Turning to my trusty OED again, I needed to remind myself of the definition of Homophobia:
an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people
OK. Am I averse to homosexuality and homosexual people? The answer is a resounding no. I was hugely in favour of the civil partnership laws, believing that every human being is of equal right, worth and dignity regardless of race, colour, creed, culture, sexual orientation. I believe that same-sex relationships should be afforded exactly the same civil rights and protections as hetrosexual ones.
On an aside I actually didn’t think the civil partnership act went far enough. It was originally sold to the public under the guise of ensuring legal protection for all those in a close loving relationship, be that platonic or sexual and in fact it has failed to deliver. I know of many people living together in a close-knit platonic relationship, who have no desire to go through a public ceremony/pledge of commitment that implies otherwise. What seems to be vastly unfair is where you have the situation of two quite elderly people, and I call to mind two elderly “aunts” here, who have lived together for over 50 years. They moved in together in the late 50s, when they were both young teachers and have remained living together ever since. Unless my parents have finally updated their will, they are still my legal guardians! At times of family trauma, such as when my grandmother died, or when my mother was badly injured in a car crash we were entrusted into their care. It never occurred to us as children to wonder whether or not they were gay. I’m not sure I would have understood what that meant anyway. Now one is in their late 70s and is acting as a carer towards the other in her late 80s. When one dies, the other will not be exempt from inheritance tax, nor treated as a next of kin with any legal rights, given that they have not chosen to formalise their relationship as being a same-sex one. There are plenty of other elderly people in this position, mostly relatives, such as brothers or sisters living together in the same property, often bequeathed by parents who will face eviction on the death of their sibling, being unable to afford the inheritance tax. This seems to me to be an unfair loophole.
So, why is it homophobic not to want to counsel those in same-sex relationships due to deep-seated misgivings about their relationship? In the case of Mr MacFarlane his misgivings weren’t irrational. They were based on his religious belief. Religious belief requires some element of belief without proof, as indeed does atheism, there is no proof that God does NOT exist, it is just that, a belief arrived at having weighed up and examined the evidence. Therefore no religious beliefs can be irrational if they have been arrived at after having weighed up the evidence and come to a certain conclusion.
To refuse to counsel same-sex couples is not the same as attempting to deny someone basic human rights. It is simply saying – my conscience does not allow me to do this. One could argue that the ends are the same, namely that the couple doesn’t receive the counselling, but realistically there are plenty of counsellors that would be happy to provide the service. My difficulty with this whole issue is that people’s religious beliefs are being dismissed as homophobic, i.e extreme and irrational aversion towards homosexuality when they are nothing of the sort. Mr MacFarlane was following his conscience in as much as he was saying, that led by his beliefs, which we have to assume were informed, he couldn’t be promoting and assisting in a lifestyle which he believed to be erroneous.
I can almost hear the shouts of “how dare you accuse this lifestyle of being wrong, see you are a homophobe, you HATE gay people”. No, actually, I don’t, nor I suspect does Mr Macfarlane. Nor does the Catholic Church for that matter. The Catechism says that homosexual people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC 2358). I hate to use these words because they are so vastly misunderstood but there is a need to differentiate between the person and the act, the sin and the sinner. The Bible does not promote homophobia. We cannot in a just and fair society punish people for their sexual orientation.
Refusing to aid and abet a relationship or lifestyle that is against your own personal principles, does not render one a homophobe or gay-basher. However the refusal of leave to appeal has said that religious beliefs are irrational and that in the course of work you must abandon them.
One of the things I abhor is being told what I must think. I can’t bear it. It drives me mad. Being a Catholic does not been that I have been party to brainwashing or told what to think. To assume that does every single Catholic a huge disservice. If the Holy Father told me the sky was red, I wouldn’t automatically believe him. I’d try to see if I could understand what he was talking about, was he being figurative or literal? I wouldn’t assume he was right nor would I assume he was having a senior moment. I’d examine what he said, what he based this assertion on and come to my own conclusions.
This is why I take such huge issue with this judgement. We are effectively being told what to think. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus anyone with any faith are being told that this is irrational and irrelevant and we must behave and think in a straight-jacketed prescriptive way, devoid of any faith based ethical code in order to avoid discriminating against others or causing offence. To my mind, this is as intolerant as the prejudice/discrimination it is supposed to circumvent. It is Orwellian:
All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Homosexuals should have equal civil rights, that is not in dispute. Those with religious beliefs should have the right to exercise them without fear of recourse. We need to get the balance right on this one. We need to ensure that people are able to examine their conscience and be granted exceptions having had a fair hearing, i.e. had the opportunity to explain their principles, the reasons behind them and examine whether or not they are based on fear or hatred. To deny Mr MacFarlane the opportunity to do that, is, I believe, discriminatory and a sad day for tolerance and diversity.