Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Could All Bigots Please Rise

Last July, a story broke that a bakery that is part of a chain called Ashers was approached by a gay rights activist and asked to bake a cake that had a picture of Bert and Ernie on it with the words “Support Gay Marriage”. Instead of simply baking the cake as requested it was reported to head office with the result being that the cake goes against the Christian ethos of the business and that they would not be baking it.
Some six weeks later the general manager of the Newtownabbey branch, Daniel McArthur, received a letter from the Equality Commission telling him that he had discriminated against a customer on the grounds of sexual orientation, he was asked how he would recompense the customer and that he had 7 days to respond or the Commission would pursue legal action.

Shortly after the story broke the DUP’s Paul Givan called for a “Conscience Clause” to be added into the equality legislation, that there should be a legal exemption from the legislation on the grounds on religion. What he means is, if your God or your pastor/priest tells you to be a bigot then you have legitimate grounds to go and do so. The First Minister, Peter Robinson, claims that he wants a tolerant society so naturally he backs the initiative that would only lead to more homophobia in an already crippling heteronormative society. He claims that we must “include provisions to ensure that those with deeply held religious views are protected” – but let’s set all the bigots on the queers.

The straight, white, predominantly middle class and male DUP boggle the mind even further by talking about a ”hierarchy of rights” and that “gay rights” are on top of that hierarchy.

Contrary to this view, in the 6 counties same-sex marriage is still illegal and is the only part of the UK where this ban is still in place. The DUP have voted against the legalisation of same-sex marriage three times, the most recent being in April last year. This ban was highlighted very recently when a Scottish couple, John and Sean Vernon were prohibited from converting their civil partnership into a marriage. The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act stipulates that the civil partnership must be converted to a marriage in the same country that the partnership took place.

A slim majority (50.5%) of people are in favour of same-sex marriage, when you take out the “Don’t Knows” according to a Belfast Telegraph poll. More Protestants are in favour of the legalisation than Catholics are – it probably doesn’t help when one of their past spiritual leaders branded queers “disordered moral evils”. Unsurprisingly, the greatest support came from those of no religion.

There is also a ban on gay men donating blood in the North. The ban was lifted in the rest of the UK in 2011 and stipulated that so long as the donator has not had sex with another man for a year they are free to donate blood. The North’s health minister at the time, the DUP’s Edwin Poots refused to lift the ban and when challenged on this in court claimed that he was acting in the interests of public health and claimed that “There is a continual battering of Christian principles” – hardly a health issue.

His successor, Jim Wells (also of the DUP), is even more unlikely to lift the ban as someone who branded “those who take part in this march [Gay Pride] totally repugnant” and also said that “My position on this matter will not change in the future and I would politely suggest that any further requests of this nature will be a total waste of your time.”

Not to mention Wells’ draconian stance on abortion and his vehement opposition for even allowing rape victims access to an abortion.

The DUP are literally the heteropatriarchy. They have 38 MLAs in Stormont – only 5 are women. Statistically they are the worst party in the executive for female inclusion with only 13%. They also have no policy to improve this figure.

I did contact them asking what their gender ratio was among members and financial supporters – unsurprisingly I received no reply.

Not only do they have no policy on improving their female MLA figures they have no policy on creating a more inclusive society for women. They have no policy to reduce racism – they prefer to add to it instead by defending Islamophobic hate speech and saying that such speech is acceptable by trusting them to “go down to the shops” for them and trust them to give back the correct amount of change.

Their policy on queers is now quite clear: legalize all bigotry against them and if worse comes to worst say you’re religious.

No good effect will come from the Conscience Clause, all it will do is further embed homophobia and heteronormativity in our society. Certain businesses will be open to “normal” people but closed shut for “abnormal” people.

If this is really about religious belief, do Ashers refuse to make birthday cakes for children born out of wedlock?

The Conscience Clause is a license for people who chose a faith to bully people who did not choose to be gay. Any who utilise the Clause are sending out a message to the victims that they’re not good enough to avail of the business’s service like everyone else and to find another business that can stomach them.
According to statistics by the Rainbow Project, 98% of LGB people hear homophobic language in school, 30% also report that they have heard it from an adult. 65.3% of gay or bisexual men were subjected to homophobic bullying with 84.5% of them considering suicide, 35.3% attempting suicide and 41.2% of them self-harming. Yet the DUP only wants to protect those with “deeply held religious views” and have had the nerve to call this case against Ashers bakery as “verging on bullying”.

Four members of the DUP are on the All Party Group on Mental Health – obviously they are only interested in the mental health of straight people – preferably the mental health of straight white middle-class men.
Homophobia is a policy designed at the top of society and tailored to infiltrate the masses as a way of dividing us and it will undoubtedly rise if the Conscience Clause passes. This is effectively the institutionalization and legalization of homophobia.

We must separate church and state – the religious cannot continue to exercise control over our lives and in the case of half the population, our uteruses. If this was anywhere else in the World Peter Robinson would no longer be First Minister, if not for his Islamophobia but for his homophobia as well.

What we should be aiming for here, however, is not the thwarting of the conscience clause but destroying the views that made it acceptable to even suggest it. The whole system is based on these views as well as classist, sexist, racist and disablist views. All of these oppressive institutions are tightly bound together and by highlighting where they intersect and how they intersect it gives us a greater scope and means to tear them all down.