GAY TIMES October 2003

Terry Sanderson’s new autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

Ever thought of yourself as a cipher? A symbol? A symptom, even? Because that’s what gay people have become. Our lives are being used – and put at risk – in a monumental world-wide battle between conservatism and liberalism.

In Britain, the Anglican Church is experiencing all out warfare for control between the evangelical authoritarians and the live-and-let-live liberals. Gays are at the centre of that battle, although homosexuality isn’t really what it is about.

In Canada, where the courts have instructed the Government to redefine marriage so that same-sex couples can be part of the institution, politicians from left and right race to make capital from the ensuing controversy. Once again, it’s not about gay people per se, but about power and influence and political ideology.

A full-scale battle for control has broken out in the USA with rabid Republicans and the Religious Right fighting the more liberal elements of the Democratic Party.

There is little concern among those engaged in these conflicts about the damage being done to the gay community, and to individual people, along the way.

Let’s start with the Anglican crack up. The authoritarians in the church have been awaiting their opportunity to impose their vision of biblical literalism on to the rest of society for a long time, and at last with the issue of gay bishops they’ve found the means to do it.

When Jeffrey John was dispensed with to placate the bigots, it might have been regarded as a victory for the right-wingers. It certainly dealt a severe blow to the integrity of prominent liberals such as Richard Harries, the bishop of Oxford.

The triumphant evangelicals crowed with delight when the head of Jeffrey John was delivered to them on a plate by the cowardly and useless Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. But, ironically, an even greater prize was theirs when an unapologetic gay man – Gene Robinson in the USA – managed to get elected as a bishop.

At last they have the confrontation they have been aching for. Not only can the Gene Robinson issue split the Anglican Church, it can deliver it, lock stock and barrel, into the hands of the evangelicals.

When the liberals are cut adrift from the main body, as they inevitably will be, most of the money will be staying with the Right wingers, and Anglicanism will fall under the control of hate-filled primitives from the Third World. I’m thinking of people like “The Most Reverend” Peter Jasper Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria (which has a reported 17.5 million Anglicans), who says: “I cannot think of how a man in his senses would be having a sexual relationship with another man. Even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don’t hear of such things.” Archbishop Akinola, however (according to The Guardian) “appears able to tolerate polygamy and the stoning to death of women for adultery.”

The liberals in the Church are fighting back as best they can, and the supporters of Gene Robinson in the USA are bravely sticking by their decision. But their efforts are undermined by the weakness of Rowan Williams, a man who we thought would stand up vigorously for justice, but who has buckled almost immediately in the face of bigotry.

Mr Williams was dismissed by a tougher church liberal, John Spong, the retired bishop of Newark, New Jersey, who was quoted in the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s Newsletter as saying: “The feigned hurt and dismay of Rowan Williams is without integrity. His pious statement on the ‘shocking level of ignorance and hatred towards homosexual people’ is not exonerating. His willingness to sacrifice truth, truth he says he believes, for the sake of church unity is confirmation that his priorities are skewed. Leadership requires courage. A leader who backs down when the heat rises will never lead again. Rowan Williams’ weakness has become transparent, and negative forces know that if they raise the temperature on any issue in the future, he will collapse again”.

Hard words, but somebody had to say them.

The Catholic Church, too, is using homosexuality as a useful device for deflecting attention from its own misdeeds. It presents its bigotry as moral superiority – as voiced by Anthony Murphy in The Tablet: “I applaud Pope John Paul’s forthright stand against the progression of a homosexual lifestyle into society. At long last, someone in authority has drawn a line in the sand.”

The Vatican’s vile condemnation of gay partnerships as “evil” was nothing more than a cynical ploy to take the heat off the continuing disgraceful revelations about child abuse in the Church.

The Catholic Church’s political ambitions are being ruthlessly promoted by its continually issuing ever more extreme insults to gay people. These are increasingly accompanied by exhortations to Catholic politicians around the world to vote against legislation that moves gay people in the direction of equality.

In Canada, the forces of reaction are gathering against the proposals to introduce marriage for gay people. The Church, of course, is on the front line, calling for constituents to besiege the offices of their parliamentary representatives. And, as ever, there are opportunist politicians ready to jump on the bandwagon. They see a chance to make populist capital and they won’t be restrained. If it is not possible to scupper the gay marriage proposals completely, then moves are afoot to downgrade it to the less equal “civil partnership” model.

An election is in the offing in Canada, and the Tories are struggling. Polling organisations confirm the electorate is evenly split over gay marriage, it is regarded as a “sleeper issue” – i.e. one that conservatives can, with the right invective, work up into a vote winner. Never mind the homophobia that will be unleashed by such a campaign, don’t worry about the violence that might be provoked – not when there are votes to be won and crusades to be fought.

In the USA, the born-again President Bush is considering adding his weight to a proposal to amend the constitution so that gay marriage will be banned in every state in the union. At present the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), which restricts marriage only to one man and one woman, can be applied only state by state. Thirty-seven states have enacted it to date.

Albany Law School Associate Professor Stephen Clark said the proposed constitutional amendment would ban gay marriage “with a very powerful bludgeon”. Speaking on Capital News 9 he said: “It prohibits every state from creating same-sex marriages. It doesn’t just say ‘Arizona you don’t have to recognize the same sex marriage that Massachusetts performs if you don’t want to.’ It says no one, Massachusetts or Arizona, no state can recognize same-sex marriage ever.”

The gay Democratic representative, Barney Frank, saw what was going on, and was quoted in The Denver Post as saying: “With President Bush’s popularity dropping and the serious problems confronting America worsening, the administration seeks to divert attention by demagoguing on the issue of same-sex unions.”

But the fact that everyone can see through their tricks doesn’t stop the reactionaries. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition says he already has a strategy in place to pass such an amendment. He said his organisation is trying to generate a “groundswell in 38 key states to reach the three-fourths mark” – the number of states required to ratify a constitutional amendment. “I am very encouraged,” Sheldon told The Data Lounge (

“We will soon be up to eight million e-mail activists,” Sheldon said, noting that a constitutional amendment could be approved as early as five years from now. “It would be nice to have it happen when President Bush is still in office,” he said.

Other Democrats accuse the Republican hate-mongers of “putting at risk the civil rights of millions of Americans for short term political gain”. One Democrat aide was quoted in The Data Lounge as saying: “The posturing we’ve seen so far has all the earmarks of political manoeuvring to tee up an issue for next year’s campaigns by toying once again with the U.S. Constitution. Federal law already defines marriage, and no court has questioned that law”.

But as the proposer of the motion, Marilyn Musgrave (supported by the right-wing ‘Focus on Family’ organisation) said: “It is the only game in town for us. It is such a huge issue.”

Even the nutty Mormons are trying to get some mileage out of the conflict. The Advocate reports a Mormon leader, Elder M. Russell Ballard, as saying: “Same-sex marriage threatened God’s plan of happiness for his children.”

This “elder” seems to have forgotten the good old Mormon tradition of polygamy that has recently resulted in some nasty cases of wife-beating, child abuse and murder. How threatening is that for God’s plans? But then, God’s plans seem to be whatever the religious leaders say they are on any given day.

And another political opportunist, Malaysia’s ghastly Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad gives his stock a bit of a boost with cheap anti-gay rhetoric. Speaking in Kuala Lumpur on the country’s national holiday, reported him as saying: “Western films idolise sex, violence, murders and wars. Now they permit homosexual practices and accept religious leaders with openly gay lifestyles. They are very angry – especially their reports, many of whom are homos – when we take legal action against these practices. If there are any homosexuals in Malaysia they had better mend their ways” or face 20 years in prison and a flogging.

And where are gay people in all this commotion?

Actually, most of the time we seem to be spectators standing on the sidelines watching politicians and priests trash our lives for their own nefarious ends. They don’t care about us, or our rights, they only care about their own power and glory.

It’s time we took the gloves off and bashed the bigoted bishops right back. It’s time to challenge and upset the prejudiced politicos and their ruthless exploitation of our rights.

If we simply stand by and passively watch it happen, we may suddenly find that we’re back not just to square one, but some way further back than that.

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