Culture Wars personified

As expected, my debate with Benjamin Cohen made it into the pages of Pink News. “Catholic disagrees with gay marriage, IVF and surrogacy” shocker! I’m not too bothered, several people expressed the perspective  that the whole affair was about Ben trying to mine some controversial quotes.

That said it’s probably worth clarifying a few points. It is not my point of view that Benjamin Cohen is transphobic and neither as the report claims, was I trying to infer that.

What I was trying to get out is that Ben (and others) clearly do have a problem with Tara and myself being friends which is why he originally intervened.


This is the nub of the matter – Catholic teaching on sexuality means that instead of attempting to understand and respect each other’s point of view, Tara along with any other LGBT advocate and myself should hate each other.

That we come together on issues of mutual agreement and that I make no attempt to hector Tara into accepting a Catholic vision of sexuality, completely undermines this narrative of Catholics (and me in particular) of being hate-filled spittle-flecked individuals trying to force or impose our faith onto other people.

There are two tactics going on here. One is to undermine our friendship by pointing out Catholic doctrine on sexuality. “How can you be friends with her, she thinks this, ergo she HATES you, ergo you must have psychological problems and be filled with self-hatred to be friends with such a woman”. Our friendship must not be accepted or validated as genuine, built upon principles of mutual trust, care and respect, but instead painted as deeply dysfunctional. It is hoped that this will have the effect of ending our friendship, enabling the hateful horrible homophobe narrative to continue to be perpetuated. It’s pretty hard to claim someone is filled with hate and loathing towards the LGBT community if they number them as friends. Actually Tara is not my only LGBT friend (I expect Pink News will ask them to all come forward and identify themselves) by any stretch of the imagination.  But then again as Ben Cohen has tweeted that any gays who oppose gay marriage for anyone other than themselves are homophobes, then a quarter of the UK LGBT population merit this label according to the Com Res poll conducted  in 2012.

The second, more disturbing tactic is to attempt to cut Tara off from the support of the LGBT community on account of her views. The whole point of this piece was to highlight a member of their community who is bold enough to publicly deviate from group think and hold her up for derision. While I roared with laughter at the piece, Tara’s views as presented seemed perfectly reasonable and mainstream and not at all outrageous or extreme, what concerned me was an attempt to undermine her job and political career, by rendering her controversial, toxic, untouchable, someone who causes upset.

Tara is not opposed purely to same-sex IVF or surrogacy, but to all of these issues as she explains in her blog. Although she has mentioned that she is an NHS diversity consultant, she never talked about her job or her employers on the internet, nor has she been anything other than crystal clear that these are her personally held views. Nonetheless her employers have been contacted for comment.

It is my understanding that the role of a diversity consultant is to ensure that employees and clients are not discriminated against by virtue of their ethnicity, disability, sexuality, gender or any other characteristic. Their job is to provide equal access to employment opportunities as well as client services and ensure that the workplace is doing all that it can to serve the diverse needs of the community.

A diversity consultant would have no say over whether or not services such as IVF should be available and if so how many cycles each couple should receive; these are policy decisions which are made by senior management and clinical staff. I have no idea whether the area of the NHS in which Tara works is even concerned with fertility treatments; she assures me this does not form a part of her role, but her professionalism means that even though she may disagree with IVF as a concept, she still needs to ensure that everyone who qualifies for it under the NHS is able to access it.

There is no discernible reason why someone who believes that every child deserves the chance of a loving mother and father and that babies shouldn’t be removed from their mothers, unless there is a compelling reason to do so, is incapable of working as a diversity consultant. Believing that the state shouldn’t conspire to engineer a situation in which children are removed from their natural parents shouldn’t impact upon one’s diversity and equality credentials.

When did we become so emotionally needy as a nation, that we are unable to cope with stiff differences of opinion or disagreement? The reason why people are agitating for Tara to be kicked out of her job is because they cannot bear the idea of a state agency employing someone in an official capacity who will not validate their desires. A couple who have used IVF or surrogacy might feel ‘judged’ knowing that someone employed within a particular NCT trust disagrees with a life decision that they have made and that would never do.

If Tara had expressed a belief in Jesus Christ, son of God who was crucified, died, was buried and rose again on the third day, people may have looked upon her perhaps rather indulgently or patronisingly, but it would have not have created the storm of outrage. Which is why the secularist lobby are keen to disassociate life issues from religious conscience, arguing that these beliefs are not integral to religion which should in any event be kept private. Only those who believe that LGBT are inferior human beings could possibly object to a child missing out on their mum or dad.

The only imposition going on here  is of one particular viewpoint or mindset as being acceptable for certain state employees. Since when did diversity mean sanctioning every single viewpoint as being equally valid? Since when did diversity not allow for believing that women are exploited by the surrogacy industry and that children should not be treated as commodities? Why should this view disbar you from working to help enable marginalised sections of society access appropriate services?

The only way to avoid damaging culture wars is to listen to and attempt to respect the views of other people, even if we do not wish to sanction or implement their ideas. Surely we can agree to disagree on some issues, while working together on areas of common consent rather than turn certain other groups into untouchables?

When Benjamin Cohen described me as an ‘anti-euqality campaigner’ he was disingenuously implying that I work hard to perpetuate inequality and suffering and trying to paint me as a singularly unpleasant person. I can live with the ostracism of Pink News readers, but it doesn’t really do much to foster positive relationships and raises the emotional temperature. This is the kind of attitude that makes people afraid to speak out for fear of being labelled as fundamentalists. Believing that marriage is not a matter of equality, does not mean that one considers other people as second class citizens and as long-term readers of my blog will remember, I have been criticised in the past by some quarters for my inherent support of the rights that civil partnerships accord and for wishing for these rights to be extended.

In my previous post I outlined precisely my position regarding surrogacy and IVF which is not based upon any wish to discriminate. I have no experience of infertility, I cannot begin to imagine how painful it must be not to be able to have children, but the existence of certain technologies or techniques in order to conceive them does not automatically justify their use. The argument is essentially a moral one about whether or not the ends justifies the means and the values we place upon human life. Can we do what we like in order to secure the outcome we want, regardless of the potential cost?

The most important thing to clear up here is accusations of being opposed to the Jewish religion as specifically alleged by Benjamin Cohen who states that I campaigned to stop liberal and progressive Synagogues from solemnising gay relationships. Firstly it’s worth noting that not all branches of Judaism support  gay marriage. Secondly, I did not specifically campaign to prevent Synagogues from solemnising gay relationships. I was part of an effort which campaigned to keep marriage defined as between a man and a woman in UK law. Synagogues, along with any other religious institution should be free to perform whatever ceremonies and rituals which their religion proscribes (with provisos surrounding physical harms). I do not adhere to the Islamic proposition that a man may have 4 wives, however I am not campaigning for Muslims to be prohibited from taking multiple spouses. Asking that the law reflects existing Judeo-Christian principles and only recognises marriage as one man and one woman, does not oppress religious freedom or prevent people from following different cultural or religious practices. Non-legal recognition or solemnisation of certain situations does not prohibit people from entering into them informally, nor does it make them illegal or against the law.

Yesterday Pope Francis tweeted the following.

He has also described gay marriage in far stronger terms than I, as being a move from the Father of Lies.

Anti-equality campaigner, opposed to Judaism, fundamentalist, or just someone who follows the teachings of the Catholic church as articulated by the Pope?

Kudos and prayers for Tara for her bravery. By daring to be friends with Catholics and supporting a pro-life point of view she has put her job on the line and has made an unlikely champion of religious freedom and rejected the frame of the culture wars.

8 thoughts on “Culture Wars personified

  1. I wonder whether the Pope’s tweet quite captures the sense of the Pope’s remarks for anglophone ears. The original(?) Italian was ‘l’inequità’, which carries the sense of ‘unfairness’. ‘Inequality’ has a lot of connotations for anglophone ears, especially within current political and economics debates (I doubt that the Pope is seeking to weigh in on recent debates surrounding Picketty’s work, for instance). However, inequity or unfairness is rather less straightforwardly conformable to contemporary notions of inequality, which often rely upon the assumption that no relevant differences exist between some very different realities.

  2. The problem is that you argue from the point of view of catholic teaching which to others sounds like you are repeating what you have been told to think. The result is that you come across as duplicitous: eg on the one hand supporting civil partnerships (second class marriage) while on the other hand battling against equal marriage on the grounds of preferring that a Christian view of marriage be enshrined in law. True equality for all challenges us all and asks us to consider ‘why are we treating these people differently?’ Too often, our formation (school, parents, church, professional training etc) has laid down prejudices we do not recognise as such. And it can be very hard to overcome those prejudices because we have to somehow get round a host of other barriers in our heads to accepting people for who they are.

    1. Actually the Catholic Church argued that marriage did not belong to any one group, including Christianity.

      Marriage is outside of religion and outside of the government. Opposite gender pair bonding has been a societal concept around for thousands of years, in order to provide for and recognise children.

      Why should same sex couples be treated differently or ineligible for marriage? Precisely because (as even the new law recognises) sexual acts between two same gendered people are not capable of procreation.

      Yes, technologies are available which now mean that non heterosexual couples can reproduce. But given the ethical difficulties inherent in those technologies and the fact that they often contrive to sever a link between a child and their biological parent, should we claim them as a right or even as a healthcare need?

      We should all accept people for who they are, but that does not mean that we should promulgate the idea that they have a right to family.

    2. I agree that, for non-Catholics, it often seems as though reference to Church teaching does sound as though it’s simply avoiding thought. But this impression is misleading both in principle and in practice. In principle, Catholic moral teaching is based upon the natural law: that simply means philosophical thinking about what benefits and harms human beings. Catholic teaching about same sex ‘marriage’ etc is held because it is believed to be true, not simply because it is an order from above. In practice, modern adult Catholics in the West have remained Catholics despite the considerable pressures of secular thought: if we stay Catholic (or even become Catholic) it is because we have become convinced of the truth of the Church’s teachings.

      You are, of course, right about unrecognized prejudices. There is no easy way of avoiding these. But frankly, to the extent I am able to judge, I see more of these in the arguments against the Catholic position than I see in that position.

  3. The reason why the Church is against ssm is simply that homosexual sin is depraved. Whether children are involved or not is a separate question. The main reason for marriage is for the couple involved-their vocation as husband and wife. Of course, they must be open to children, but if God denies them children for whatever reason, the marriage is still valid in the eyes of the Church, still sacramental.

    There are saints who lived in Josephite marriages, which are also valid. These are marriages wherein the couple discerns that the marital act is to be set aside as a sacrifice for a greater good. The Maritains, who have not been canonized yet, are one example.

    Mary and Joseph’s marriage was valid without consummation.

    The children argument is bogus and has nothing to do with the fate of children in a false ssm.

    Sin has no rights and depravity cannot be falsely enshrined in something resembling a sacrament, or even in a civil ceremony, which the Church is also against.

    Argue marriage from the sacramental grace of the two becoming one, not from the issue of the oneness.

    Children are one of the greatest blessings from God, but childless marriages are no less valid sacramentally than those with children.

    1. Trouble is, all of that won’t wash in a post-Christian society which is already accusing religions of trying to impose a faith view on others. Most people won’t accept or engage with that viewpoint politically.

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