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No they didn't. Some campaigners don't want marriage rights extended because they believe that marriage is an outdated patriarchal institution that has no place in modern society.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.

No comments: