Before you start reading this, I want to reassure you that you are still living in the 21st century, even though the developments I will describe might convince you you’ve been transported back to the Dark Ages.
The Gay Police Association (GPA) is under investigation by its own constabulary colleagues for allegedly committing what has been described as a “faith crime.” Yes, a faith crime! The local rozzers, it seems, have been given the job previously undertaken by the Spanish Inquisition of rooting out heretics and blasphemers.
It all started with an advertisement in The Independent, when the GPA announced a new report they had assembled which suggested most of the homophobia in this country is at present emanating from religious sources. “In the last 12 months, the GPA has recorded a 74% increase in homophobic incidents, where the sole or primary motivating factor was the religious belief of the perpetrator,” it said.
You wouldn’t have thought there was much to argue about that – what with the Pope frothy-mouthed every time he hears mention of gay marriage and the Archbishops’ Council lobbying to keep its right to discriminate against gay people in employment and in the provision of goods and services, and various Islamic clerics issuing fatwas indicating the kind of execution that is appropriate for homosexuals, and deciding the most gruesome is best.
The main trouble came with the illustration in the ad, which showed a Bible with a pool of blood beside it. This infuriated the usual band of militant evangelical Christian agitators, who are constantly scouting round for issues to be outraged about. The purpose of these constant offence-takings is, of course, to rally the brain-dead congregations of the evangelical churches. If you can convince these zombies that their faith is “under attack”, you can get them to do almost anything in its defence.
At the moment this amounts to just letter-writing and demonstrating, which is fine. But if you keep firing up over-emotional people, one day they’ll go pop. We saw this with the Danish Cartoons debacle and the Muslim activists who whipped up a lethal world-wide riot about it. Now the “muscular Christians” are trying to hop on the same bandwagon. They look on in envy as they see the success of the Muslim extremists in achieving “respect” for their religion by terrifying everybody into silence. And what better issue could the Christians have chosen to be on their high horse about than homosexuality? It worked in the USA, so why not pull the same trick here?
So, the GPA’s advertisement was reported to Scotland Yard by a cleric from Operation Christian Voice, a supposed political party that regularly contests elections and invariably loses its deposit as it counts its votes in the three and four hundred category.
That’s fine, so far. They’re just exercising their democratic right to complain and demonstrate and protest.
But what’s this? The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF) is inciting Christians to add to the complaint at Scotland Yard. It provides email addresses and telephone numbers of the police officers who are dealing with the case.
Andrea Minichello Williams of the LCF has sent a circular to her fellow fundamentalists advising them that the inquiry has been transferred from Scotland Yard to Holborn Police Station, and so Christian complaints should be redirected there. “All complaints are still being recorded so it gives the police an extremely useful indicator of the strength of feeling on this issue simply by the number of complaints being made.”
But how accurate would that indicator be? These are not spontaneous expressions of offence – they are orchestrated from religious dead-heads who will – as I said – do anything if their church leader tells them to.
Ms Williams writes in her circular: “Whether or not the CPS decides to prosecute, the clearer our complaints, the more likely disciplinary action will be taken against the Gay Police Association to prevent further blasphemous advertising. It is therefore important to register your complaint.”
This same crew of evangelicals is also lobbying hard to be exempted from the new regulations aimed at protecting gay people from discrimination in the provision of goods and services – another perfect issue to fire up paranoia among the thought-free faithful. A letter to The Daily Telegraph signed by 176 of these politicised pastors said that the new anti-discrimination laws actually represented discrimination against Christians in order “to appease minority groups”. “The regulations force Christians in churches, businesses, charities and informal associations to accept and even promote the idea that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality. For the sake of clarity, this is not what the Bible teaches, and it is not what we believe to be the truth. In our view, these regulations are an affront to our freedom to be Christians,” wrote the clergymen, under the banner Coherent and Cohesive Voice (although what is cohesive about wanting to retain the right to hate-monger against your fellow citizens is unclear).
Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement responded to the attack by writing his own letter to The Telegraph: “Reforming the law should help create a greater degree of Christian – and humane – behaviour among those who fall short of it. The reason the law needs to be changed is because that is the only way lesbian and gay people can be protected from discrimination by their intolerant co-religionists.”
Back at the Gay Police Association, there is another complication – the ongoing argument it is having with the Christian Police Association. When a gay police officer applied to join the Christian police group he was told in no uncertain terms that he would have to give up sex first.
Vic Codling, national co-ordinator of the Gay Police Association (are you still with me?) was outraged about this and reported the Christian Police Association to the governing body, the Police Federation. He told the BBC: “Black or female police officers wouldn’t be asked to be ‘less black’ or ‘less female’ in order to join staff associations, so why should gay or lesbian officers?” Reasonable, no?
No, says Ann Widdecombe in her Daily Express column. She put the Christian grievance this way: “What we are now faced with is not equality but a hierarchy of equalities. When any human right comes up against homosexual rights the latter must always win.” She then went on to make this threat: “Hitherto, Christians have fought with argument and protest and the powers that be, including the government, the BBC and police, have brushed us off. The time has come to use the very weapons that have been so successfully used against us. We should complain formally of hate crimes and stirring up of religious hatred and demand our human rights to religious freedom and to religious conscience.”
I wonder if Ann could pinpoint any human right that gay rights trample over – besides the supposed “religious freedom” (which amounts to a freedom to persecute) demanded by Christians? The battle here is not between gay rights and everyone else, but between religious rights and everyone else. For instance, last month a blind woman won a discrimination case against a Muslim taxi driver who wouldn’t carry her guide dog because his religion regards dogs as “unclean” in the same way it does pigs. Gay people don’t practice such discrimination against other people.
As for “stirring up religious hatred” – it seems that any adverse comment about religion, however carefully framed and however well researched, now constitutes a “faith crime”. We are on very dangerous ground here. The free speech that underpins our democracy is beginning to crumble under these assaults.
The confrontation between the Gay Police Association and the Christian Police Association is, in microcosm, the fate that will befall the proposed new Commission for Equality and Human Rights when it comes into existence. This body will supposedly oversee all the human rights legislation covering discrimination on grounds of age, race, sex, disability, religion and belief and sexual orientation. It has become quite clear over the past few months that gay rights and the newly-politicised religious rights are completely incompatible. I don’t think Solomon is available to lead this body, but whoever does get the unenviable task will need his wisdom if they are ever going to reconcile the rights and wrongs of these ever-conflicting communities.
Ann Widdecombe says there is a hierarchy of equalities. She is right. But it is gays who are at the very bottom of that hierarchy. The religious exemptions already granted in discrimination law, and those which will be granted in forthcoming law, mean that religion will be permitted to continue its spiteful discriminations against gay people.
The battle is only just beginning, but the fundamentalists are becoming increasingly aggressive and threatening. They have declared war on us, but we must be ready to fight back with reason and compassion, not with bans and demands for censorship. Let the religious bigots have their say, let them rant and rave. We should not seek to silence them, but to engage with their arguments and demolish their petty-minded demands with reason.
If we don’t win the debate with justice on our side, then the newly-amassing Christian soldiers are going to trample our newly-minted rights into the ground.
QUOTES OF THE MONTH
“Children need to understand the society they live in, and that various types of family exist: ones where there are two parents, a single parent or homosexuals, To deny it is to deny reality, no matter what controversy it causes.” – Spanish Education Minister Alejandro Tiana.
“I think gay marriage is wrong. I’m considered homophobic and crazy about these things and old fashioned. But I think the family – father, mother, children – is fundamental to our civilisation.” – Media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
“If my oldest Italian friend, a devout Christian, who came to our civil partnership with her husband and children, could say in tears after the ceremony that she found it beautiful and that nothing in it offended her Italian Catholic consciousness, then I fear the church is in danger of being left on the wrong side of history” – Ben Bradshaw, MP.