COMMENT:Tatchell on the rise of US-style Christian activists
Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell argues that Tuesday’s victory for gay rights was also a setback for the zealous, authoritarian tactics of US-style Christian fundamentalism.
The religious right was trounced this week. An attempt to neuter new laws protecting gay people against discrimination was defeated, 199 votes to 68.
This stunning three to one victory happened in the House of Lords – the traditional stomping ground of religious, conservative and homophobic parliamentarians.
Only a few years ago, the Lords repeatedly blocked attempts to equalise the age consent, with cries that it was a “paedophiles charter.”
How times have changed. And so quickly. The vast majority of their lordships are now, it seems, the steadfast defenders of lesbian, gay and bisexual human rights.
They backed the government’s new sexual orientation regulations, which extend to gay people the anti-discrimination laws that currently protect women, black, disabled and religious people.
It was mostly a sad, embittered posse of elderly, die-hard, anti-Cameron Tories and Ulster unionists who voted to allow religious organisations the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
They wanted to permit religious doctors, schools, hoteliers and charities to turn away gay people – all in the name of “freedom of religion”.
The massive House of Lords vote against homophobia was, however, much more than a victory for gay rights. It was a victory for modern, liberal Britain.
Tolerance vanquished intolerance. Compassion and justice triumphed over heartlessness and inequality. We are all winners, gay and straight.
The Lord’s vote was also a huge setback for attempts to import into Britain the zealous, authoritarian tactics of US Christian fundamentalism.
The leaders of Tuesday night’s protest outside parliament against the sexual
orientation regulations included evangelical activists who have been to the
US to study the tactics of the religious right.
The mobilisation of ultra-conservative Christian voters is widely credited with helping secure electoral victory for George Bush in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.
Some of our home-grown religious fundamentalists now want to use the same tactics to mobilise religious people into a voting bloc, with the aim of promoting their own moral agenda on issues like abortion, homosexuality and embryo research.
Much of the success of the religious right in the US has been based on scaremongering tactics, deliberately designed to frighten Christian voters into backing hardline Republicans.
American evangelical fundamentalists routinely spin gay equality as a bid for “special rights” or “privileged status;” suggesting that ending homophobic discrimination will give gay people rights not enjoyed by the heterosexual population.
The organisers of last night’s protest in London realised their arguments are weak and off-putting.
Taking a lead from their US religious counterparts, they resorted to naked untruths, as Polly Toynbee and AC Grayling pointed out in The Guardian.
The protest leaders claimed the sexual orientation regulations would “curtail freedom of religious belief and expression”; alleging that believers who condemned gay sex as a sin would face criminal charges. Rubbish. The regulations do not concern beliefs or opinions.
Another whopper put about by the fundamentalists is that the regulations would force all schools, including faith schools, to “promote homosexuality.” As Lord Rooker pointed out, this is nonsense. The regulations are not about the content of the school curriculum.
These falsehoods were typical of the many “Big Lies” on which the religious fundamentalist campaign was based.
It has succeeded in scaring the pants off many Christians, who have now rallied to the ignoble cause of homophobic discrimination.
The politics behind this campaign is obvious to any one who takes a closer look. Last night’s motion in the House of Lords was sponsored by northern Irish peer, Lord Morrow, a leader of the ultra-sectarian Democratic Unionist Party and a close friend of the arch bigot, Rev Ian Paisley.
It is notable that the “rally for right to discriminate”, which was held outside parliament on Tuesday night, was not supported by the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian or Baptist churches, nor by the Muslim Council of Britain or the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
These mainstream religious organisations wanted nothing to do with this dishonourable protest in support of homophobic discrimination.
Polly Toynbee came close to implying that religion per se was the villain of this homophobic campaign. However, it is only a minority of fringe religious people who are backing these incendiary anti-gay demonstrations.
To damn all believers as supporters of homophobia is misleading and unfair. After all, many of the counter-protesters on Tuesday night were people of faith, both gay and straight.
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They were there for two good reasons: to register their objections to the bigotry of their co-religionists and to rescue their faith from moral tarnish.
The concern of these humanitarian religionists was the same as mine. If the zealots had overturned the new regulations church schools would be able to expel gay pupils; faith-based nursing homes would be allowed to refuse gay patients; and religious charities like night-shelters would be free to turn away homeless gay people.
Such injustices have been ended in northern Ireland, where the sexual orientation regulations recently became law. But the regulations have not, so far, been applied to England and Wales. When this happens, in a couple of months, we can expect a re-run of the fundamentalist’s shameless, dishonest campaign.
They will, yet again, single out homosexuality from all other “sins,” and demand the right, on religious grounds, to discriminate against gay people.
But they will not be campaigning for the right to discriminate against adulterers, unwed mothers, thieves, murderers or rapists – only gays.
The opponents of the sexual orientation regulations are promoting a highly selective, overtly homophobic interpretation of religious morality.