Did everybody enjoy the consultation? Wasn’t it lovely? Nearly as good as ‘Keep the Clause’. Funny, it seems like only yesterday, not a little over ten years ago, when we were being subjected to the same vitriol and religious bullying before the repeal of Section 28; forbidding appropriate sex education for gays in schools. As their wealthy backer said: ‘We didnae ask for it; and we’re no huvvin’ it!’ No. We certainly didn’t. From private plebiscite to public consultation. From homophobic national billboards to leaflets through the door. My, haven’t we come a long way? But don’t worry, because if the government agrees to give gays the same rights as our heterosexual superiors, there’ll be another consultation on how the Churches will implement it! Apparently they need more time to prepare for equality. Whoopeedoo! Can’t wait. Book my flight outta here!
With the media - particularly the BBC - so pro-religious, the Catholic Church has been able to get away with wheeling out one reactionary, right-wing wingnut after another; each pronouncement shriller than the last. When it came to Cardinal O’Brien’s turn, the neighbourhood dogs could hear how same-sex marriage was “madness” and “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. It would be like bringing back “slavery” and "shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world"! And he should know. Catholic religious orders, Popes and clergy have all owned a few slaves in their time. As for “grotesque…” I think he’s got some neck, don’t you? The very idea of an institution lecturing us on morality - on record for castrating gay kids without their parent’s consent and concealing the world’s biggest paedophile ring - is about as ‘grotesque’ as it gets! I wonder if O’Brien practices first in front of his mirror; twirling in his frock, pouting and shaking his fists like Bette Davis? We should feel sorry for the poor darling. Most worshipping Catholics I speak to are just embarrassed by him. Not, of course, that he’s anybody’s darling. Unless you want to run the risk of ending up like that poor female British Airways steward; taken to an employment tribunal by fellow trolley-dolly, Rothstein Williams, who claimed that calling him ‘darling’ was against his religious Seventh-Day Adventist’s ‘beliefs’.
What the English media forgot as they regurgitated O’Brien’s hate speech in the national news was that we were already being regularly tortured by his garbage in the Scottish news.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s spittle had barely dried before the BBC cameras were rolling again for a Catholic group, the Knights of St Columba, a bunch of nicotine and beer-stained old men from five churches in Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency trotting out another tired, bigoted objection against those pesky gay marriages. The Caths had run out of clerics. Nonetheless, these shameless old buggers managed to collect 1,000 bigots’ signatures. (Beats spotting Eddie Stobart trucks, I suppose). I’m surprised all five churches mustered a congregation of 1,000 between them. I’ll bet half of the signatories were wondering what their dad was wanting their signature for. And why they weren’t just leaving it up to the teachers to collect signatures at their school like the Catholic Education Service had done in England. Challenging them on that highly questionable and most probably illegal ruse, Catholic Voices accused the National Secular Society of being “sinister and illogical”. A statement on the Catholic Voices website warned that the NSS “have to argue that (a) the argument in favour of gay marriage is an argument in favour of equality; (b) those who oppose gay marriage are therefore against equality; (c) because schools are committed in law to upholding equality, therefore schools speaking against gay marriage are breaking the law. The logic falls at the first hurdle, because: there is no right to same-sex marriage and therefore no discrimination”. As the NSS smartly responded: “They don't seem to understand what equalities are about. Women once had no right to vote so according to Catholic Voices’ argument, they were not discriminated against. Equality means giving a right to a group that is denied it for no good reason”. Amen to that! I would only add that you don’t debate or vote for equality. It is a right.
Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service whined: “This understanding of the sanctity of marriage is divinely ordained in Church doctrine and underpins the teaching of marriage in Catholic schools across the world.” Another fine sounding group, The Catholic Education Commission moaned that the Scottish Government’s proposals would make it impossible for teachers in sectarian schools to teach according to church doctrines. This was followed up by a letter from the Scottish Catholic Church to its supposedly 100,000 Scottish Catholic adherents reminding them where they must stand on this.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien was starting to look as rough as a plumbers’ estimate. It was time for a make-over. Now, if you listen to BBC Radio Four and forget to turn the alarm off at seven, you’re probably used to being woken on a Sunday with a serious hangover and the shrieking propaganda of the Religious News blasting from a tannoy near your ear. The BBC ditched smearing Vaseline on the lens that saved Lucille Ball in Mame and made O’Brien’s rebuke of the coalition’s handling of the economy - calling Prime Minister, David Cameron “immoral” - headline news. Newsreader, Edward Stourton sombrely suggested that this had come at the end of a “pretty bad week for the government” as if David Cameron would be shaken by criticism from someone now so universally reviled. If you have access to the Internet, you’ll already know how spectacularly it backfired with only the bravest apologist saluting Cardinal O’Brien. The NSS’s Alistair McBay took the opportunity to question the morality of re-opening St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow after a £4.5 million refurbishment complete with marble, specially commissioned artworks and 3,000 books of gold leaf in The Scotsman. With the Catholic Church’s planning to sell off some of its vast assets to invest in a new media office while their flock were being challenged by a level of poverty not witnessed since the thirties only reinforced the insincerity of the Cardinal’s pronouncements.
After the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clamped down on uppity nuns in the States for their “radical feminist themes” and silenced liberal priests, Father Flannery, who was ordered to stop writing articles for a magazine he had contributed for 14 years, go to a monastery and “pray and reflect” on his opinions, and Father D'Arcy, who was told he must get prior approval to write or broadcast on topics dealing with church doctrine, Fintan O’Toole wrote in the Irish Times: “…When a priest makes some mild suggestions that women might be entitled to equality, the church is suddenly an efficient police state that can whip that priest into line. The Vatican, which apparently couldn’t read any of the published material pointing to horrific abuse in church-run institutions, can pore over the Sunday World with a magnifying glass, looking for the minutest speck of heresy”.
The Catholic Church and her cronies were now brushing aside poverty and famine to divert its influence, status and considerable resources to make the lives of lgbt people even more miserable. How bad does it have to get before we call in the European Court of Human Rights to ensure we can have a bit of peace in our own country?
There was nothing else for it… BBC’s Reporting Scotland turned to a bunch of wailing Imams to back the Caths’ opposition to same-sex marriage. This was apparently an “attack” on their faith. But what kind of attack…? Like the 15 Christians who were murdered by Islamists in a university theatre in Nigeria’s city of Kano? Or did they mean the calls from Tunisian Muslims who want the execution of Nabil Karoui because they didn’t like his award-winning film, Persepolis? Or the Sri Lankan woman in Saudi Arabia who was facing the death penalty for ‘witchcraft’ after a Saudi man’s 13-year-old daughter’s behaviour suddenly changed when she went too close to the woman in a shopping centre? (Saudi’s behead ‘sorcerers’). Of course, we don’t do anything silly like that. Mild-mannered religionists in Pittenweem, Fife just blocked efforts to erect a memorial to women who were tortured, stoned and burnt at the stake by ‘witchfinders’ in the 17th and 18th centuries.
So here were the Muslims…, embarrassing their trendy, secular kids; bowing to Mecca dressed for a night out in Karachi. Heading the mob was “respected” (The Herald’s word; not mine) Bashir Maan, who managed to follow The Herald article with his own opinion piece in The Scotsman. Each article offered him the chance to urge all his Muslim friends (and all Asians by default) not to vote for any candidate that supported same-sex marriage in the then forthcoming local elections. Maan’s intelligence didn’t stretch to the fact it was Parliament that changed the law on equality; not local councillors who were more interested in the state of the roads. This was the same Bashir Maan, a former Labour councillor and Police Board chairman who was removed from his honorary post as chairman of an equalities charity after claiming gay sex education in schools led to kids “being robbed of childhood”. He’s always been passionate about undermining our rights and used to threaten that if Section 28 was ever repealed, Muslims would send their kids to Catholic schools. Upholding a strong religious tradition of hypocrisy, as a former immigrant from Pakistan, he opened a store selling cut-price alcohol in Glasgow. (Alcohol is forbidden to Muslims).
The BBC stopped short of platforming a different Imam every few weeks. (Jesus is better connected than Allah, obviously). On BBC Scotland’s Newsnight, John Deighan (Caths) -v- Tom French (Equality Network) was a spectacle to behold, revealing Deighan’s opinion that all societies have holded (sic) to the tradition of heterosexual marriage which he seemed to suggest was “biological”! He also revealed how well-funded and better equipped they were to cobble together individuals, disparate groups, institutions and organisations and turn them into something more flammable than a tanker of Tesco four-star. Each religion would be trotted out with its own pious cleric grandstanding on how same-sex marriage would utterly destroy the institution. Any explanation on what effect my gay marriage would have on their straight divorces wasn’t explained.
So there they were. A mostly elderly bunch; wrapped up against the cold; huddled outside Holyrood to kick up an unholy rumpus about other people being happy. Backed by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland, the Christian Institute, the Evangelical Alliance and Destiny Churches; they united under ‘Scotland for Marriage’, (as if opposing ‘Faith in Marriage’ somehow wasn’t). With the aid of 15,000 smackeroonies in donations, they revved up their mobile advertising vans and lead their party faithful leaflet-dropping every house in Glasgow ahead of the council elections. Soon, Bashir, Mrs Allen, the Kirk’s Rev Hudson and Cardinal O’Brien’s mugs were littering the closes of every Glasgow tenement as they begged us to “find out if your local candidate wants to keep the true meaning of marriage”.
Next up was Faith in Marriage, a group of pro-gay religionists hammering on Holyrood’s door to hand in a letter seeking assurances from MSPs that any proposed legislation would "protect and extend" freedom of religion and belief by "giving those religious and humanist bodies that do want to conduct same-sex marriage the right to do so”. Blink and you’d miss any mention of the United Reformed Church, the Quakers, the Buddhists and the Pagan Federation. Rev Scott McKenna, a Church of Scotland minister for Mayfield Salisbury Parish in Edinburgh, sagely advised: “In opposing equality, churches reinforce homophobia in society and that can lead to pain, low self-respect and, in some cases, violence. In the end this is about people who are on the receiving end of prejudice and are suffering because of that. The cycle needs to be broken.”
Personally, I don’t give a toss about marriage. Religious or otherwise. If I want superstition, I’ll toss myself off to an episode of Merlin. But this isn’t really about me. Or most of us, either. It is about letting the religious perform same-sex marriages on, well… the religious. And then, only if they want to. And given it’s the Humanists, not the ailing and troubled Caths who are doing most of the marriages these days, perhaps they should shut up for a minute and get some tips from the Humanists how to do it. That was what the Anglicans did before they tweaked, personalised and changed their marriage and funeral ceremonies. (Don’t worry, the irony hasn’t escaped me!)
For decades we have haemorrhaged our young from provincial Scotland to cities in the trendy south. Is this about to change?
Look. Don’t get me wrong. Gays won’t save marriage, but we could help oil Gretna Green’s tills and marry all the same-sex English and Welsh couples that will be flocking up here because they can’t marry in any Church down there. Let’s revive our marriage traditions; not just because it’s good for gays: But because it’s good for Scotland!
Garry Otton Secular Scotland is on Facebook