By Owen Williams, MM columnist
For Owen's first column on MM, he decided to grab the bull by the metaphorical horns and discuss something which is potentially one of the most controversial topics related to gay rights: religion.
The convictions of three Muslim men for promoting hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation in Derby this month, was the catalyst for this column. However this is just the latest example of how the seemingly perpetual stand-off between religious belief and the rights of gay people have exploded onto the stage of mainstream media in spectacular technicolour.
Ihjaz Ali, Razwan Javed and Kabir Ahmed distributed leaflets entitled “The Death Penalty?”, which claimed that capital punishment was the only way to rid British society of gay people and was accompanied by an image of a mannequin in a noose and quotes from the Qur’an. It was the latest in a series of leaflets which condemned homosexuality which were handed out outside their mosque and posted through letterboxes in the area.
They claimed that they did not mean to incite hatred or threaten the gay community but rather they were simply quoting what their religion preaches about homosexuality. This defence, if that’s what you can call it, has been used so often when it comes to cases involving homophobic actions or sentiments that I for one have lost count of how many times it has been used even in the last year.
Ever since the foundation of the gay rights movement, in this country and in almost every other part of the world, religion has been its arch-nemesis. All three of the major western religions condemn homosexuality with varying degrees of debate about what the words actually mean. The Bible, the Qur’an and the Torah all agree that homosexuality is against the word of God, and not part of His “plan”- whatever that’s supposed to mean. It is, in their view, immoral, and worse, unnatural.
The United Kingdom has come a long way in the 30 years since the legalisation of homosexuality throughout the country (Northern Ireland became the last constituent country to decriminalise sexual acts between members of the same sex in 1982) and gay people can now live openly and freely, at least in theory. They can adopt children, get a job without fear of prejudice or discrimination, and they can get a civil partnership and possibly even married in a few years’ time.
While secular society has slowly but surely begun to break down the homophobic attitudes and institutions it was built on (and believe me there is still a very long way to go) many religious institutions – and it is the institutionalised forms of religious practise that are worse for this – have dug their feet in; protesting, screaming and sometimes quite literally beating their point home; that 'God hates Fags'.
They say that our rights, as gay people, directly infringe on their rights as Christians, Muslims, Jews or any other religious group. That to force them to marry two women is an infringement of their rights to express their religion, that to force them to allow two men to share a bed in their B+B or hotel is immoral, and undermines their religious beliefs, that to force them to place a child into the care of a family headed by gay people is against their religious rights.
Well, excuse me, because I think I must be missing a pretty vital point, since when was homophobia a religion? You don’t have to be homophobic to be religious; it’s not such a significant part of any religion that to be accepting of homosexuality would mean your belief would be rocked. It is a decision to interpret the religious doctrine in this way.
There are thousands of religious gay people who have come to conclusions about their own sexuality and religion and millions of non-homophobic Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’i, and Zoroastrians who have found ways of reconciling their religious beliefs, if these do oppose homosexuality, and the multi-faceted secular society in which they live. So what makes the homophobic religious people more important? What gives them the right to use their religion as a reason for their homophobia?
The answer is, obviously, nothing. The vast majority of religious people in this country, of any creed, have come to the conclusion that maybe, a social morality which was founded in a society which is anything between 1500 and 4000 years old is probably not completely applicable to 21st Century Britain and come to their own views about which sections of religious doctrine should still be followed. Their religion is no less strong than their evangelical or fundamentalist counter-parts and to say that it not only does an injustice to the gay-friendly religious people, but is hugely offensive.
It is ludicrous to believe that to be a Christian or a Muslim you have to be homophobic and even more ludicrous to believe that allowing gay people to live their lives in peace and without discrimination or prejudice is somehow immoral.
Many on the religious and political right classify our sexuality as a choice. Anyone who is gay and gone through the frequently traumatic experience of coming out and the almost constant flow of offensive comments from political and religious elites and from members of the public know how insanely ignorant this comment is, and how ironic. Being gay is no choice, where as much of the time your religion is. While we may be brought up to believe certain things, taken into the religion of our parents and, for want of a better word, indoctrinated into a belief system , religion remains just that a belief, a cognitive decision to believe in a particular doctrine and religious system. Many people choose later in life to give up, change or take on faith for the first time and many decide to continue in their beliefs.
This is a luxury which the vast majority, if not all, gay people simply do not have, and it is ironic that it is those who have made such a decision hurl this word 'choice' at the LGBT community as an insult, to undermine their rights as an individual and as a human being.
Don’t get me wrong, people should have the right to believe what they want, we will probably never see a world where homosexuality is completely accepted throughout society. People will always fear the unknown and people who are different to them, it’s one of the worst traits of the human psyche, but, without sounding too idealistic and hippy, what we can do is found a society which cherishes these differences. They are, after all, what makes this country strong.
One person should never feel that their rights are more important than another person’s. How can we ever create any form of stable equality like that? And yet, that is so frequently the case. It is this which is a threat to society, not two men falling in love and wanting to get married, or two lesbians wanting to adopt a child or a transsexual wanting to legally change his or her gender.
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