Big Gay Bus? Or Ex-Big Gay Bus?

I woke up the radio news this morning to learn of a London bus advert that has been banned by TFL (Transport for London). If you’re in Britain you may already know about it but if you haven’t yet heard you can read the story from the bbc here. In summary, an advert from an organisation claiming to be able to ‘cure gayness’ has been banned for being offensive. This is the text (capitals intended as on the advert) that was to be printed down the side of the buses:

“NOT GAY! EX-GAY, POST-GAY AND PROUD. GET OVER IT.”

It was meant as a response to (and copied the style of) the advert by Stonewall, the LGBT charity which, since 1st April has 1000 buses with this on the side:

“SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY. GET OVER IT.”

My initial reaction to the story was, ‘good, I can’t believe they thought it was ok to say stuff like that in public’ and I still feel like that. The sentiments behind the ad, although not explicitly printed on it, are that homosexuality is some sort of mental illness or disease that can be cured through therapy. That is what the group who put the advert forward, Core Issues Trust, promote:

“CORE is a non-profit Christian initiative seeking to support men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression”

Clearly with a mission statement like that, I think we should be wary about promoting their adverts. However, there is a part of me that is uneasy with the banning of any advert merely on the basis of it being offensive to some people. It is, after all, not obscene, crude or crass. This is a topic over which two of my most strongly held beliefs, freedom of speech and freedom from prejudice, are in direct opposition with each other. That the advert is offensive and designed to be so is not in question, that it is designed to cause controversy and promote discussion is also clear. The same could also be said of the humanist ‘there probably is no god…’ bus advert from a few years ago, yet that was not banned. Should these groups be free to express their views in public forums? My ‘freedom of speech’ head tells me yes, one cannot claim to live in a free society without having to listen to opinions one thoroughly disagrees with, just as those who disagree with me should not be able to silence me for the same reasons. My ‘freedom from prejudice’ head tells me no, you cannot allow those among us who have such horrendously outdated, divisive and bigoted views to promote the concept of homosexuality as something that is to be cured, akin to drug addiction or gambling.

Is it the subject matter that’s the difference between this and the humanist advert? What if the British National Party wanted to run an ad campaign based on race? ‘Stop being so Black’ or ‘Asians should be in Asia’ ? This, I think, would attract nearly unanimous negative attention and would certainly be banned, rightly. There are fundamental differences between ethnicity, sexuality and religion. While I don’t personally believe that religion is a true ‘choice’ in the same way as a political vote, it is certainly a lot closer to choice than ethnicity, over which one has not control whatever or sexuality, where the only choice is whether or not to practise. A person can choose to learn about different religions and beliefs and may well change their views with age. Openly projected sexuality may change with age but it is normally a ‘coming out’ experience from a repressed position rather than some sort of ‘switch’. Prejudices on any grounds have no place in the public sphere but debates over the subjects of the prejudices can be welcome. It is when the subject is a matter over which one has no control, that the debates become unwanted, unwarranted and often truly offensive, this is where the metaphorical ‘line in the sand’ is drawn in many people’s minds.

I think the difference between the adverts in the news today and the humanist campaign from a few years ago is the sentiments behind them. The humanists did not openly criticise anyone in society who believed in god or attended any religious congregation, they merely pointed out their own beliefs. They did not attempt to lure people into an atheistic ‘conversion’ or even assert that one belief system was better than the other, only that you shouldn’t worry if yours doesn’t quite match up to what people expect of you. The advert by CORE, on the other hand, is directly aimed an already victimized section of society. A minority who, despite recent advances, still face prejudice and persecution from many vocal and sometimes violent members of our society.

Do I believe in free speech? Yes, of course. Do I believe in untrammelled freedom of speech? Yes, but not on the side of a public bus. I believe that I (or anyone else) should be free to say whatever I think using certain mediums, public buses are not one of them. In short, the demography of the readership and their sensibilities do need to be taken into account. Thats not to say that all public adverts and promotions should be mundane or banal but there is a balance to be found and I believe Boris has found it on this topic.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

I’d love to hear some of your comments and opinions on this as I’m not fully committed either way.

Why You Can’t Argue With God

Over the past week or so, I have taken the (not recommended) path of commenting on other people’s blogs rather than posting my own. Partly because I didn’t really have time and partly because I couldn’t think of a juicy topic to get my teeth into. This was probably a bad idea but I did learn some of the strange ideas that people who post under the ‘atheism’ tag have. I say not recommended because it can be incredibly frustrating dealing with people who have already made up their mind about your opinions without even knowing what they are. It is not so much the lack of understanding of the arguments and evidence but the refusal to accept that opinions other than their own are valid which I find so difficult. However, I was given the fuel for this post so I thought I’d share some of it with you.

The first and possibly most bizarre reaction I got was that if I, or anyone else for that matter, cared enough to comment on a post criticising it, I must think it to be correct and it was my sense of guilt from my sins that were causing me to disagree with Christian teaching rather than any actual lack of belief on my part. I wasn’t really sure how to answer this because really if you start off with that you can’t really go anywhere, anything can just be batted away with the same response. Of course it doesn’t really stand up to any logical argument, one can accuse anyone of secretly agreeing with oneself if one wants but that will never make it true, when I asked why she had posted under the ‘atheism’ tag she (unsurprisingly) didn’t answer. This kind of thinking may work for people who post on conspiracy theories about the moon landings but their suppositions are not taken seriously by anyone who has the power to implement public policy. In short, I don’t comment on conspiracy theorists pages because I don’t care whether they think that or not and their thoughts will not affect me, if one of them got elected to a position of power my view would almost certainly change. Anyway, this doesn’t alter the fact that having a strongly held opinion on a point of view is not equivalent to agreeing with it, although this may be true of some homophobes it is a bit like saying that everyone who campaigns for lower taxes secretly wants to pay more, it really doesn’t hold any water (holy or otherwise).

The next reaction I came up against was an invitation to disprove the existence of god. If you’re reading this (and of course you are), you may have read my previous post ‘There Is No Onus Of Disproof’, where I asserted what is in the title of the piece but there is more to it than that. The burden of proof is put on the believer, not for some arbitrary or ‘standard practise’ reason. That burden has to be put on the believer because it is impossible to prove the non-existence of anything, especially when the believer has chosen to describe the object of his or her belief as being in some way ‘above’ the physical world and therefore impossible to detect using not only current scientific methods but also any possible conceivable or even inconceivable scientific apparatus. We’ve come a long way since the renaissance when we realised that facts about the world needed to be found by real-world experiments and could not be deduced from purely Greek philosopher style rational reasoning, let’s not go back eh?

Now on to one of the ones I love. ‘You must believe in god and his teachings because you’re not in prison for crimes against humanity’. I love it because its one of the oldest ones in the book and is quite easy to counter. That assertion can only work if one of 2 premises is true :

  • Every person who lived before the complete version of the bible was available to them (or was never taught it in their lifetime) had no morality and consequentially they were all serial-killing maniacs or:
  • Morality was injected into the human psyche at the time of creation and has been inherent ever since despite only being written down piecemeal over a couple of thousand years.

The first point is clearly wrong because we wouldn’t have survived as a species if it had been the case, while there have clearly been many examples of them throughout history, serial killing maniacs have to be a small minority or they would be having to kill each other before long and I wouldn’t have thought they’d be too great at procreation, farming or city building. The second point is one that many evolution deniers believe to be factual, yet if it were true, the question wouldn’t need answering. If you believe that god gives you your morality and it is not learnt, how can you question why I have morals? If you believe that it is the belief in god that gives you your morality, we go back to the first point. More on this in ‘The True Origins Of Morality’ and ‘All Morality Is Relative’.

Another argument doing the rounds, although only by the more moderate sections of the believing community (I know that it’s not really a community but the word helps with the description) is the whole ex nihilo thing, that nothing comes from nothing. This could be a topic I write a separate post on later but I think I need to touch on it here. The theory goes that if the universe was created in the ‘Big Bang’, there had to have been a cause, this ’cause’ is god, a bit like Aristotle’s unmoved mover (actually a lot like, it’s a total rip-off). This makes assumptions which are not known to be true. Firstly that there was a ‘before’, time itself was created at the Big Bang so I’m not sure it makes any sense to speak of ‘before’. Secondly that all things have a cause, quantum fluctuations do not, it seems sensible to suspend judgement when we cannot know if all things must have a cause. Thirdly and I believe most importantly, why would any cause have to be conscious? The supernovae whose debris we are made of were not conscious and neither is any other creative or destructive force in the universe that we know of (other than our own), it is not a logical conclusion that any ‘first cause’ would be conscious, aware, omnipotent, just or any of the attributes humans so often attribute to god.

When all else fails, I’m usually told that I’ll find out I was wrong when I spend eternity in hell. Aside from the fact that eternity in hell would be no different from eternity in heaven ( I may explain that later), what those who say that don’t realise is that they have just stated knowledge of god’s intentions for me, showing their vanity while using his name. That’s real blasphemy.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

Biblical Myths, Metaphors and Fairy Stories – Part 3

Since I became old enough to understand the differences, I have observed several distinct ways of reading the bible and interpreting the stories contained within it. This is the follow-up to part 1 : http://wp.me/p1TXXQ-5Y and part 2 : http://wp.me/p1TXXQ-6b

Conclusion

Despite writing mostly about the first two books of the OT in my last post, I believe that although those two have a much more mythic feel to them, the ways of reading explained previously can be use throughout the stories in the Books of the Prophets. The general ideas are that god is a real badass, you should listen to him and his messengers or there’ll be trouble such as invasion/exile/destruction. It is also made clear in earlier books that as long as you keep god onside you can pretty much do as you please with the people around you, such as genocide or other various war-crimes. Not to forget the Job story when god (omnipotent?) appears to be gambling with a divine adversary over the will-power of one of his favourites. Essentially do as god tells you without question and the rest is up to you. If one looks at the results, one tends to see that if you believe and obey, you’ll be left alone, if you believe and disobey you’ll be punished but if you don’t believe, you’ll also be left alone by god. As he is meant to be the ‘god of the Israelites’, he doesn’t care if Assyrians of Babylonians believe in him and they seem to do quite well from the worship of idols.

This changes in the NT from religion being about openly obeying laws practises and rituals to being a much more personal and interpersonal religion, how you behave in your daily life toward other people and how you feel becomes much more important than whether you eat the wrong food or work on the wrong day. It is not the word but the spirit of the law that is fundamental to religious life. This is an expected progression from a state of affairs where so many civic and religious officials were corrupt and so many people lived in grinding poverty. Making poverty and asceticism virtues in a world where the vast majority of the population had no other choice but to live in that way would always have been popular but in a world where wealth was beginning to be created by a middle class of merchants and traders unconnected to aristocracy and priesthood, this would become ever more important in maintaining social order.

Finally the points boil down to the stories in the bible being not ‘real’ in the sense of actually happening but being constructs of the scribes writing them. The moral compass given to us in those books was relevant to the time it was written and while many of the guidelines for behaviour are still applicable today, those writers could never have imagine the advances in technology and the immense changes societies around the world have undergone in the years since. Once a person accepts that the rules governing the conduct of semi-nomadic, bronze-age goat-herds have different demands from those of a settled, modern, technologically advanced, global world, one can see not so much that the ways of life described in the bible are necessarily ‘wrong’ but are incomplete due to ignorance.

The writers of those books built stories in order to explain to the masses why they should behave in certain ways rather than others. While Aesop’s Fables, the Grimms’ Fairy Tales and the Bible all have clear moral messages in them, none are definitively modern and the methods used to educate children in the ways of the world are now much more complex. Merely giving examples from stories is no longer enough for the modern citizen, people now need explanations and reasons. This is where some of the messages have been lost, why most people no longer believe homophobia, racism or punishments by execution and mutilation to be positive to society. It becomes difficult to give reasons for bigotry when evidence of its necessity is requested. While I do not think that any reasonable person would sincerely advocate discarding all the messages from the bible, I also think that any sane person must allow the laws of the time to evolve with the society to which they apply.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

Biblical Myths, Metaphors and Fairy Stories – Part 2

Since I became old enough to understand the differences, I have observed several distinct ways of reading the bible and interpreting the stories contained within it. This is the follow-up to part 1 : http://wp.me/p1TXXQ-5Y

I’m going to skip the rest of the Old Testament (OT) and go straight to the New Testament (NT) for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I have much more personal knowledge of it than the later books of the OT, I also think I have more relevant points to make.

New Testament 

Given that both of these posts have been about the stories in the bible rather than the laws, I will concern this post with only the first 5 books, the 4 Gospels and Acts.

Just as with the OT, there are differing ways of reading the NT.

The near universal interpretation of these books among Christians of all denominations is that not only was the biblical Jesus a historical figure but that all the miraculous stories surrounding his birth, life & death are also historical facts. Some may dispute the accuracy of the calendar (no census in the life of Herod) or the meaning or interpretation of some teachings but to call oneself a Christian means accepting as true certain aspects about Jesus’ divinity. There are minor disputes over the resurrection, (was it spiritual of physical? Was it the actual body of Jesus or just his spirit?) but if you truly believe that the Jesus represented in the early books of the NT was truly divine, all the stories attributed to him become easily believable. Despite these differences, neither fundamentalist or moderate Christians repudiate the historical authenticity of the Jesus story.

There is a modern school of thought (with which I have flirted) that disputes the existence of the historical Jesus, citing the lack of contemporary evidence available. Certainly there is little written of Jesus’ life while he was still living but this is also true of many people of the day. Few citizens had anything at all written about them, it was only wealthy patrons and military or civic leaders who had people writing about them. Poets, teachers and philosophers wrote about themselves but the lives of the vast majority of people are forever lost to history. Literacy within the Roman Empire, despite being very low by modern standards, was much higher than in later times. It would not have been hard to write important records down but given the expense of paper-like materials, the probability of those materials deteriorating without proper care and the fear of persecution for religious authorities, it is not surprising that a small religious sect would have no written records at its outset.

The length of time between the events and their recording, despite being so much less than those in the OT, was still sufficient for the writers to embellish (if they so wished) the life of Jesus to not only fit some of the early prophecies but also appear truly divine to the growing number of gentiles who were beginning to join the early Christian movement while it was still only a sect of Judaism. The factual accuracy of his birth, miracles and death should not affect the validity of his teachings but if a person is seen as an earthly incarnation of god, people are much more likely to  listen to what he has to say.

Given the importance placed in ritual cleansing running throughout Jewish laws, the idea that an earthly divinity would be saved from the physical impurity of conception by coitus is not really surprising. That he should be a child prodigy, learned before his years in the laws of his people is to be expected. As for miracles such as turning water into wine, this can easily be seen as a metaphor for his turning the inner life of a person from mundane to celebratory. Feeding the five thousand is a way of showing his ability to nourish so many people spiritually despite his humble origins. When we come to the resurrection, I believe the reason so many disciples at first despaired, doubted or didn’t even recognise before believing is because there was not true resurrection in the sense of a dead body getting up and walking around. The apostles discovered that even after the death of their teacher, his words and teachings were with them still. In this way he was made ‘immortal’ and it became their purpose to ‘spread the word’. To me, the historical Jesus was man, a teacher who had a lot to say about how people should live in relation to other people rather tha in relationship to worshipping god as had been the case with previous prophets. While these theories may seem blasphemous to many modern Christians, I see them as an inevitable consequence of reverence and a desire to spread the teachings he espoused.

Part 3  to follow soon.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

Biblical Myths, Metaphors and Fairy Stories – Part 1

Since I became old enough to understand the differences, I have observed several distinct ways of reading the bible and interpreting the stories contained within it.

Old Testament

All cultures and religions, both current and extinct have some sort of creation myth behind them. Most crumbled under the pressure of science, many were never meant to be taken literally anyway but the origin myths of the Old Testament have hung around in popular belief longer than almost any other.

The first and most obvious way of reading the bible, the way I was taught in primary school, is that of a literal interpretation. The literal interpretation of the bible, which is still believed by some evangelical/fundamentalist Christians (and Muslims if using the Qur’an), is the belief that every word within the book is in some way special, that every story told is absolutely true, with nothing left out or added, that all the words written in a modern-day English translation of a collection of texts originally written in Hebrew or Greek (rather than the languages spoken by the characters in the stories) are utterly without fault and of divine origin. If you, as an adult, still believe this you may as well stop reading. Not because you’ll be upset or offended by my views (although you may be), not because I don’t think you’ll be able to understand the arguments against. I don’t think you should read this piece because if you still, despite all the evidence to the contrary, refuse to question the historical authenticity of a collection of books written thousands of years ago by people who had less scientific knowledge than the average modern eight year old, purely on the basis that you think they had similar religious beliefs to you, it is pointless for you to hear opposing opinions and arguments as you will never be able to see the truth for yourself.

The second and most common way of interpreting the bible involves using the term ‘metaphor’ a lot. It concedes to science, geology and archaeology the hard historical facts about our creation and early anthropological progress. In this view, we know that Adam & Eve weren’t ‘real’ in the sense of physically being the only 2 people on Earth from whom we are all descended, although the idea that god created the universe and our disobedience towards god’s laws is the cause of our suffering in both this life and the next is something that must be believed (especially as it’s been difficult for science to disprove). People of this viewpoint don’t generally believe that god actually killed all the millions he is credited with in the bible, although he may have killed many, it is the moral messages behind the stories rather than the pure factual content that is important (don’t make him angry, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry).

The third way of reading the bible is purely as one would read a fictional novel written many years after the events were to have taken place. This interpretation sees any correlation between historical fact and biblical story as an intentional coincidence. The authors were writing stories about their tribe’s past and despite having no access to any sort of archaeological method, they could use stories passed down the generations verbally. Although there will always be a ‘Chinese whispers’ effect on stories handed down through the generations without a definitive and unalterable version being written and copied verbatim, it is not surprising that some of them seemed plausible. That a story such as Exodus sounded plausible to those it was written for in no way makes it important, valid or even worth hearing if you do not believe it has any truth or meaning behind it (unless you want to know the story so you can make up your own mind).

On reflection, I think there may be a fourth way of interpreting some of the texts in the Old Testament, especially the creation and foundation myths of the first two books. Given that when first formed they would have been orally transmitted from elders to children and the inevitable deviation this would entail (Chinese whispers), it is not surprising that the originally historical and explanatory tales became more superstitious with time, eventually fitting in with the belief system of the authors who first wrote them down. If one looks at the story of the Garden of Eden, thinks of the knowledge held in the fruit of the tree as that of farming and the lifestyle within the garden as a stylised hunter-gatherer one, the story begins to make sense. Once farming is discovered, despite the many long, hard and painful hours spent in the fields, a settlement that produces its own food will always be able to support far larger numbers than before. There is, in effect, no way back into the garden. If we look at the Binding of Isaac through these eyes, we can see a time when ancient tribespeople practised child sacrifice, followed by a time when their religious leaders told them it was no longer necessary, that an animal would suffice, told through the story of one man, Abraham. Indeed, the story has many hallmarks of one likely to be re-enacted in ritual. Similarly, the story of Noah may be a way of explaining the events following the LGM (Last Glacial Maximum or ‘Ice Age’), when the sea levels worldwide rose suddenly, with high-tide marks being much higher in a person’s adulthood than in their childhood. With many populations supplementing their diets with seafood and living on the shore, this would have been devastating. The early books of the Old Testament are littered with examples of this and many can be found in the more ‘historical’ Books of the Prophets. Given the amount of mythology used worldwide to explain the physical structures evident in nature, I do not think it unreasonable to suggest that the origins of many of the early biblical stories could have their roots in these types of historical explanations. I think the case is further strengthened by the clear similarities between the bible and another major origin myth text of the time and region: ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’. Clearly the two texts had a common source or sources with the time between the oral tradition and the beginning of literature explaining the differences between the details and emphasises.

Part 2 to follow soon.

Thanks for reading.

Rowan

You May Not Believe Climate Science But You Cannot Deny The Economics

There seems to be a choice of 3 opinions one can take on the Climate Change/Global Warming debate. Firstly one can choose to deny the existence or validity of any evidence that shows the global trend of rising average temperatures. The second position seems to be one of acknowledging the rising temperatures but dismissing the idea that it could be in any way ‘man-made’. The third position is one of acceptance of near-universal scientific consensus, that the world is getting warmer and its our (collective) fault. There is a fourth position of believing the climate science but not caring enough to do anything about it but this is really just a form of denial without having to deal with the arguments, outright denial or just looking the other way often end up with the same results, that of having to deal with far larger problems, far quicker and more expensively than would have been the case had they been confronted at the first opportunity.

There are probably a number of motives for the denial evidenced in the first two opinions listed above. These vary from religious to financial but all appear rooted in the human disposition of being opposed to change of any sort. One can be opposed to changes in the global climate but that will not stop them happening. It is interesting that those who deny the often overwhelming scientific evidence for climate change will often point to other scientific evidence for previous changes in the global climate, accepting only the evidence they like to hear, not unlike the ‘independent’ studies into the links between smoking and cancer in the 1950s. There is a huge amount of industrial capital invested in fossil energy sources, not just by us in the West but globally, being told that we need to change our cultural dependence is unsurprisingly distressing. It is also reasonable that those with the most to lose would want to make absolutely certain that change is necessary before it is effected. However, misleading the public with lies and bullying politicians into doing things they know will have negative long-term consequences for their citizens are not actions that can be tolerated. The media has a lot to answer for this, the traditional media debate pitches two opposing views against each other to argue their points, leaving the audience to make up their own mind with some sort of compromise. Little weight is given to the scientific strength of each of the opponents, even if 99% of scientists are sure of one side of the argument, the audience are presented with a view that both opinions are equal, this may be fine in political debate but more emphasis needs to be given to scientific backing in debates about public policy that is based on scientific evidence.

Imagine that there was no scientific evidence to support the claims made by proponents of Climate Change. Imagine the world was not warming and global weather patterns were not changing. We do know that the world as a whole is getting richer and our lives are becoming more and more automated with every passing year. Labour saving devices in the home and workplace save our biological energy but cost in the form of electricity and are becoming an ever more important part of people’s lives throughout the world. Add to that the increasing burden of travel, caused by the people wanting to travel to ever more exotic locations for their holidays or having to travel ever further for work and the energy demands of the world show no signs of abating in the near future. The fossil fuels available to us are a finite resource, despite new options for extraction being opened up in Arctic waters (ironically by Climate Change itself) the increase in demand is far faster than the increase in supply. Any basic economic model will indicate that where demand exceeds supply, prices will rise and when the supply is limited by finite resources rather than expandable manufacturing capacity, prices will continue to rise until they become unaffordable. This is a process currently underway, the diesel I put in my van costs nearly £1.50 a litre ($10.80/gallon) and despite the restriction of supply caused by the current political problems in the Middle-East, a real-terms fall in global energy prices is not likely in the near future. The current stretch on supply chains means there is no slack in the system so any disruption causes massive peaks in the oil price. Any medium term increase in supply by drilling in ever more hazardous environments is likely to be more than offset by not only the increased demands from the developing world but also the massively increased costs of extraction from oilfields found in very deep or very cold locations. Not to mention the heightened risks associated with these types of drilling techniques, both to the local ecology and the workforce.

Home energy bills continue to rise faster than inflation and fuel poverty (more than 10% of household income spent on home energy bills) has become a significant problem in Britain yet popular opinion still seems to resist the idea of energy efficiency in the home, with political pressure pushing for tighter controls on the prices charged by energy companies and the high initial costs of renewable sources being cited as ‘prohibitive’ to their widespread implementation. LED lighting is expensive to install but costs less in the long-term, is this any different from buying a house rather than renting? We seem to be waiting until the energy bills we pay are so high the payback on installing PV cells or wind turbines are almost immediate. All the while certain elements are releasing negative and untrue stories to the media about the longevity and maintenance costs of the technology used in the harnessing of these energy sources.

The fundamentals of my argument boil down to this:

Fossil fuel energy is getting more expensive due to supply and demand issues, who do you think will be best prepared for the future? The state who makes sure its citizens have full access to oil until the final drop has been extracted while refusing to invest in new technology to use the various ‘free’ sources available to them, or encouraging its citizens to use energy in a more responsible way? Or, the state who begins a gradual shift from fossil to renewable sources as early as possible, while reducing the overall demand on energy supply by educating its citizens in the benefits of energy efficiency?

Even if you are a Climate Change ‘denier’ or ‘sceptic’, your bills will continue to rise. You may not wish to change the way you live but it will cost you more if you do not. I may dislike the raised costs of precious metals and could choose to deny their scarcity but like Cnut, the will of a person cannot hold back the tide.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

God Does Not Own Marriage

Today marks the beginning of a 12-week consultation on the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Since 2005, same-sex couple have had the option of a ‘civil partnership’ with some of the same but not all the legal rights given to married couples. The proposed legislation would make no distinction between any married couple of whatever gender mix. It would also allow currently married people to legally change their gender but would not allow same-sex marriage in any religious ceremony.

As expected, all the usual church spokespeople have been screaming their bigoted bile about this ‘grotesque’ plan which, they say will ‘shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world’ and ‘undermine the traditional idea of the family’. Given that none of these ceremonies will be held in churches, I’m not really sure what it has to do with them.

When I married my wife in 2007, we were forbidden from using any religious text as a reading during the ceremony,. Despite the passage we wanted having no reference to any ‘god’, we were not allowed to use it because it was from the bible. This is due to an archaic law introduced when civil marriage ceremonies first started, separating entirely civil marriage from religious while keeping them equal in law. This separation was to allow people who were not Anglican to marry legally in the UK, recognising that many of the citizens of the time were not of that denomination and that people should have the legal freedom to be equal in the law while maintaining their freedom of religion. I think most people would agree that this is right, I’m not really sure how many people could have too many objections. If you follow that principle through, one cannot allow same-sex couples to exist without giving them the right to marry.

I personally have 2 issues with the proposed legislation

  1. Not allowing same-sex couples to participate in religious marriage ceremonies is, in my opinion, hostile to both religious freedom and freedom of sexual orientation. If a religious body wishes to conduct a ceremony for a same-sex couple that it is allowed to conduct for a couple of differing sexes, I can see no reason for not allowing them to if that ceremony is recognised by law when conducted in a registry office.
  2. If same-sex marriage becomes legal, I can see no purpose for keeping the civil partnership scheme currently available to same-sex couples, especially if the option is not available for couples of differing sexes.

Both the Catholic and Anglican churches seem to have a massive problem with the idea that same-sex couples should be allowed the same legal rights as those of differing sexes, their reasoning seems to be based on the idea that marriage is in itself some sort of ‘gift from god’. It’s not as if nobody got married before Jesus, plenty of pagans had the idea of 1 woman, 1 man – together for life etc, well before anyone outside the Levant had ever heard of Moses and his laws. Despite the monopoly granted to state approved churches during the dark ages, the concept of a lifelong joining of a couple in love really has little to do with any religion. The idea that the Roman Catholic church, which banned its priests from marrying to avoid having to make payments to widows, should have a say in who may and who may not make a public and legally binding declaration of their love for each other, is frankly laughable.

I’m not sure how allowing more people to marry will ‘change its meaning in law…will have a knock-on effect in everyday life’. What knock-on effect would that be then? More people feeling a part of mainstream society rather than excluded outcasts? More stable long-term relationships between equal partners? What exactly are they scared of? Are they worried about their congregations ‘turning’ gay and eloping to the registry office? Do they really think that allowing same-sex couples to marry will make more people ‘turn’ gay? As for its meaning changing in law, it is now rightly illegal to discriminate between the sexes on almost any grounds, why should marriage be any different? Either we’re all equal or we’re not, I think we should be.

Of course what the religious figures we hear on this matter are really scared of is losing the ever fading power over their flock. The idea that people are thinking for themselves and coming to different conclusions than those set down in a set of rules imagined by bronze age shepherds before being rewritten and reinterpreted to strengthen the grip of the current incumbent power of the day is, to those in positions of religious power, abhorrent. Any change in the law that allows people who are not religious to live a lifestyle without the need for approval by religious authority will always be (and has always been) opposed by the members of that religion.

After stripping back all the hatred and homophobia, what the issue rarely comes down to is equality. Do you think that people who have a different lifestyle to the majority should be granted the same rights as the majority? Or do you think that being in love with a person many people disapprove of should prevent you from access to the legal benefits that are accorded to those who happen to be lucky enough to love a person many people approve of?

The concept of a lifelong union between humans has probably been around longer than any organised religious belief and is certainly far older than any monotheistic system. They may have embraced marriage and incorporated it into their own dogma but it gives them no right to issue diktats over who it applies to, certainly no power over democratically elected governments, the voters who elected them or a peaceful minority who want nothing other than to be treated equally.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

%d bloggers like this: