'Continued trouble in the economy gives the bigots a stick to beat us with, as they demand we “postpone” the equalities agenda in order to deal with “the things people really care about”.
'As if pursuing greater equality and fixing the economy simply cannot happen at once.'
So said our Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, this week. Or, rather, he was going to say that, until someone decided that the use of the word 'bigot' was a little bit inflammatory. Unfortunately for him, the draft of the speech got leaked and he might as well have said it anyway.
Well why can't we call a spade a spade; a bigot a bigot? Merriam-Webster describes a bigot as "a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance".
Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, says that the word is hurtful, and that people are not bigots who oppose same-sex marriage (the subject of the speech) on the basis of "deeply held beliefs".
Okay, so if I have a deeply held belief that interracial marriages are wrong, that's okay is it? If I have a deeply held belief that adultery should be punished by stoning, I can take a rock to my neighbour's head when she cheats on her husband? After all, it's in the Bible...
Yeah, didn't think so.
Tory MP Peter Bone (yeah, I've never heard of him either, and judging by his Wikipedia entry, I don't want to know) went even further:
'If [Nick Clegg] is saying people who disagree with him on gay marriage because of conscientious or religious grounds are bigots then he should not remain Deputy Prime Minister.
'I would never go around accusing somebody who disagreed with me of being a bigot, and I don't care if it's a Liberal or a Conservative minister who's doing it now – they should not remain in post.'
I wouldn't say everyone who disagrees with me is a bigot. Nick Clegg didn't say that either. What he said was that the people who are aggressively campaigning against gay marriage are bigots. Not because they disagree with Clegg himself on the issue, but because they are actively seeking to repress and revoke the equal rights of other UK citizens based on their own subjective interpretation of what is morally right and wrong. That's what's bigoted about it.
There is rarely such a thing as absolute right or absolute wrong. As human beings we take great pleasure in being contrary creatures who rarely agree on anything. It's perfectly legal, for example, for a 55 year old to marry a 16 year old. I think most people would be minimally squicked by that if it actually happened. Equally, murder is universally considered wrong in the abstract. Well what if someone was systematically abused over a period of years until one day they snapped and bludgeoned their abuser's head until it was a bloody pulp? That's at least understandable, right? You might have a hard-line view on abortion; but what about giving a rape victim the morning-after pill? Shades of grey are what life is all about.
So I don't particularly care if you think it's right or wrong that I'm gay. What I do care about is when you try and force your own morality onto me, at my expense. What consenting adults get up to in private is absolutely no-one else's business. It was on those grounds that homosexuality was decriminalised to begin with. However the argument goes further than that - it has to go further - not because us gays want to throw a party and rub everyone else's faces in our happy, campy gayness, but because the way our society is structured means that equal relationship recognition under the law is vital if we are not to be short-changed our entire lives.
I'm talking taxes, property rights, spousal benefits, maternity/paternity/adoption leave and the role of next-of-kin. These are things that straight people take for granted, but only very, very recently have they been within the grasp of gay people. If I ever meet Miss Right and settle down, I don't want either of us to struggle because we're being shafted with our taxes; if we buy a house I want to be sure that we have equal right to it; if we decided to have a baby I want time off to spend with her and our child (because I ain't having it!); if the worst happens to one of us I want the other one to be called first, to be told by the doctors what is going on, and to have the first and final decision on what happens. I don't want either of us to be crippled by inheritance tax on our joint property.
How selfish of me.
The gay marriage debate isn't about whether or not you think homosexuality is "right". Homosexuality simply is, it has existed in every civilisation in every age throughout the recorded history of man, and it exists in much of the animal kingdom too. I have no more choice about being gay than I have about being white, blonde-haired or blue-eyed. It is how I was born. You can choose to believe that or not, the fact remains that I know who I am and what I feel. Religion, morals, beliefs, these things are taught, learnt, acquired. Who I am attracted to or fall in love with is none of those things. It's innate, it's as much part of me as the sound of my voice, and I have about as much control over it.
But the gay marriage debate is about equality, not about morality. It's about granting gay citizens the same rights and benefits that are currently enjoyed - and have always historically been enjoyed - by their heterosexual counterparts. Hell, Judgement and the afterlife can wait - what we need is to be treated fairly in the here and now. There's plenty of Biblical precedence for that as well: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Love thy neighbour as thyself... and so on. The message in the Bible is clear: it is God's place to judge, and God's alone.
Here's another one for you: So God created Mankind in his own image. Think about that before you think we're wrong for the way we were born.
Trying to withhold the civil rights of any demographic on religious grounds is always bigoted. Sorry if you don't like the word, but that's the truth. The law and God are separate entities, and until the church gets to decree who a hospital calls when someone goes into a coma (heaven forbid!) the latter has no place dictating to the former.
Of course the bigots throw their own words back. If being outspoken about gay rights, equality and common bloody sense makes me a homofascist, then so be it. I own the word. I've seen that word defined by the religious right as: "Homosexual activists vehemently promoting the homosexual agenda throughout the media, academia, and politics".
Sounds good to me.
Kate Aaron is the bestselling author of contemporary and fantasy gay romances.
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