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.

Some fascist objections

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but in the light of the Question Time online Twitter storm and bullying that came my way, it was suggested that I find a way of logging all the incidents/abuse that come my way as a result of defending the prospect that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life.

The columnist who arguably was responsible for drawing a lot of heat my way is one Benjamin Cohen who according to his biography was  formerly of Channel 4 news and is now the founder of Pink News, a columnist for the Evening Standard and Gay Times. So it’s fair to note that in terms of impact and and influence, in engaging with me he is punching well below his weight. He has almost 17,000 Twitter followers and platforms in the national media. I have 2,000 followers or thereabouts and am not a regular contributor to mainstream media, aside from when I am invited on at the request of a producer or editor to explain a Catholic or socially conservative position. I don’t know whether or not my weekly Universe column counts.

In any event he has decided that I am worthy of his attention and began to follow me on Twitter following the Question Time affair. On several occasions yesterday he did that passive aggressive trick of using a full stop before my Twitter handle, before going on to misrepresent my position.

My crime – being friends with a transgender woman. Actually his ire is mainly directed onto her, for being friends with such a hateful person such as myself and because she takes a pro-life position, her view being shaped by the fact that she was adopted. Furthermore she disagrees with the concepts of surrogacy and IVF, not on religious grounds, but accepting the science that human life begins at conception. Worst still she believes that surrogacy exploits women and that every child deserves the chance of a loving mother and father.

So at time of blogging, I’ve had another non-stop 18 hours of unsolicited and unprovoked online aggression from the gay Twitterati and their supporters. Benjamin Cohen went from attacking a woman for her friendship with me, to inexplicably claiming to all his followers that I think that his lovely niece should not exist, after randomly attacking my position on IVF. He’s then gone on to justify his position that my gay friends should shun me because no one should be friends with someone who wants to deny them their rights; he would not be friends with anyone who would deny him his rights as a gay man or indeed as a Jew.

There’s a lot to unpick here, but I’ll try to address the points briefly.

1) – It is bigoted to try to undermine or dictate friendships of which you do not approve. It is more than possible to be friends with someone who takes an entirely opposite ideological point of view to yourself, accepting that they do so in good faith. I am friends with many LGBT Christians and progressive Anglicans who believe entirely different things to me on the subject of marriage and ordination of women to the priesthood, but that does not hinder our friendship or closeness.

2) Godwin’s law time. Believing that marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman does not equate to facism or Nazism. Marriage is not a universal human right. If it were then brothers and sisters could get married or any two people who declared a love between each other, regardless of blood ties or age. The only ostracism or turning one group into ‘untouchables’ or second-class citizens is coming from the LGBT lobby and their supporters who wish to take to the internet to undermine friendships and defend their proposition that no-one should be friends with me, or indeed anyone who takes a similar position. We must be isolated, ostracised and hated. Which is why Benjamin Cohen has repeatedly ridiculed and misrepresented my position to all his followers, to ensure that they turn their hatred and derision on me. He’s already posted a video of Lynette Burrows comparing me to her, after he debated her at the Oxford Union, saying that my language is similar to hers. This is disingenuous in that Lynette not only used sexually inappropriate language she also made some wild and unsubstantiated and provocative claims. My language and tone has been infinitely more measured. If you look at my online activity I do not go about soliciting attacks on LGBT advocates or inciting my followers to have a go at gay marriage supporters. The aggression here has been solely one-sided. I’ve had 18 hours of being compared to Nazis and specious arguments.

3) Objection to IVF does not mean that I wish babies who have been brought into this world out of existence. Furthermore my objections to it are across the board – regardless of sexuality. I object to IVF on a number of ethical grounds. The amount of sheer wastage of embryos involved in the process, as Lord Alton has noted, is on an industrial scale. I also believe that it is inefficient as a treatment. The success rates are shockingly low for a process which is emotionally and physically costly. Clinics exploit the desperation and misery of women as Professor Sir Robert Winston, one of the original pioneers agrees. I also have some scientific concern about the process, which seems to be born out by health outcomes. Children born from IVF have a greater risk of health complications and treatment cycles can prove harmful, for example it doubles the rate of non-fatal ovarian cancer in women. I don’t have a problem with the children who are conceived, rather the way in which people have gone about conceiving them. IVF is a sticking plaster, a gruelling way of circumnavigating infertility without addressing the underlying causes and in common with all issues concerning human life, a technique developed out of compassion has been exploited and distorted as being a human right.

From a Catholic point of view, I object because children have the right to be conceived from the natural embrace of their mother and father; to use IVF separates the unitive and procreative elements of sexual intercourse, which is contrary to Catholic teaching. IVF turns the child into a commodity to be made in a laboratory and makes doctors, technicians and even the sales and finance staff in the clinic, part of the conception process.

4) Surrogacy. As above, the surrogacy process once agains treats children as a commodity. The surrogacy industry exploits women as being nothing more than wombs for rent and disregards the importance of the gestational link between mother and child, which a recent study demonstrates, could be even more important than splitting the genetic link as provided by donor eggs and sperm. Basically studies are beginning to confirm the psychosomatic upset caused to mother and child alike when a child is cut off from the emotional and physical bond built up between them and their mother. We know that when a woman is subjected to high levels of stress in her pregnancy that this can have an adverse affect on the health of her unborn child. We also know that there is already a bond between an unborn child and their gestational mother, one that is not merely imaginary but assisted by hormone production. Any mother of a newborn will rave about the effects of Oxytocin, the happiness hormone, which is produced in pregnancy but also designed to be reinforced post birth, by eye-gazing, skin to skin contact and breast-feeding. As the mother of four, it’s something I have experienced repeatedly, all of my children would instantly be quietened by the simple act of my picking them up as babies, while my husband would look on in bewildered awe. I remember placing my babies next to me in my hospital bed lifting them out of fish tank provided; just lying next to me would comfort and silence a bout of crying.

As this link points out:

this oxytocin link not only facilitates key physiological processes in the baby’s development, but also helps the mother to recover after delivery. It promotes bonding patterns between the mother and neonate and creates desire for further contact. In fact, the powerful imprinting for mother and baby from the oxytocin release during breastfeeding occurs chiefly “so that mother and baby will be able to find and recognize each other in the hours and days after birth.”[1] Most importantly, studies show “the resulting high or low level of oxytocin will control the permanent organization of the stress-handling portion of the baby’s brain—promoting lasting ‘securely attached’ or ‘insecure’ characteristics in the adolescent and the adult.”[2]

All of this essential maternal-child melding and mother-to-baby recognition is proactively disrupted when the surrogate mother hands her baby over to its sociological parents. We can only guess how long the resulting love-vacuum is felt, consciously by the surrogate mother and subconsciously by the baby. Nor can we know when failure to experience this gestational link might morph into a panoply of insecure behavior on the part of the surrogate child/adolescent/adult: anti-socialism, aggression, difficulty forming lasting bonds with a mate, mental illness, and poor handling of stress.[3]

According to a study conducted by Dr Susan Golombok of Cambridge University  published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry in 2013, children born with the help of a surrogate may have more adjustment problems – at least by the age of 7 – than those born to their mother via donated eggs and sperm. [4]

Second, this study showed that, if the sociological mother exhibited maternal distress when the surrogate child was 3 years old (particularly over whether to tell the child about his surrogate birth), this distress was predictive of adjustment problems for the 7-year-olds who, after being told of their surrogate birth, “conceivably…felt less secure when faced with their mother’s emotional problems.”

Another Golombok study [5] in 2011 revealed that the absence of a 7-year-old child’s genetic or gestational link to his sociological mother caused the mother’s interaction with her surrogate child (and vice versa) to be less warm and less mutually responsive and cooperative.

Denying that babies need their gestational mothers is damaging for mothers and babies alike. It treats babies as little more than consumer objects and women as commodities for hire. You don’t need to be a religious bigot to condemn the misery and exploitation of women engendered in countries where commercial surrogacy is rife.

5) Sperm Donation. Same with egg donation. Anything that treats another human being as a commodity to be exploited and denies the right of the child to their natural parent is morally abhorrent. Here’s the  testimony of one woman conceived by sperm donation.

All children deserve a loving mother and father. In a world which demands that we have equal numbers of women in the workplace, politics and the media, why then is the prospect that all children deserve the equality of a man and a woman parenting them deemed to be so outré?

Countless studies hold up the model of children being raised in a loving long-term stable relationship between their biological parents as being the gold standard. Every single piece of research which aims to justify surrogacy or same-gendered parents concedes this by attempting to demonstrate equality of outcomes.

Same-sex parenting and surrogacy are still a relatively new modern phenomenon. Every single study  is flawed in its objectivity, methodology and focus. David Benkof, a gay Jew like Benjamin Cohen, analyses the difficulties here. These experiences may not be representative but interviews with children brought up by same sex parents make harrowing reading.

No-one is arguing that sexuality renders you a bad parent, the argument is that children fare best being brought up in relationships with their biological mothers and fathers and that every child has an innate desire or instinct to know their identity, to know who and where they are from. This is innately accepted when children are being placed for adoption. I wonder whether in 30 years time we’ll see a glut of adults actively seeking out not only their biological parents, but also their gestational mothers?

The response from the LGBT community is to attempt to use academia and the language of pseudo-science and equality to justify their desire for children. Studies are trotted out in an attempt to prove that children are not harmed, supported by contentious gender theory which attempts to blur the differences between men and women to qualify the proposition that mothers and fathers are irrelevant. All that is needed is loving, caring ‘parents’. Because they ‘need’ to use surrogacy and sperm donation in order to have children, then to state that the rights of the children come first is deemed ignorant, hateful and worthy of derision. LGBT people have to reclaim their high-ground and narrative as perennial victims, excluded from the specious ‘human right’ of parenting through no fault of their own. They literally have no other choice but to use the body of another. That so much justification is needed, is precisely why I have termed this ‘Jurassic Park’ politics – too busy thinking about whether or not they could, to worry about whether or not they should.  To state the importance of biological parents, to want to nurture and respect the family and above all place value on human life, from the very moment of conception is not born out of any hatred or wish to marginalise. What is more important, the rights of everyone to have a child whenever they want one, or the rights of a child to have their loving mum or dad? Who are we to wilfully deny or deprive a child of that for our own selfish ends and desires?

The term phobia is bandied about a lot and people recognise that a lot of objection is based on fear. While I’m not scared of people’s private decisions regarding their sexuality, actually the notion that children do not need their loving mothers and fathers does terrify me. The notion that a woman’s body can be commoditised or used as a vehicle to provide someone else with a child, does scare me, as does the idea that it’s okay to take children away from their mothers and that the gestational link is unimportant. This profoundly damages women, along with their babies and men too. It treats human beings and human life as nothing more as a consumer product. It does not encourage errant fathers to take responsibility for their offspring for starters. If a child doesn’t really need a mother and a father, then what’s to stop the state from taking children into care to raise according to their norms of child-rearing? If a child doesn’t need it’s mum and dad, then what’s to stop a child being removed from a parent who has the wrong views or ideology and given to a more loving and ‘tolerant’ set of parents?

This might seem rather far-fetched, but I am worried about a world which wants to tell my four girls that they are not automatically the best mothers for any children that they might have. Their job is merely to produce children, but they should not be guaranteed the right to raise them. It would be the same were I to have little boys, I’d worry about their being reduced to mere sperm donors.

That people are smugly favouring Ben Cohen’s tweet about not being a second class-citizen due to his sexuality or Judaism, when I did not suggest this reprehensible idea and wishing that ‘people like you did not exist’ because I believe that no-one has a right to deliberately deprive a child of the chance of being brought up by their mum and dad, really frightens me. As does a mainstream media commentator happily describing me as a fascist or comparing my view to anti-semitism and getting his friends (including a BBC London Radio presenter) to agree and endorse that point of view.

I’m also concerned by the bullying of my friend, who is being treated as a traitor to the LGBT cause and threatened with exposés in the gay press, simply because she does not conform to the narrow-minded proscribed ‘rights’ agenda, which dictates that all people must think the same. They are also irritated that she has not only been nominated by several people to win an award for LGBT diversity and engagement, but that she wishes to pursue a political career, which is why they are going after her with such enthusiasm. A trans-woman who accepts the sanctity of life and the rights of children to be brought up by a loving mums and dads in a position of political influence? That must not be allowed.

 A gay man can be a great father, but he cannot be a mother. A lesbian can be a lovely mother, but she can’t be a father. Why is a statement that a baby particularly needs their mother, that all children need both their parents deemed to be  so radical, offensive and deemed to be up there with Nazi policy’s of mass extermination?

We live in a world in which the following statements can be uttered as truths without so much of a hint of irony.

https://twitter.com/jesszkey/status/460556781312565248

https://twitter.com/jesszkey/status/460699509878964224

Even Orwell would have found it fantastical.

This isn’t religious persecution, but illustrates my previous point about Dominic Grieve and fundamentalism. No one is having a go at me because I am Catholic, although they might use my faith to demonstrate alleged irrationality or claim that it’s proof that I want to oppress. Catholicism is an easier target than addressing the very real ethical objections, as is personal attack and smear.

Far easier to attack me as a fundamentalist, a person who wishes to repress minorities and stop them from exercising their spurious rights to children, than to tackle the issue of whether children ought to have a mum and a dad and whether or not life is an exploitable commodity.

Scary times indeed.

Update: Ben Cohen believes that this post falsely accuses him of calling me a Nazi and a fascist. He has requested my address on Twitter to pass on to his solicitor and has given me until midnight to retract.

Ben did not explicitly call me a fascist or Nazi but his tweets which made reference to his Judaism, did in my opinion imply that my views were comparable; one of his friends replied to me asking whether or not I would be friends with a fascist in the context of my friendship with a transgendered woman. Another of his followers compared my stance with racism. Someone else said that I would have been manning a machine gun in the tower at the entrance to a concentration camp in ’40’s Germany.

Combined with the fact that after my Question Time appearance one of his followers wished that I would ‘die soon and hopefully your Nazi family will follow shortly’ I interpreted these references to being compared with fascists and Nazis.

But following his threat of legal action and demands for my address, I am happy to make clear that Benjamin Cohen himself did not explicitly call me a fascist or Nazi.

To reiterate, this whole conversation was begun when Ben interjected into a brief non-related remark I made stating that both social conservatives and progressive LGBT advocates would do well to mix outside of their tribal bubbles and engage with and listen to each other.

People are still rumbling on that it’s my fault for advocating extreme views.

Sometimes the avalanche and seemingly relentless of hate and threats makes me physically shake with fear and retch.

Tonight my husband commented that people want to get me, if they could they would lock me up and throw away the key, showing no mercy. It’s unnerving to say the least.

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[1]  http://www.thebabybond.com/BondingMatters.html (last accessed: 28/4/2014)

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4]  Golombok, Susan et al, “Children born through reproductive donation: a longitudinal study of psychological adjustment,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry54:6(2013): 653-660

[5] Golombok, Susan et al, “Families created through surrogacy: Mother-child relationships and children’s psychological adjustment at age 7,” Dev. Psychol.47:6(2011):1579-1588.