I don’t want to keep banging on about gay issues, but there seems to be something of a deluge of stuff at the moment which I think is illustrative of just how important it is for gay people to stop themselves from becoming too complacent about their place in society.
First, we had the British Special Attitudes Survey which said that almost half of those surveyed thought that homosexuality was wrong at least some of the time (see previous posts for more info). Then, The Independent published a report from a gay journalist who went undercover in the burgeoning industry of ex-gay therapies in the UK. Though some of these sessions are apparently are being paid with NHS funding, they are based on either an entirely religious foundation, or use offensive, out-dated and damaging theories which could cause serious mental anguish to those who turn in desperation and unhappiness to their services.
Last year a British Medical Council survey found that 1 in 6 psychiatrists had attempted to change a person’s orientation. This is frightening enough, and becomes more so when coupled with a growing number of charlatans or religious whackos who are out to fleece troubled, vulnerable people or proselytise for their particular brand of sky fairy. These things don’t work, because they are predicated on a view of human sexuality which is completely unrealistic and based on nothing more than prejudice, ignorance and faith.
Finally, we have Pope Razi and Nazi giving his fellow bishops a pep-talk, telling them to stay the course in campaigning against the new Equalities Bill which would seek to extend employment rights to gay people working within the Church. Essentially, if a religious organisation was taking public funding for its work, it would be unable to discriminate on the bounds of orientation except within a very prescribed group (ie priests and bishops). The current Bill is simply trying to further define what these limits are in an effort to avoid costly litigation and give everybody a clearer sense of boundaries.
But that’s not how the Church saw it. In a hysterical, pearl-clutching hissy fit, they made a series of false claims in an effort to whip up public opinion against the Bill, for example, claiming that it would force churches to hire women priests. As a result an amendment was just barely passed in the House of Lords, significantly weakening the Bill with the support of Bishops and despite assurances from legal experts that this was a simple case of clarification to make the situation clearer for all parties.
It seems clear that the various denominations feel that they are increasingly being marginalised in British society. As they shrink down to an ever more conservative and fundamentalist rump, they also appear to become far more politically active, using their power in the House of Lords to vigorously push back against equality legislation, much of it aimed at helping gay people.
If religious denominations want to access public money then they should be made to comply with the laws of the land. If they are so concerned about their freedom of conscience (which often feels like a simple desire to discriminate against those they disapprove of) then they should rely on the donations of their flock to keep them afloat. Religious institutions constantly use the same rhetorical gambit – whining about giving ‘special rights’ to minorities at the expense of their own bigotry, while at the same time insisting on their own ‘special’ place within society.
A good case can be found here. A Christian woman was suspended form her job of teaching maths to seriously sick children because she caused significant distress to a young girl suffering from leukemia. Jones on several occasions tried to push her religion on the girl, even after her parents made it clear that they were a non-religious family. They complained and, instead of speaking to the Council, Jones ran off to the generally loathsome Mail on Sunday to whine and moan. The Mail didn’t bother to check out her story or speak to the family, but merely printed her drama-queen sob story. And the Christian Legal Centre, a group modelled on fundie legal outfits from the States, were only too happy to help Jones peddle her bullshit. Right-wing press, only too happy to play the PC-Gone-Mad card one more time, hyped her lies and distortions.
This is something of a microcosm of what Britain can expect as religious denominations who have more evangelical and fundamentalist collide with an increasingly and openly secular society. Its what happened thought the late fifties and early sixties in the States which led to the flowering of the current Christian Right. I don’t believe that Britain is in that much danger, but we should all certainly get used to treating tales of religious ‘persecution’ with a great deal more circumspection.