Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Any way to govern a country?

Today saw day two of the debate by the lords temporal and spiritual on the proposed legislation on equal marriage.

The ‘will they, won’t they?’ tension was killing. As were the dunderheaded comments that have been reported from the first day of debate yesterday.

Goodness, it would be entirely enough to make you worry about the mental health of some people – even if they didn’t have an involvement in making decisions on how the country is governed.

It becomes ever more amusing when you hear some of them muttering, in their dotage, that there is no mandate for equal marriage.

Well, since not a single member of the House of Lords has been elected by the great British public, there’s not much of a mandate for any of them either.

And, as we have repeatedly seen, it’s a fallacy that the Conservatives made no mention of the issue before the election – it was a specific part of their equalities ‘contract’, which was published just a couple of days before the general election.

But setting that aside, the range of objections raised by opponents of equal marriage would make perfect comedy material.

Norman Tebbit managed to reach the quite miraculous conclusion that we already have marriage equality, since he can’t marry a man and nor can a gay man.

Justin Wilby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, is one of those claiming that the institution of marriage is the cornerstone of our society and should be left alone, as though some great calamity will befall the nation if two men or two women are allowed to get married.

Not that he’s alone as an objector. Former bishop of Rochester, Nazir Ali, has claimed that equal marriage would force the Queen to “break her sovereign promise” on defending ‘God’s law’.

As a friend noted via Twitter, it’s a jolly good thing, in that case, that none of her own family have ever got divorced and remarried, then, or committed adultery, for that matter.

Lord Vinson claimed that, 50 years ago, those who “criticised Christ” were persecuted. Now it’s Christians who are persecuted, apparently.

This, of course, ties in with Lord Carey’s repeatedly voiced persecution complex, which itself is never backed up by anything as substantive as facts.

Never mind not persecuting – successive governments have fallen over backwards to win the ‘faith vote’.

But given that there are also claims being made that equal marriage will lead to the legalisation of polygamous, incestuous and bestial weddings, one can but marvel at the imagination of the antis in their wildness.

Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, even chipped in to claim that equal marriage would go against everything that he “fought for” for 40 years. Which rather has one imagining a revamped Shakespearean rallying call of: “Cry God for Elizabeth, England, St George and straight marriage everywhere!”

I could, of course, be wrong, but I don’t think that the Cold War, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Balkans and even more recent conflicts had British troops manning the guns on such a note.

Although, funnily enough, I was interviewing someone today who was kicked out of the British Army in 1983 because she is gay, so perhaps the honourable lord means that sort of thing.

To be fair, there are clerics and non-clerics alike (and even Tories) who, over the two days of debate, have been supportive of equal marriage and entirely clear that the scaremongering is just that. And they should all be applauded for that.

But the question remains of what is more disturbing: these ridiculous arguments themselves or the possibility that at least some of those expounding them actually believe what they say.

I have a theory that, for some at least, their version of Christianity is nothing whatever to do with a personal faith or ideas of how to behave to their fellow human beings, but more a badge of nationalistic connotation: a label that one adopts in what they probably also view as modernity’s ‘culture wars’.

In the interests of clarity: I have little time for any religion or religious sect (okay, the Quakers are an exception, but they’re a deeply tolerant bunch and also unlikely to wield any major political clout anytime soon).

As I noted in a previous post on the subject, I’m less than impressed with 500 imams and Muslim ‘community leaders’ writing to the PM decrying equal marriage, just as I am with the Chief Rabbi also claiming it’s wrong.

As far as I can tell, not one country or state (in the case of the US) that has legalised equal marriage has fallen into the sea as a result.

Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, if their god got off his lazy backside and cast down a thunderbolt or two if he’s really that bothered?

But something else that the entire Lords debate illustrates, were such a reminder required, is that these are unelected, unaccountable men and women who hold an enormous amount of power in their hands.

It has an added poignancy, if you will, in that this year is the centenary of Emily Davidson throwing herself under the king’s horse at the Derby. The Suffragettes changed much - much of which these same (mostly) men who are objecting to equal marriage now would have objected to then.

The only thing that is under attack is the right of less-than-brilliant white, heterosexual men to rule the world on no basis other than their whiteness, their heterosexuality and their maleness; in other words, from a position of privilege. It is the antithesis of a meritocracy.

And the reality is that, for many in the UK these days - if not a majority, then close to - they do not believe in the central tenets of the Christian religion.

Attendance at churches is not falling off, I suggest, because of ‘trendy vicars’, as many Telegraph readers would have you believe, but because religion - in it’s formal guise at least - has become irrelevant to most people.

They don’t believe in a virgin birth or miracles or the Trinity, for instance. They may well entertain some sort of idea of a higher being, but it is not constrained by formal doctrine.

Even a century or more ago, attendance at church by the plebs had to be guaranteed by the threat of fines if they didn’t turn up. Without such a threat, people have less need to pretend to themselves.

That’s a very Western European reality. And of course, as immigrant churches and mosques continue to grow and thrive, it’s easy to see a culture clash. Personally, I wouldn't underestimate that: it’s an uncomfortable and potentially volatile mix.

What we need on that score, though, is a formal and proper separation of state and church - and, thereby, religion. Not the situation we have at present, where the continuation of the blasphemy laws encourages those of a non-CofE persuasion to want the same for their own sects and cults.

Let’s get rid of all religious schools and give every child in this country, whatever their background, a better chance of making an informed choice about religion.

And while we’re at it, let’s reform the upper chamber too: it’s hardly a radical demand. Even WS Gilbert suggested that entry to the Lords should be by public examination. Such a move might help to eradicate the stretches of hysterical lunacy that we have been witness to over the last two days.

It’s also worth observing that such moves might also help in the fight against the sort of radicalisation/brainwashing that saw two men apparently consider it acceptable to butcher an unarmed man to death in a London street the other week, on the basis of their particular brand of superstitious fuckwittery.

Although today’s vote went easily in favour of equal marriage, there are still things that this entire debate should teach us and things that we should do as a result. Let’s see if we can.

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