UK Prime Minister, David Cameron’s twists and turns were sounding more and more like music to the cash registers of churches over the border in Gretna Green after insisting same-sex couples would not be allowed to marry in a religious ceremony in England, even if they belonged to a denomination that wanted to marry them. He then had to reassure his baying Conservative mobsters that members of the government would not even have to back equal marriage when it was debated in the House of Commons – normally they had to show collective responsibility and support government legislation. Nope. Not this time. Never mind protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority; equality would be down to a free vote, the same as backbenchers. In another retreat, signalling the power the Church of England still had over the state, the whole subject was left out of the Queen’s Speech, kicking same-sex marriage into the long grass, so it didn’t have to be considered again for at least another year.
In Scotland, while we mentally prepared ourselves for the twisted sophistry of the Catholic hierarchy ahead of the announcement of the consultation over our right to equality, the back doors of councils all over Scotland were opened after the council elections for unelected religionists to take their seats (up to four of them) on all the educations committees. This – praise the Lord – was a law passed in Westminster that demanded Scots kowtow to a privilege that would have any Iranian mullah looking on in envy. Quite why religionists deserve such preferential treatment ahead of academic educationalists, scientists, representatives from business and trades unions, parent representatives, artists, writers or a member of the Caravan and Camping Club is beyond me. All the same, on some committees, religionists outnumber ordinary people to close schools or make decisions that can affect all our lives.
In May, the National Secular Society’s, Terry Sanderson, the president of a group committed to separating church and state, spoke at Holyrood. If it had been a religious leader, the Scottish media would’ve been out in force, gushing with praise. Instead, it received no media coverage whatsoever and was snubbed by all MSPs except our own dear Green MSP, Patrick Harvie.
By June, Scotland on Sunday had revealed the Equality Network’s survey which showed a majority of MSPs were set to back same-sex marriage – 69 out of 129 of them. The religious backlash was immediate. Cardinal Keith O’Brien predictably attacked the announcement, saying in The Scotsman, it was “clear that Scotland’s schools will be banned from promoting a traditional understanding of marriage”. He never gives up, does he? Half of the SNP members declared they were in favour of gay marriage (34 of the 68), whilst even more, Labour MSPs, (25 out of 37), pledged their support. All five Lib Dem MSPs, both Greens and Margo MacDonald, the independent MSP, pledged their support. Of the 15 Tories, only two declared their support for the measure: lesbian leader Ruth Davidson and her deputy, Jackson Carlaw, showing what a long way this Party still had to go before it was fit for the 21st century. Overall, nine MSPs indicated that were opposed to gay marriage and seven of those were Conservatives. Amongst them, Dave Thompson, the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, and Bill Walker, the former SNP member who was expelled from the party and arrested after domestic assault allegations. Perhaps you’ll check at the next election to see where your prospective candidates stand on this issue before voting for them. Catholic spokesman, Peter Kearney, gagging for another anti-gay referendum, suggested the decision shouldn’t be left up to politicians. I don’t know about you, but I would far rather leave this in the hands of politicians than I would Catholic clerics.
I’ve never really understood the Catholic position on this. Our gay marriages are not going to affect their ‘straight’ divorces. Most Catholics support gay marriage anyway. I’ve even heard some complain about the way they’d been bullied into signing petitions against it. James Peron had a good point on Huffpost Gay Voices. He reported a McDonalds losing money because Catholics weren’t supposed to eat meat on Friday or during Lent. Everything was settled once McDonalds started selling Filet-o-fish®, leaving everyone else to tuck into a hamburger if they wanted one. This puzzled James. “If the Catholic view on abstaining from meat on Fridays imposed a personal obligation on them but didn't require anything from non-Catholics, then why does the Catholic view of marriage have to be enshrined in law?” Well, don’t worry, James. I don’t know either.
While the Catholic hierarchy moralised on how gay people should live their lives in Scotland, they were busy swirling around in a cesspool of their own making everywhere else. The stench was overwhelming, comprising of the banning of a book on female masturbation, the Vatileaks scandal and the story of Cardinal Dolan, a former Archbishop, who’d spent around €55 million bankrupting the archdiocese in Milwaukee to pay abusing priests – somehow called ‘victims’ in the Financial Council Meeting Minutes - to quietly leave the church. (For the purposes of accounting, he had called these payments ‘acts of charity’).
In a posed picture agency photograph with a cross dangling from his neck and a hand piously pressed against his heart, Cardinal Bertone defended the Vatican in The Scotsman in the face of the VatiLeaks scandal after sensitive documents were found in the home of the Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriel. Bertone accused journalists of imitating Da Vinci Code author, Dan Brown, inventing “fairy-tales” and repeating “legends”. A bit funny coming from an organisation that’s made a fortune out of the industry. Bertone blamed VatiLeaks on the Prince of Darkness, saying, “The truth is that there is an attempt to sow division that comes from the Devil”. Led by a doddering old fool of 85, now finding it difficult to speak and walk, the Vatican was, in the words of Spiegel Online: “…Disintegrating into dozens of competing interest groups”. After gargantuan levels of child abuse was concealed by the Catholic Church behind a catalogue of excuses and deflections that included ephebophiles, the sixties, homosexuals, criminals, a greater number of incidences of abuse in other institutions, the Pope added another one to the list. In a pre-recorded address to the 50th International Eucharistic Congress at Croke Park in Dublin, Pope Benedict confessed it was “a mystery”. He just couldn’t understand how anyone who regularly “received the Lord’s body and confessed their sins” could abuse a child. Well, they did, Herr Ratzinger. Big time.
June also brought the results of an Ipsos Mori survey, carried out for the Equality Network, LGBT Youth Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament which found 68% of 1,003 people asked agreeing that religious organisations should be able to marry same-sex couples if they want to. The survey also indicated 64% support for the right of same-sex partners to marry. The Catholic Church doesn’t normally like polls that don’t give them the answer they want, so, speaking to the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland programme, Catholic spokesman, Peter Kearney dismissed the poll as “deeply flawed". In a deliberate slight to the humane people who had spoken out in favour of human rights, he added: "The public in general are very wary and unlikely to suggest a person shouldn't have a right. When you begin your question by saying should someone have the right to same-sex marriage you automatically have distorted the result”. A spokesman for Ipsos Mori, Ashish Prashar explained: "We are confident that respondents will have understood the question and what is meant by a right. The question itself was balanced, allowing respondents to tell us whether they ‘agreed’ or ‘disagreed’." Seems fair enough to me.
By July, with the help of an unnamed QC, a former editor for a Catholic newspaper, now political editor of The Scotsman, Eddie Barnes, made an ominous suggestion on how the SNP might copy Westminster and kick this whole issue into the long grass. Although churches wouldn’t have to perform same-sex marriage if they didn’t want to, Barnes wrote: “the QC’s opinion is that, thanks to EU and UK Equality legislation, this (sic) reassurances would “not exempt” them from “a claim of direct sex discrimination”. Speaking as though he was making the announcement from Holyrood, he patronisingly chimed: “We’d like to do it, but right now it’s tricky legally and we don’t have the powers to change it”, adding hopefully - more to the government than his readers - “It’s a possible way out”. Barnes broke the news that a decision would be delayed until 17 July, after Glasgow Pride on the 14th, when many hoped to be popping courts and singing down the yellow brick road to George Square where they were to be met by a group of Catholic protesters called Catholic Truth, enthusiastically counting their rosaries. Journalists more sympathetic to the equality groups or churches campaigning to marry same-sex couples were left scrabbling for more information from Holyrood. After the consultation had closed last December, a Scottish government spokesperson told Gay Star News: “There’s been some slippage in the expected timetable due to the huge volume of responses - 77,000 in total - and the time taken for these to be analysed and properly considered by cabinet. The cabinet have had a first discussion on this and have asked for some further detail. We fully expect to be in a position to publish the way ahead next month”. It was a big number. A consultation on Scottish independence had only received 26,000 responses. It had originally been STV News that first announced a decision by July 10. An exasperated Tim Hopkins, the chair of the Equality Network told Gay Star News: “The Equality Network is urging the government to show leadership and make an announcement as soon as possible. Eight of the countries around us already have same-sex marriage. The government of France announced this week that they will legislate next year. The Irish deputy prime minister told Dublin Pride at the weekend that same-sex marriage is the civil rights issue of the present day. It’s time the Scottish government caught up with our neighbours”. The tempers of the Catholic hierarchy were on the boil.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien took to the Sunday Times Scotland to warn the Scottish Government that it could expect an “unprecedented backlash” from his Church if it went ahead with plans to legalise same-sex marriage, claiming “marriage is under threat and politicians need to know the Catholic Church will bear any burden and meet any cost in its defence.” The bigot added that the Catholic Church would spend an additional £100,000 on an advertising campaign against the plans, on top of the £50,000 it already spent against marriage equality in Scotland. This outburst came shortly after the Vatican registered one of its worst budget deficits in years, plunging back into the red with a €15 million deficit in 2011.
The Catholic Church was not alone. Herald columnist, Harry Reid demonstrated how curmudgeonly a Kirk member can get by feigning surprise with the suggestion that treating gays equally “remarkably, appears to unite Catholics, the Church of Scotland… and Muslims”. Yes, Harry. They all hate gays. We’re quite the uniting force, aren’t we? He advised: “It’s worth remembering that church leaders speak with legitimate authority on behalf of many hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland”, before adding; “our main political parties is pitifully small. The active adherents of the main religions in Scotland far outnumber, on a huge scale, the committed members of political parties”. In other words: Despite the disorganised majority who reject religion: We are well-organised; well-funded and we’ll boot your arse if you don’t deliver what we want! Rejecting democracy in favour of theocracy, he blasted: “I reckon that even in these secular times there is something far deeper and ultimately more valuable in religious faith than in political allegiance”. Before plugging the next revolting anti-gay shindig, “probably starting on Sunday, August 26… launched in defence of marriage”, he added: “I am told that some people working in the public sector already feel that their very jobs could be under threat if, on valid grounds of conscience and religious conviction, they refuse to go along with the proposed legislation”.
Harry Reid’s homophobia appealed to the increasingly reactionary and ageing congregations of Scotland’s emptying churches. As editor of The Herald he would fill its pages with religious columnists who took every opportunity to undermine gay equality. There was Stewart Lamont who wrote of his disgust of gay men’s apparent love of public conveniences; Michael Fry who suggested the repeal of Section 28 would give children AIDS; and John Macleod, who - before he was ‘outed’ as homosexual and sacked for suggesting Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman would not have been murdered in Soham if they’d been in church – wrote that gays were “simply not equipped to live”. Glasgow Pride partied. X-Factor champion, Joe McElderry was on stage, along with a minutes’ silence at the behest of the Metropolitan Church and a tongue-in-cheek mention for Catholic Truth while the audience celebrated with the shameless Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and a mock Cardinal. During the march, Secular Scotland banners were seized. The placards displayed slogans saying: CATHOLIC BOYS PHYSICALLY CASTRATED BECAUSE THEY’RE GAY’, referring to boys castrated without parental consent in Dutch Catholic institutions because they were suspected of being gay; ‘BABIES STOLEN FROM MOTHERS IN CATHOLIC HOSPITALS’, referring to thousands of babies stolen from ‘unsuitable’ mothers during the Franco era in Spain and ‘CARDINAL O’BRIEN KNEW ABOUT FATHER LYNAGH. IS THIS MORAL?’ referring to the re-employment by O’Brien of a convicted paedophile. The steward explained he was responding to complaints from the Episcopal Church that the banners “were offensive to people of ‘faith’.” I hope it is collusion with those who would silence these facts that offends religionists more.
Secularist, Derek McLellan said after the parade: “Catholic Truth was nowhere to be seen. Just like the person who complained about our placard. Cowards are what they are. They attempt to use the law to further their bigotry, and when that fails, they and their nebulous claims disappear into the ether.”
When Tuesday came, the cabinet met, and again the date was put back to the end of the month before they would make any decision about same-sex marriage. There would be no referendum, but a sub-committee would look at freedom of religion and speech; that is to say, how the church could safely be made exempt from equality legislation the rest of us have to follow. This would mean Westminster would have to amend the Equality Act. A ‘leaked document’ to the BBC said: “We may announce that we will proceed with the introduction of same-sex marriage, by means of both civil and religious ceremonies, and with the introduction of religious ceremonies to register civil partnerships. However we may also say, and give considerable prominence to saying, that the government recognises the need to provide appropriate protections for some in Scottish society who are against same sex marriage. I expect we will say that the Equality Act 2010 needs to be amended to provide full protection for individual celebrants who are opposed to same-sex ceremonies, even if their religious body has decided to opt in to carrying out such ceremonies. We would not introduce a bill into the Scottish Parliament until we had reached agreement with the UK government on the types of amendment that might be needed to the Equality Act 2010. It is likely that our ministers would not wish to commence any Scottish Act introducing same-sex marriage until the amendment to the Equality Act is in place”.
Full equality, denied to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people for so long, looked like being kicked into the long grass.
Garry Otton email@example.com
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