In my years working for the gay press, I have seen some pretty nasty and spiteful cases of discrimination against gay people. A recent example was the couple who were turned away from a B&B in Scotland because they wanted to share a double bed.
Some registrars around the country have been reluctant to conduct civil partnerships, even though they are civil servants and supposed to serve the whole community equally. Thousands of cases of petty-minded prejudice are practised against gay people every day. And the hard thing was that there was nothing we could do about it. The law provided no protection. So, if a pub wanted to turn us away because they didn’t want “our sort” defiling their premises, or a local community centre decided it didn’t want to host a gay group, there was nothing we could do.
That will soon change. The Government is proposing to bring forward in October regulations aimed at protecting gay people from this sort of humiliating treatment. The Sexual Orientation (Provision of Goods and Services) Regulations will also make discrimination against gays illegal in the same way as it is on the grounds of race or sex. The proposed legislation will make it a duty on private and voluntary organisations not to discriminate if they exercise a function on behalf of a public authority.
At last! Another important step towards equality, you say. But wait, what is this posse of shrieking old women, galloping round the corner with their frocks blowing in the wind, and knickers in a twist? Why, it’s the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, no less. And they do not like the idea of homosexual people being protected from unfair treatment. They do not like it at all.
In a response to the Government’s consultation on the Regulations, the CofE says that religion must be exempted from the obligation to treat gay people in a civilised way. They want to retain their age-old right to trample on us, insult us and humiliate us in so many little ways. In its response to the consultation, the Church says that it is concerned that Church Schools will be included in the regulations. (“Church Schools”, you might like to know, represent almost a third of our education system and their running costs are paid for entirely with taxpayers’ money. Despite this, the churches regard them as “theirs”, to do with as they please (including refusing to hire gay teachers).
The CofE fears that the new regulations might require it to teach about homosexuality in sex education lessons in a way that contradicts church doctrines. That is to say, the church wants to teach its pupils that gay sex is wrong, wrong, wrong and they will go to hell if they do it. The Archbishops, though, being the gentle people that they are, put this less bluntly. They claim that “behaviour”, not orientation, is their main concern.
This is an outright lie, as everybody who remembers the Jeffrey John affair will know. Canon Jeffrey John was offered the post of Bishop of Reading, but when it became clear he was gay, he was quickly given the bum-boys rush by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan (weedy) Williams. (And this was after Jeffrey had sworn on the Bible that he was celibate and did not mank about with his boyfriend in any way that would disturb the vicarage tea party)
The Church also wants the right to refuse to hire “its” schools’ premises to gay people for use outside of school hours. It says that “Faith schools might be required to make their premises equally available to groups that… could give considerable offence to the conscientiously held beliefs of staff and parents.” So, you see, your very existence is offensive to decent, church-going people. They don’t want you going into their children’s school and polluting it in some, yet to be identified, way.
The Scottish Catholic Cardinal Keith O’Brien came to Westminster to join in the gay-bashing. He told MPs: “A fundamental principle has to underpin any proposal for regulation is that freedom of conscience of individuals must be respected. It is not licit to force an individual to act contrary to his moral belief. It is a well-established and reasonable moral position to regard homosexual acts and the promotion of moral equivalence of heterosexual and homosexuals as wrong.” [Note: Cardinal O’Brien resigned in 2013 after The Observer revealed in its 23 February 2013 edition that he had engaged in inappropriate and predatory sexual behaviour with junior priests and student priests and that he abused power. He admitted that he had acted inappropriately with male youngsters throughout the whole of his career in the Catholic Church. He had been doing this even though he had said homosexuals were “captives of sexual aberrations”and homosexuality was “moral degradation.” Even the Vatican’s conveniently blind eye couldn’t overlook O’Brien’s own moral degradation!].
Of course, the Church’s demand to be allowed to continue practising its bigotry against gay people (when everyone else, without exception, cannot) created a lot of comment. Simon Sarmiento in The Church Times says the Church’s case is undermined when it admits in its document that “a range of views is held on that moral issue within the Church”. But the voices of those who don’t want to be spiteful to their fellow citizens – who happen to be gay – don’t get a voice in this response. It seems the bigots have well and truly taken over the Church of England to the exclusion of all others.
Michael Hampson, author of “Last Rites: the End of the Church of England” (published by Granta in October), wrote in The Guardian: “Gay clergy are invited to speak about their experience, but if it involves a committed relationship they will be summarily dismissed, unless they swear the relationship is celibate. This ought to be illegal. In other organisations it is. The church alone has the exemption from human rights law, carefully negotiated by Lambeth Palace, that the church alone might continue, unhindered, in its oppression of its own gay members and staff.”
But, of course, there were supporters for Dr Williams and his increasingly repellent cronies. Take Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday (yes, please take Peter Hitchens). In his usual hyperbolic way, Mr Hitchens makes the Regulations into something that will compel him to approve of homosexuality. “Having justly accepted that what people did behind closed bedroom doors was their business, we are now being ordered to step inside the bedroom and applaud. Or else,” he claims. He says it is the Thought Policeman’s Dream. “It pretends – and this is at the heart of all this rubbish – that choosing to do homosexual acts and declaring homosexual tastes is the same as being black. This is simply false.”
So, if a gay couple were to be turfed out of their digs because their landlord had suddenly discovered the nature of their relationship, and they washed up at the local Christian-run hostel, desperate for somewhere to pass a cold night, would it be OK for the shelter to turn them away, simply because they were gay and won’t hide the fact that they are perfectly legal civil partners? Would a black man and his wife be treated like this? Of course not. That, on the Hitchens’ reasoning, would be truly outrageous. After all, a married couple consists of real people, not gays who, in Mr Hitchens’ world have no authentic feelings or needs and are immune to injustice.
Then came Melanie Phillips, The Daily Mail’s prize poison-spreader. She repeated the completely nonsensical mantra that the law will force “a priest, a rabbi or an imam to fall foul of the law by refusing to bless a sexual union between same-sex couples.” The Church is already completely protected from having to do this. If lying is the only way she can make her argument stand up, then what kind of argument is it?
Ms Phillips says that the regulations will “turn our very understanding of prejudice and discrimination inside out.” She claims that the law will promote discrimination against religions.
This is how she sees it: all major religions (indeed, all religions) are homophobic. It is part and parcel of their very core. Therefore, any legal requirement to act against those tenets will cause Christians to act against their conscience and therefore amount to discrimination against them and their faith.
This is all fine and dandy. But what about Harry Hardcastle, who drinks in the Dog and Bigot and likes to hold forth on the evils of homosexuality? He thinks “them pansies” should be sent to an island and shot. He wouldn’t give them the snot off his nose. He thinks homosexuals should be made outcasts from society. And after his sixth pint he will tell you plainly that if any of them come into his shop, trying to buy the Radio Times, it wouldn’t be a dick they’d have up their bum but his boot. He holds these opinions with enormous sincerity. He feels them deeply. They are part of his personality, his very core. He is an atheist.
Now, given that Harry and the Archbishop appear to share very similar opinions about gays, and both claim that those opinions are a necessary and immutable part of who they are, then why can’t Harry have the right to denigrate and discriminate against gays? Why can’t he have an exemption, too? Why can’t he put a notice up outside his newsagent’s shop saying “Rooms available for all functions – no poofs or lesbos, no dogs”, just like church halls can? Indeed, why bother having any protection at all. Leave us at the mercy of every shaven-headed (or dog-collared) bigot going?
The fact is, the churches want us to believe that their fairy stories give them some special right to be disgustingly unjust and not get punished for it. Well, it’s time for someone to say it – they shouldn’t.
And that person is Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who told the Press Association: “Schools are not the place for religious moralising about sexual orientation. Religious organisations need to understand that they must save that for the pulpit, not the classroom.”
It isn’t clear yet how far the Government will go in complying with the Church’s demands. But last time round, when the Employment Discrimination Regulations were being formulated, the Church of England came along after the consultation had closed and demanded massive exemptions. And guess what – the Government gave them. Are we about to see a repeat here?
QUOTES OF THE MONTH
“People are not born gay, it is something they choose” – Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Bishops Conference.
“I am not an abomination before God” – Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire
“Homophobic bullying happens in every school in the country and crosses every social boundary” – Andrew Mellor, Anti-Bullying Network.