the same sec in it, and the other has a man and woman. If this isn't the case, then i see there is a problem!
Should there be "civil marriages" (no religion involved) between any two people of any sex, and "religious marriages" also between any two people where they believe in God?

Josh said...

Really good, well reasoned argument you give. The same issue was mentioned in church by my pastor this morning - very mild and brief by comparison to O'Brian's rant, but oh boy did I cringe! I knew it was coming as well - usually the second point in a political tangent - the first point being the oppression of the church/free speech. To be honest it served no purpose in the great scheme of the sermon whatsoever. I don't know why it's made such an issue within the church; it shouldn't be. The worst part is the feeling of powerlessness in not knowing how to speak out about it. Anyway, appreciate the article muchly!

Elizabeth xx said...

I presumed (ignorantly) that civil partnership was identical to marriage, just between same-sex couples.
I am appalled to find otherwise.
Should there be "civil marriages" between any two people who are not involving God/religion in their union, and "classic (? Or something!) marriages" between any two people where God is involved?

Phil Peace said...

While I agree with you on the general point of the harm his views can have on children with non heterosexual presents there are a couple of points which I don't agree.

Firstly, I know you were bring flippant in saying that when heterosexuals get married it will cure them of illness and atheism, but that's really not what he said. He's not saying that gay relationships are wrong or should be banded, he's saying that he thinks the institution of marriage has historically always been heterosexual and always should be.

Secondly, if there are two groups, equal in size but neither a majority who hold opposing views, it does not follow that the side who has been gaining ground recently should decide that outcome. In a democracy you need a majority for these things.

Peter Barrins said...

I'm a gay man and a practising Catholic.

Comments, such as those from this Cardinal and others within the Caholic Church are unhelpful, because they fail to discuss the scriptural and theological basis for their objection to things like gay marriage and the articulation of gay lifestyles.

On the other hand, the stance taken by gay rights groups and others, often borders on militant and is equally as intolerant as those expressed by the RCC and others.

In my view, marriage has always, in most societies, been understood as a union between a man and woman formed as a basis for raising children - commonly referred to as a family. Without a doubt, in recent years, the breakdown of the traditional family structure has had very negative consequences for children and society - the riots in the UK last summer are probably the most extreme example. I'm not saying that marriage ensures perfection in children or society, but it certainly is the best platform from which to provide children with a stable environment and upbringing.

I have serious reservations about children being raised by parents of the same sex. Certainly, here in Ireland, it would make life more difficult for many children. The basic fact remains that it requires the input of a man and woman to produce another human being and therefore, one must conclude, that the optimum situation for a child is to be reared by the man and woman who produced them and, if not, another man and woman.

As a gay man, I can say that gay relationships tend to be unstable and monogamy is relatively rare. Would marriage alter this?

A broader debate on this is needed - it needs to be more than 'us' versus 'them', with intolerance on both sides. There are implications which extend beyond merely allowing two people of the same sex to marry and these seem to be generally avoided or ignored.

There is a tendancy, if one disagrees with the consensus position of various gay rights groups, to be labelled as homophobic - this is simplistic.

sian and crooked rib said...

Phil, it was a flippant comment however he does say:

'believing that such relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved,'

So he is very clearly saying that LGBQ relationships are harmful, are wrong. and that if LGBQ relationships harm your physical (health), mental (happiness) and spiritual (i'm assuming christianity) than on the flipside hetero relationships are good for all these things, offering health, happiness and spirituality. I take issue with this. Happy healthy consensual and respectful relationships are good, rather than only marriage or only hetero.

sian and crooked rib said...

Peter, thank you for your comments. I disagree obviously! I don't think you need a man and a woman to raise a child nor do i think it is the optimum set up. This idea creates a hierarchy of families that looks something like this.

Top: married mum and dad
2nd place: co-habiting mum and dad
3rd place: single parent widowed
4th place: single parent
5th place: gay family

What this hierarchy does is say that we'll accept your family, but don't go thinking your family is actually any good or doing a good job. This isn't fair on the parents or the child, who are taught that they're 'wrong'.

Good people make good parents. You can be married and be awful parents. Abusive, neglectful, bullying. Is this a better scenario for a child than two women simply because they signed a contract? No,

in fact, the study i linked to in the post shows how children raised by two women are coming out tops in the well adjusted rankings. Another study someone mentioned to me on Twitter found that zero lesbian families reported abuse.

It's also not gay families causing family breakdown or issues like the riots. If anything, this is caused by the men who often leave, and the govt cuts leaving vulnerable women without access to CSA and other benefits.

I'm not sure what you mean re it being difficult for children of gay parents in Ireland - is this because of bullying? As i say in the post - this is society's problem not the family.

Foxfire said...

I absolutely love your responses to each and every one of his pathetic bigoted arguments!

Education is fundamental in the stance against homosexuality. It's not damaging to children to teach them about tolerance and acceptance. What is damaging is having to grow up in a society where there is no tolerance or acceptance. Being gay in a small town is a living hell when you're a teenager. Even my own mother was a disgrace because of her lack of education and some antiquated preset ideals handed down from the bible! She alienated me in my own home and made it almost impossible for me to come out. Thankfully I grew up and grew strong and had the courage to stand up to her and educate her.
It's the 21st century, we should no longer be living in a society governed by fire and brimstone handed out by an organisation full of corruption and sexual abuse of young children.
I have a very strong dislike of religion and they way it is responsible for so much hardship and war in this world. The fact it controls so many minions is beyond me.

KOCuXQsT2YmLyRHuD5zVGFtAslJ0p4o- said...

Excellent post. With regards to Peter Barrins' comment, if it's true that gay relationships tend to be unstable and monogamy rare, I would argue that this is due to the pressure imposed on them by a societal intolerance of gay relationships. It's precisely the kind of intolerance displayed by the Cardinal (after all, tolerance is a vice according to him?!)that potentially makes it harder for gay relationships to survive. Arguably, the odds are stacked against you more than a hetero couple as you can't just simply go out and do the things that you could if you were in a straight relationship e.g.the things that hetero couples take for granted, for example holding hands. Nobody would fear abuse holding the hand of someone of the opposite sex. Alas in far too many places, this would still be an actively dangerous thing to do with a member of the same sex.

Equality is the only answer.

Daniel Earwicker said...

You've shown much charity in politely passing over his bizarre analogy to slavery. To quote the Cardinal:

Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that “no one will be forced to keep a slave”. Would such worthless assurances calm our fury?

Oh the irony. When slavery last returned to Europe, the Catholic church speedily adapted and incorporated scriptural justification for slavery into the canon!

jTemplar said...

Now you can listen to Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, explain why he believes the plans would "shame the United Kingdom" in an interview he gave to the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme. The interviewer is John Humphrys.

sian and crooked rib said...

Daniel, wasn't being charitable, it's just i found the comment so bizarre i just didn't know where to start! it is incomprehensible!

thanks for all the comments :-)

harvestofmistakes said...

In response to Phil Peace's comment "Secondly, if there are two groups, equal in size but neither a majority who hold opposing views, it does not follow that the side who has been gaining ground recently should decide that outcome."

I didn't read Sian's point as suggesting that whoever has been gaining ground = they get to decide, but rather she just explained the inaccuracy of the Cardinal's claim that a minority was holding court.

But my real debate is with your last sentence: "In a democracy you need a majority for these things."

This is a very popular view of democracy, but to me it seems inaccurate. If a majority of people withhold democratic rights from a minority, I don't see how this can be democratic. It just means that anti-democratic bullying behaviour has become more difficult to challenge because "everyone else is doing it" has become almost true. That doesn't make it right.

Here's an example: the BNP's Nick Griffin won his Euro seat he effectively claimed that his party had democratic authority. But if his policies are fundamentally anti-democratic - i.e. promoting the denial of rights to some people, in this case on the basis of their ethnic origin - then this can't be true. A truly democratic action, at that point, is made by anyone who challenges the implementation of those policies, who blocks Nick Griffin and the like, regardless of how many votes Nick Griffin has had, and regardless of how much of a minority the challenger might be.

It's not about a popularity contest - that's about power. Democracy is about challenging concentration of power, making it shared and accessible to all, and challenging the acceptability of views which deny access to fair power, acceptance or self-determination to anyone.

One of the many good tests of any democracy or civilisation is how a minority is treated, whether they are marginalised and/or forced to change themselves to suit the wishes of the majority, or whether they can just be themselves, without hurting anyone. The point at which *anyone* - regardless of their % in the population - crosses the "hurting anyone" line is the point at which it becomes a societal question, and so more of us take a democratic responsibility to get involved.

It becomes clear that democracy is about debate and listening, not about establishing a snapshot of majority popularity. Democracy involves ongoing participation in the many perennial debates that start with the question "Who is going to get hurt by this?"

Challenging homophobia is still going to be a democratic right even if it is only being utilised by a tiny minority. Because there are always going to be people who homophobia will hurt.

The Cardinal has the right to be accepted as a celibate catholic throne-sitter even if he's the only one left in the world who thinks his throne means something. What he doesn't democratically have the right to do is to tell everyone else that they should be denied the same rights i.e. the rights to to self-determination and societal acceptance of who they are. Unfortunately, that's not how he sees it.

In short, being mean en masse doesn't make something democratic. It's just being mean. En masse.

val said...

Great article. I agree with every word. So wonderful that you're so articulate about it.