Friday, 17 August 2012

Equal marriage is cause for celebration, but the fight for gay rights goes on

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With leading Catholics such as the Archbishop of Glasgow
Philip Tartaglia referring to equal marriage as a
"grotesque subversion", it's clear the fight for
gay rights has some way to go
This is a guest post by Emily Band

Provided my home country of picturesque hills and long-delayed tram projects hasn't been razed to the ground by divine fire and brimstone by the time this post is published, the Scottish government is planning on legalising same-sex marriage after a lengthy consultation with various sections of society.

A very common argument made against allowing same-sex marriage is the idea that all religious denominations will somehow be forced to offer this ceremony regardless of their decision on the matter. How many times can it be said that this is simply not true before this persistent myth is finally dispelled? Scotland's deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has mentioned this once more for good measure, and the government will soon be launching another consultation to consider any extra measures which need to be taken to guarantee freedom of speech.

In spite of these guaranteed protections for opposed religious denominations, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland has called the move "dangerous social experiment on a massive scale" and said that the church will be proven correct about the idea that "same-sex sexual relationships are detrimental to any love expressed within profound friendships". (“Profound friendships”, I should say, is the Catholic Church’s preferred euphemism for gay and lesbian relationships.) I'm sure an unspecified amount of time will tell, but I will point out that long-term gay and lesbian relationships are still very much alive and well in places such as Iceland, Canada and Spain after allowing couples to affirm their loving commitment to each other in a marriage ceremony.

These hostile reactions come at an interesting time, coinciding with the launch of a Parliamentary bill for the pardon of Alan Turing who was convicted in 1952 of then-illegal homosexual relations. It's worth taking a step back for a moment and reflecting on just how much things have changed: in 60 years gay people have changed from a sinister and criminal entity to individuals who the Scottish government finally wish to treat as equals to our heterosexual counterparts, despite pressure from some religious denominations.

I'm immensely grateful I've had the luck to grow up in a time and place where I don't live in fear of imprisonment or of the barbaric treatment suffered by Turing, but there are still forms of discrimination that affect lesbians, gay men and bisexuals which we would do well to be continually vigilant of, namely conversion and aversion therapies and homophobic bullying.

Bullying continues to remain a problem for many students across the UK – while the figure for lesbian, gay and bisexual students being bullied has fallen in recent years, 55 per cent is still unacceptably high. There are many students in this category who would no doubt appreciate continued support from government officials in spite of the anti-gay attitudes of senior religious leaders. After all, to describe the affirmation of same-sex relationships as a "grotesque subversion" and "meaningless", as Scotland’s leading Catholics have, is nothing more than playground bullying armed with a thesaurus. Free speech is a valuable gift, but we would be wise to use it with compassion and responsibility rather than using it for creating needless hatred and discrimination.

Make no mistake: there is still plenty of work to be done to reduce the often crude stereotypes about us, but the Scottish government's decision to legalise same-sex marriage is a bold and welcome move to many people in the UK and a much-needed antidote to the anti-gay legislation of the past. And I, for one, will gladly raise a glass to what I sincerely hope will be one of many steps on a productive, if lengthy, path towards achieving social equality and maybe someday a place where nobody is shamed by intolerance into growing up “hiding in the closet”.

Emily Band is a freelance journalist and blogger. She is currently studying physics with the Open University
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