An entertaining letter

I do hope that Doug Clark, of Currie, Midlothian, will not mind me reproducing his entertaining letter to The Times in response to an article about some ex-SNP campaigner who “said ‘yes’ to god”. I agree with every word…

RELIGION SENDS REASON BEGGING 
Kevin Pringle’s piece on Stephen Noon was very revealing (“Saying yes to God was the easiest decision I’ve ever made”, News Review, last week). Simplicity and begging seem to be at the heart of Noon’s Christianity; indeed, begging as a way of life is advocated no less than three times in the article.

Jesus, of course, also preferred to live off the labour and charity of others. Little wonder then that Noon found the decision easy: salvation is promised at the low price of the surrender of your critical faculties and self-respect.

Religion asks us to give up our most precious faculty, reason, and to believe things without evidence. Morality is doing what is right without the threat of divine retribution or the possibility of divine reward. What kind of “goodness” does the threat of certain and eternal torture engender?

Among the many myths associated with religion, none is more widespread — or more disastrous in its effects — than the myth that moral values cannot be divorced from the belief in a god.

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The BBC and its Treatment of LGBT People

The BBC can be its own worst enemy at times and no worse an enemy in its portrayal of homophobes.

I am  an enormous fan of the BBC. I will certainly be on its side against the Murdoch-fuelled attempts of the current UK Government to emasculate it and give more power to its commercial rivals.

However….

We have had two particularly nasty examples of the BBC’s being reluctant to challenge quite vicious homophobia recently. First, someone of whom I had happily never heard, Tyson Fury, apparently won a boxing match recently. Good for him. I hope his brain does not suffer more than it clearly has already.

Fury has views on gays which equate us to paedophiles and he thinks a woman’s place is in the home making him tea or being “on her back”. The BBC allows Fury to be nominated for sports personality of the year (not just “sports person of the year” for which title I suppose he has some claim, but sports personality).

Now, educated and stable people (like me for example 🙂 ) might laugh this off as a rather cynical attempt to drive viewers to watch the programme  – broadcasting click-bait if you like. But there are thousands of uncertain LGBT people who are trying to work out their sexuality and their attitude to it having been brought up in an atmosphere of pure homophobia, usually a religious one. When they hear “sporting heroes” whom they often do regard as role models saying these frightful things they are pushed more deeply into distress, often depression and sometimes suicide. I am sorry to be blunt but the BBC, and of course the scumbag Fury, have blood on their hands as a result of allowing this man to compete on equal terms with civilised people.

If, by the way, you think, as one of the less awful representatives of UKIP did on Marr this morning, that it is up to the people to decide by not voting for him for the title, then consider what would have happened if Fury had made the same remarks about Jews or blacks as he made about gays. Do you seriously think for one minute that the BBC would have kept him on the Sports personality of the Year shortlist for a microsecond? of course not. And they of course would have been right not to. Those double standards of themselves show that the BBC has some way to go in its progress towards treating gay people equally.

That was Fury. Now some real fury of mine.

This morning (Sunday 20th December 2015) on some religious show, one Chris Sugden, who is employed by Anglican Mainstream, a pressure group within the Anglican church dedicated to orthodox Christianity (I have some sympathy intellectually with its views granted the premises from which it derives them) was allowed to get away with the statement that the many Commonwealth countries that criminalise gay sexual expression do so to protect their families and children from grooming. In other words, gay people should be criminalised because they prey upon the young. Again, imagine how long this evil man would have lasted if he had accused Muslims or Jews of wanting to get their hands on children…

Sugden’s disgusting comments can be found reported here.

The BBC really needs to recognise that modern society expects bile and hate speech against gays to be treated in the same way as bile and hate speech against Jews, Muslims or people of colour is very rightly treated. They don’t yet – and that is sad.

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Intellectual Honesty

It is time for some intellectual honesty in dealings between Christians, in this post particularly Roman Catholics, and gays.

Today there crossed my timeline a superficially nice post by a gay-friendly Jesuit priest who wished to remind his followers that the Catechism of the Catholic Church requires its followers (a happily diminishing group of people) that persons orientated to the same sex are to be treated with respect. I welcome anyone encouraging that attitude, but anyone who thinks that that admonition renders the Church of Rome gay-friendly or thinks that it is intellectually compatible to be a non-celibate gay person (even one in a monogamous relationship like me) or a gay friendly liberal person of whatever sexuality and a committed Catholic really does need to brush up on their  techniques of rational analysis.

The catechism (I have read it so you do not have to, as Ben Summerskill used to say about the Daily Mail) does indeed say

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. ..  They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. 

That is nice –  and respect, compassion and sensitivity are always welcome. I am not convinced that the church has lived up to that requirement over the years, especially so far as discrimination is concerned:-

  • It was a vicious campaigner against the discrimination law and closed or disaffiliated from its adoption agencies because that law rightly forced them not to discriminate between gay and straight couples.
  • It demands massive exemptions from the discrimination law to enable it to teach anti gay doctrine in its schools and to hire only people who are in sympathy with that doctrine
  • On the last visit of a pope to the UK the holder of that office ranted against our equality legislation – in Westminster Hall of all places, not that the location of his rant is significant
  • In Great Britain another vicious campaign against same sex marriage was conducted, including offensive and demeaning letters being read out at services, complete with post cards for the congregants to fill in opposing it
  • One could go on

Now is that consistent with what I have quoted above?

Of course not. And that is because what so called liberal Catholics quote from the Catechism is not all the catechism has to say about people like me. Here are the relevant paragraphs in full.

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

That is a piece of fine old fashioned hate speech. Notwithstanding the use of words like “compassion” and “respect” they view ordinary gay physical expression as gravely depraved and intrinsically disordered – effectively as an illness. The physical relationship of a gay couple, even within marriage or some form of exclusive union, is “not genuinely affective” and can under no circumstances be approved. I am not sure I can think of a more offensive suggestion than that the physical expression of a gay couple’s love for each other, in marriage or outside it, is never a genuinely affective act.

And that is consistent with the political acts of the Roman church across the world.  The level of hypocrisy which a minority of believers, against all the evidence both from the church’s fundamental doctrinal documents and its record in the public sphere.

I ma sure that liberal Catholics (and indeed liberals in other Christian denominations) who like to consider themselves as gay friendly are nice people and I would rather have liberal catholics than orthodox ones. But the former are deluding themselves if they think the church is going to change its attitude to gay people any time soon. And worse, by their continued membership of the church , by their contribution financially to the institution, they are actively complicit in the church’s intense campaign against the rights of people like me. Or to put it more shortly they are hypocrites.

Could they please stop trying to square an intellectual circle. read the extracts above and realise it cannot be done honestly. And as for gay Catholics, words fail me.

Endnote:

1. As is obvious, I write this as a personal opinion.

2. There are other denominations across the world which pose an equal threat to gay people. In Great Britain I happen to view the Catholic church as our main enemy; in Northern Ireland and in many other parts of the world there are greater enemies.

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Northern Ireland – an embarrassment to the UK

The very happy result of the Republic of Ireland equal marriage referendum (much as I disapprove of voting on people’s civil rights) makes Northern Ireland even more of an embarrassment to this Kingdom, not just in respect of equal marriage but in many other laws which are a throwback to the 1950’s.

We necessarily spilled British blood to stop our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland being thrown to the priest-ridden theocracy that was the 1970’s Republic. Now, it seems the legislature of that province ungratefully wants to keep its people firmly in the last century. Indeed Northern Ireland only got civil partnerships and a decent equality law because at the time of their passing their assembly was undergoing one of its periodical suspensions while they were at each other’s throats for some reason I now forget.

I have had the pleasure of meeting many young people from Northern Ireland recently who are similarly embarrassed. We need to help them.

The main problems here are the Unionist parties, who exploit the constitutional arrangements to block change. They are assertively fond of Northern Ireland’s position as an integral part of the UK. Right. The sovereign parliament of the UK should, in the exercise of its absolute sovereignty and notwithstanding anything Northern Ireland’s ghastly bigot of a first minister says, forthwith assimilate Northern Ireland’s social policy and laws to those of the rest of the country:-

– equal marriage
– equal treatment of LGBT people in other respects such a blood donation
– women’s rights to abortion without being forced to travel to Great Britain
– abolition of blasphemy laws
– and the rest.

Oh and while they are at they can integrate the school system.

And if the older Unionists don’t like it they can declare independence (which will necessitate independence from the massive subsidies we give them). Good luck

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Civil Partnerships

I see that a straight couple is suing for a declaration that the bit of the Civil Partnerships Act that restricts CPs to same sex couples is contrary to human rights law. Granted that marriage is now, despite the best efforts of the Christians, open to same sex couples, it seems to me that such a conclusion is unavoidable.

However, why, now, do we need civil partnerships at all? They were instituted to allow people like Jonathan and me to have proper legal protections equivalent to marriage because the then Government, possibly prudently, felt it had to compromise on nomenclature to avoid a backlash from the tired old minority that thought that marriage had some sort of spiritual reproduction based significance. That battle is (more or less) over.

The argument for retaining CP and extending it to heterosexual couples is according the couple going to court to advocate for the latter, that the word and concept of marriage have a lot of baggage implying male dominance, the concept of the female as the property of the male being handed over by her father during the wedding ceremony (“who giveth this woman to be married to this man?” is how I think it goes) etc.

Yes, the word “marriage” is well equipped with baggage, like most words used historically, “Britain” for example. But as the Christian enemy never ceased to point out during the debates on equality of marriage, we redefined the word. We know what it means now – a legal relationship. It certainly does not involve a property relationship or a relationship implying the inferiority or subordination of one partner. And like any other relationship marriage is crafted by the partners to it. It is what the two of you make of it.

So:-

– the couple going to the High Court should go the pub instead and plan their wedding, crafting the vows they make and relationship they want to their own aspirations for their life together

– parliament, which seems to have little to do at the moment, should either:-

– – close down CP to new entrants, in case some of them (I doubt all that many) complain that they really didn’t want marriage but wanted a relationship designated the way it was to allow the religiously inclined to regard it as inferior; or (my own preference)

– – simply provide that on a certain date all CPs shall without further formality be converted into marriage, as many US states have done when they introduce marriage equality.

The phrase “Civil Partnership” has much more  nasty baggage, by the way, than the word “marriage” and much more recent nasty baggage: the word was invented so that it could be used to describe gay relationships so that the religiously inclined, and other bigots,  could view it as inferior. The sooner it is consigned to the rubbish bin the better.

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Please, Anglicans, stop hijacking remembrance day

Some Christians seem to want to defend the compulsory Christian rituals at remembrance services today. I wish they understood what offence this causes.

This is a secular commemoration for ALL the people. To  force atheists, agnostics, humanists and other non-Anglican faith type people to attend an Anglican ceremony as a necessary and formal part of the official, state commemoration of the war dead is offensive to all of them. At least accept, Christians, that I and many people are put off from attending any such ceremony because we will have to participate in a religious ceremony.

And for myself, it is not as if I can regard this as an empty ritual. I am forced to participate in the rituals of an institution, the Church of England, which is inherently homophobic and that does its absolute best to restrict my civil rights.

I of course have nothing against churches, synagogues, mosques et cetera celebrating Remembrance Day in a faith context, inside the buildings with consenting adults in private.

But leave the public ceremonial as secular: open it to all the people!

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Freedom of Information

As readers know from my earlier post, my “civil partner” Jonathan and I are very annoyed by the delay in getting the systems in place to convert civil partnerships into what they properly are: marriages. I did a freedom of information request, quoted below. It was rejected as too wide. I narrowed it, I hope. The revised version is also below. 

I’m not an FOI expert, so all critques of the drafting are very gratefully received.You can read the history, through the excellent Whatdotheyknow site, here

Thanks.

Harry

Original Request

Dear Department for Culture, Media and Sport,

I should be very grateful if you would provide the following
documents, which concern the delay in bringing into force section 9
of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which enables persons
in civil partnerships to convert those partnerships into marriage.

Assessments of the

(A) time;
(B) cost; and
(C) resources

required to bring local and national systems into compliance with
section 9.

Assessments of the cost (if any) and other consequences of bringing
forward the date for implementation of section 9.

Statements of the resources allocated to implementation of section
9.

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

Harry Small

Response

We have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 200
(the Act).

 

We regret that we are unable to respond to your request in its current
wording because it exceeds the cost limit set out by the Act.  Section 12
of the Act makes provision for public authorities to refuse requests for
information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the
appropriate limit, which for central government is set at £600. This
represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in
determining whether the department holds the information, locating,
retrieving and extracting the information. 

 

The reason that your request exceeds the cost limit is because you have
asked for ‘documents’ concerning the delay in bringing into force section
9 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. We do not hold specific
documents outlining the information you are interested and in order to
comply with your request we would be required to search a large quantity
of information including emails, briefing papers etc. to ascertain whether
we held relevant information within scope of your request. 

 

You may wish to alter your request by changing its scope. If you would
like further information regarding the cost limit and how it is applied
please refer to the Office of Public Sector Information website using the
link below:

[1]http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2004/2004324…

 

Yours sincerely

Freedom of Information Team

 

My Revised Request

(Note: I have submitted this to start time running but very happy to amend if anyone thinks I should.)

Dear FOI,

Very well. I withdraw the request for “documents” and replace it
with with the word “information”. I repeat the revised request
below. Could you please try not to leave this until the last minute
this time please.

Thanks

Yours sincerely,

Harry Small

I should be very grateful if you would provide information about
the decision to delay the bringing into force section 9 of the
Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which enables persons in
civil partnerships
to convert those partnerships into marriage.

Please address the assessments of the

(A) time;

(B) cost; and

(C) resources

required to bring local and national systems into compliance with
section 9; and any assessments of the cost (if any) and other
consequences of bringing
forward the date for implementation of section 9 and the resources
to be allocated to it.

Thank you.

Harry Small

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Is this a Christian Country? Answer: no.

I had a first bash at a post on this subject last year. I rewrote parts of it and version 2 now resides at the Lawyers Secular Society blog here .

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At the Stroke of the Midnight Hour

On 27th July 1967, at the stroke of the midnight hour, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 came into force. When they woke, thousands of loving couples, whose only offence had been being of the same sex, could look forward to a life free from fear of the policeman’s knock on the door; from fear of imprisonment; and from the state sanctioned chemical mistreatment for being yourself that this country inflicted on someone who contributed more to our victory over Nazism than anyone else. Gay people ceased to be criminals in their own homes. I can’t say I remember that day: I was ten. But I certainly knew by then that I was different and was going, as I thought, to have a life of being secret and different.

46 years have passed, and during those years many passionate and hardworking people fought to equalise the treatment of gay and straight people in this country. For their pains, they were frequently verbally and physically abused and forced to the margins of our society. Many of us have contributed in many different ways to that fight; many of us could wish we had contributed more and stopped being so secret somewhat earlier. Some battles were lost: at the worst point of that 46 years, decent same sex couples – and their children – were legislatively vilified as in a “pretended family relationship”.

Today, 13th March 2014, at the stroke of midnight, while we slept, most of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force and the last major piece of legal discrimination in this country against gay people  – the right to marriage on equal terms with straight couples – fell away. And yesterday Her Majesty the Queen assented to the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act,  allowing equal marriage in that nation.

So, job done? Is LGBT history over?

Not quite.

Although Great Britain now has full legislative equality for gay people, our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland suffer from considerable discrimination including in fundamental areas of family life; important aspects of the equal marriage legislation fail to adequately address transgender issues.

Around the rest of the world, the position is not so rosy. The nation that awoke to freedom “at the stroke of the midnight hour”, the world’s largest democracy, recriminalised LGB people last year. There has been a flurry of the most vicious anti-gay legislation in parts of Africa. The death penalty is imposed against LGB people in many parts of the world.

So if we sort all that out, job done?

No.

Human rights, respect and dignity cannot be siloed. You don’t have a different set of rights because you’re LGBT. Your rights to dignity, respect and freedom because of your sexuality are no different from your rights as a human being. Human beings have different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, gender identities, beliefs and lack of them, abilities and social background. They are all entitled to be respected, to be part of the safe space that good global employers provide for their employees. We should all work to advance those same principles in the wider community.

If we can get all that right, the job really will be done.

Note: this is an edited version of a post I offered to my colleagues at work today on the coming into force of same sex marriage legislation in England and Wales.
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Annoying Delay in our Marriage: a Letter for MPs

Many of our friends have kindly asked Jonathan and me when we are going to get married. Sadly, the answer ids that at the moment we can’t. People already in a civil partnership may, according to the marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, convert their civil partnerships to marriage; and the effect of that conversion is that the civil partnership is dissolved and the newly created marriage is backdated to the date of the civil partnership, in our case April 2006. That warrants a celebration of course – and some of our female friends wanted plenty of notice, for hat buying purposes. 

Most of the Act of 2013 comes into effect in March and the first same sex marriage ceremonies will take place on 29 March 2014, the birthday of the evil old bigot Lord Tebbit. I hope it makes him choke on his birthday cake.  But for those of us already committed in a civil partnership there is no date. The Government alleges that it will take to the end of the year to change IT systems and to train staff. This strikes me as complete baloney – both of these things were presumably necessary before the introduction of marriage for same sex couples not in civil partnerships. 

We have written to our MP  about it. Here is an edited version (we personalised it based on our MP, the excellent Emily Thornberry, being a prominent Labour supporter of equal marriage)  which others in a similar position may wish with appropriate alterations to use. We’ll let you know the response.

 

Dear

We are writing to you about the unexplained and unacceptable delay to the implementation of section 9 of the Act. Section 9 is the section that permits same sex couples in civil partnerships (like us) to convert their civil partnerships into marriage and have the resulting marriage backdated to the day of their civil partnership. This delay means that we, and many thousands of couples like us, must remain in the lesser status of civil partnership until at least the end of this year, almost 18 months after Royal Assent to the Act on 17 July last year.

The Government is implementing with reasonable promptitude the parts of the Act which allow couples who are not in a civil partnership to marry: those provisions enter into effect on 13 March, from which date foreign same sex marriages will be recognised and same sex couples not in a civil partnership can give notice of their intention to marry, meaning that they can marry on or after 29 March. We’re happy for those couples and glad that the Government was able to bring these provisions of the Act into force earlier than originally announced.

The announcement made by the Government originally about implementation of the Act, as reported in the press, simply mentioned the summer of this year as the date of implementation. We, like many other couples, pencilled in a date in late summer for a wedding celebration. As it became clear that the summer date did not include us we have had to rub that date out!

We understand that the Government’s excuse for the 18 month delay is that alterations to IT systems are required. But IT systems must have had to be seriously altered to allow same sex marriages for new partners to start next month. We suspect that the Government is simply not giving any serious priority to this issue, perhaps because the necessary subordinate legislation requires an affirmative resolution of each house of Parliament..

The effect of this delay is in effect to prejudice those who made an early commitment to stable and permanent same sex relationships. We have to remain in state of inequality – having to say “no, but…” in answer to the question “are you married?”. Our relationship, which is of course marriage in all but name, it is not recognised here or abroad as a marriage: whenever we travel we have to present ourselves separately at customs and immigration as if we were two friends travelling together. And perhaps most importantly it gives bigots the opportunity to pretend in public that as a couple we are in some way different from opposite sex married couples.

This is depressing for us as a couple, especially as we genuinely don’t understand why the Government is delaying. We would be very grateful indeed if you could raise with the DCMS and Maria Miller the question of why this simple process is taking so long and delaying bringing into effect an important part of this important piece of legislation, which causes us some distress as a couple.

Thank you.

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