On Sunday morning, I was delighted to be invited on to Jumoké Fashola’s BBC Radio London Breakfast show, to discuss free speech. This week, the Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn caused outrage with a typically controversial column. Olympic diver Tom Daly had shared an ultrasound image on social media – he and his partner Dustin Lance Black are expecting a baby via a surrogate mother.
The Alan Turing Statutory Pardon Bill has been published on the Houses of Parliament website. Turing was a mathematician and philosopher who cracked the Nazi Enigma code and invented electronic computing. He was also a homosexual, and was convicted of ‘Gross indecency between men’ in 1952. As a result he lost his security clearance, was subjected to chemical castration, and committed suicide when he was only 42. This statutory pardon seeks to atone for the Government’s appalling treatment of a national hero. Nevertheless, the idea of such a narrow pardon worries me a little. The implication seems to be that Turing gets a pardon because he achieved so much. But that should not be how the law and justice works. What about all those under-achievers and ordinary men who were convicted under the same iilliberal and unjust law? Why do they not get a pardon too?
It’s encouraging to see that a group of Tories have formed a campaign group in support of gay marriage. Let us hope it hastens the day when the Government put the necessary legislation in place. At the end of 2012, I assume the Liberal Conspiracy website is not best place to make arguments for gay marriage. There is a sense of preaching to the converted. Far better that the core case is made on places like Conservative Home. But Christmas is coming, which is the perfect opportunity for us all to debate the issue with relatives or friends who may not yet be persuaded. Over the turkey, then, you may hear a version of the tiresome talking point trotted out by Peter Bone MP over the weekend: Marriage has been defined as “between one man and one woman” for hundreds of years. This really seems to be all the opponents of gay marriage have left – a feeble call-back to historical precedent and utterly discredited religious authority. They fail to follow up with a persuasive “and this is a good thing because…” Any arguments for why exclusively heterosexual marriage might better than extending the marriage ‘franchise’ fail in the 21st Century (for example, no-one these days seriously suggests that marriage is primarily about procreation). Second, many people try to hide behind religious reasons for their opposition. “It is Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve!” Yawn. To that soundbite, it is worth pointing out that in the Garden of Eden story, the very first thing that God says about His creation, is that man should not be alone (Gen. 2-18). By contrast, the position of the Christian churches currently requires gay people to be alone. It is a pro-loneliness, anti-Genesis position. The prefixes “pro” and “anti” remind me of the ongoing political arguments over abortion, where the battle is over language as well as facts and values. The campaign for gay marriage needs to be similarly mindful of language. For example, the Coalition for Marriage uses the language of preservation, where in fact their policies suppress the possible number of people who can get married. The opposition to gay marriage is anti-marriage and anti-family, and should be framed as such.
BNP Chairman Nick Griffin MEP has just caused a bit of a Twitter storm by publishing the address of a gay couple who sued a Christian B&B couple who refused them board. I spend a lot of time on this blog defending the right of bigots and racists to say horrible things, online and in person. However, I think this superficially anodyne tweet might actually cross the line into territory I would not defend. Why? Well, first, there is an invasion of privacy. Griffin is a public figure with a large Twitter following. The couple in question have a reasonable expectation that their address will not be broadcast. More importantly, the tweet could be considered inciting violence and harassment. In a followup, Griffin said a ‘British Justice Team’ (whatever that is) should visit to give them ‘a bit of drama’. If it were my address that had been published, I would feel harassed and terrorised and probably go and stay elsewhere for a few days. This is the sort of ‘direct’ incitement I have spoken of previously when considering the boundaries of free speech. Continue reading “Nick Griffin and the Limits of Free Speech”
More on the issue of gay marriage. The Network of Sikh Organisations sent me a press release over the weekend. I can’t find a link online, so the whole thing is reproduced below. It begins:
Lord Singh, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations, supports Anglican and Catholic Bishops in opposing Coalition’s legislation to distort the meaning of marriage. Along with Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, who is an advisor to the Chief Rabbi, Lord Singh accused the Coalition of launching an “assault” on religious values.
I disagree with Lord Singh on this. I think the “assault on religion” argument is invalid. It implies that religion (any religion) has a fixed and inmutable view of marriage, which they palpably do not. The definition has evolved over the centuries within religions, as well as without. His stance also claims a primacy for religious definitions over secular society’s definitions, which doesn’t hold in the 21st Century. Why do religions to which I do not subscribe get to define “marriage” for me and my friends. Rather the secular, democratic parliament (if anyone), following society at large. Lord Singh and the others should make clear that no Gurdwara or Mandir or Synagogue or Church will ever be compelled to perform or endorse a homosexual marriage. He and his co-dissenters know this is the case, but it is missing from their rhetoric. Not one Sikh marriage will be damaged or changed by this… though lesbian and gay Sikhs will be driven away from their faith, which is a shame. I also think the parity between Civil partnerships and Marriage is overstated. One has an important social element, the other is merely a legalistic device. Denying gays the social recognition of their love and commitment is, to my mind, wrong – but it seems to be the precise intention of this cabal. I discuss this in the comments on this post. Since religious communities are supposed to exist precisely to encourage strong inter-personal bonds and social stability, it’s actually odd that they choose to condemn this extension of the marriage “franchise”. Continue reading “Lord Singh joins the wrong side on gay marriage”
Feminism enabled gay marriage, and that’s a good thing. Last week we heard the Catholic bishops parroting the tired old line about marriage being “between a man and a woman”, and that the secular government was somehow redefining the concept for the rest of us. This argument sounds more and more pathetic every time I hear it. Marriage has often been redefined! In the Old Testament we had polygamy, a practice that continues in many parts of the world to this day. When that fell out of favour, the bond of marriage was still very much a transaction in which the girl had no input. This practice, of a father arranging a marriage on his daughter’s behalf, is still very popular in many parts of the world and many British citizens still submit to it. The idea of romantic love leading to marriage is also a new innovation (at least, new when compared to the idea of marriage itself). Literature, from Tristan & Isolde, to Romeo & Juliet, to the Jane Austen œvre, is full of stories of romantic love colliding with the more traditional view of marriage as a financial arrangement. Continue reading “Feminism Enabled Gay Marriage”