Friday, 19 October 2012

Measured religious reactions to marriage equality in France

Below is a non-edited version of my first comment piece for Gay Star News.

Just like in the UK, marriage equality features high up on the news agenda in France. And like in the UK, the most vocal voices against equality come from the right and usually with a religious flavoring.

From the fringes of the main conservative party, Sarkozy's UMP, there have been various mentions of paedophilia, incest or zoophilia as possible consequences of a change in the law. Brigitte Barèges, Christian Vanneste and François Lebel are the main culprits here.

A handful of Mayors have warned that they would disobey the law if it passes, and refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies.

Christine Boutin, who had already distinguished herself by the virulence of her homophobia during the parliamentary debates on PACS in 1999, has called for a referendum on the subject.

So far so sadly familiar.

Religious leaders have, of course, also made themselves heard, none more vocally than the Catholic Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who also went for paedophilia and incest.

Interestingly though, as the Chief Rabbi publishes a 25 page essay declaring his opposition to extending marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples, the rhetoric used by religious leaders seems much more measured than that used in the UK.

This may be due to the well-estabished secular tradition of the country that the arguments presented by the religious to oppose le mariage pour tous (marriage for all) seem to be contained within fairly legitimate and almost reasonable limits.

They seem to be more genuinely against a change in the definition of marriage than we find them in the UK where words usually quickly turn into a homophobic rants or hysterical protestations of persecution.

Even the Catholic Conference of French Bishops, who's leader has declare the idea a "mistake" and ordered a prayer to be read in all churches during a major festival in August this year, seems willing to consider some form of solemnised unions for same-sex couples that would go beyond PACS, as long as it's not called marriage.

The Chief Rabbi acknowledges that it is not possible to negate the reality of same-sex couples and refuses to judge gay people, placing homophobic hate crimes on the same level as racism and anti-semitism. He just can't see marriage being open to non-heterosexual couples for a series of religious and cultural reasons.

Muslims leaders declare themselves mildly "opposed" to the idea for, it seems, no other reason than that Islam forbids it. Again we are very far from the vitriolic statements we have heard here in the UK.

Because of the way marriage celebrations are arranged by the law, British religious organisations feel a keen sense of ownership on the institution. In France, where only civil ceremonies at the Town Hall have legal value (religious ceremonies are nothing but an optional extra), religious groups can not claim marriage for themselves so easily. This may explain the more restrained approached we observe.

Yet it seems that the temptation is still too difficult to resist and religious leaders just can't help sharing their views on the subject with the world.

The tendency, however, seems to be to forget that the propositions only affect civil marriage (it is the same in the UK). As such they have nothing to do with religion. Further more, all those arguments we hear from the French religious only hold if taken in the context of the faith in which they are expressed.

While religious leaders are, of course, welcome to express their views, they shouldn't expect to be given too much credit by a government who seems thankfully determined to press on with the bill and move away for the segregationist regime those people want to perpetuate so dearly.

Separate but equal is, emphatically, not equal.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Equal marriage, the Nazis and Lord Carey's irony bypass [UPDATED]

UPDATE: Since I wrote and published this, I have been made aware of the fact that things may not be quite as they have been reported in the press (and I saw several reports before taking to my keyboard). It's seems that Carey didn't quite say what everyone says he did. Of course much of what I argue below is still relevant but some of it is now also wrong. An amended version of the post reflecting the above has been published in PinkNews.

Yesterday during a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party Conference, a 1000 or so Tory militants gathered to hear speakers vituperate against marriage equality, thus showing the world that, ten years on, Teresa May's Nasty Party is alive and well.

Aside from David Burrowes, the backbench MP for Enfield Southgate, and former MP Ann Widdecombe, Lord Carey was at hand to share his views on the subject. And the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the once leader of the established Church of this country, could not resist getting on his favourite hobby-horse: bemoaning how British Christians are being persecuted.

Going much further than that other prelate, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who earlier this year said that David Cameron is acting like a dictator by "forcing" marriage equality on the UK, Lord Carey, when asked about opponents of gay marriage being described as "bigots", said:

“Let’s have a sensible debate about this, not call people names,” he said. “Let’s remember that the Jews in Nazi Germany, what started it all against them was when they started being called names. That was the first stage towards that totalitarian state.”

"And that was the first stage towards that totalitarian state. We have to resist them. We treasure democracy. We treasure our Christian inheritance and we want to debate this in a fair way."
We already knew that Carey had problems with keeping a sense of perspective or even possibly a grasp on reality. Someone as ensconced as he is in the establishment of the country thanks to his faith, complaining that he and his fellow Christians are being discriminated against is quite risible. However his latest tirade shows him as not only hysterical with paranoia but also perniciously mendacious.

It is ironic of course that Carey should start by calling for a "sensible debate", asking for the avoidance of name-calling, only to immediately abandon any pretence of being sensible and, yes, call people names...

Putting aside the fact that the good Lord doesn't seem to be aware of Godwin's Law, of how offensive his comments will be to families of deportation victims and their communities, or of the fact that someone invoking Hitler and the Nazis sounds very much like they have lost the argument they are so badly trying to make, the most cursory examination of Carey's statement shows us how much liberty he is ready to take with history to try and make a very weak point.

In that short statement, Carey conveniently brushes aside the fact that, unlike Christians, homosexuals were at the receiving end of Nazi attacks (A regime on whose activities the hierarchy of Catholic Church turned a blind eye).

He brushes aside the fact that even after the war, homosexuals carried on being victimised; concentration camp survivors being sent directly to jail, since the law criminalising homosexuality in Germany (Paragraph 175) was still extent (and remained so until the 1988).

He brushes aside the fact that to this day LGBT people are not only the brunt of name-calling much worse than what "bigot" can represent for him and his ilk but that all too often the verbal violence becomes physical.

He brushes aside the fact that such violence happens because the perpetrators feel empowered and justified by statements and stances like his.

Lord Carey also told the meeting at Birmingham Town Hall that re-defining marriage would “strike at the very fabric of society” before asking the question: "Why does it feel to us that our cultural homeland and identity is being plundered?"

If we are going to play that hideous little game of who is more like the Nazis it seems to me that Lord Carey is on very dangerous ground indeed. His rhetoric and that generally used by various Christian hierarchies when it comes to gay people is very much in danger of sounding like it would not have been repudiated by the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion.

Another thing that the former Archbishop fails to understand in his blinkered gesticulations is that he and people like him are quite probably doing our work for us. The more extreme and ridiculous their statements become, and goodness knows that they are little else these days, the more people are likely to realise where the reasonable and reasoned arguments are.

We can only hope for our sakes and for that of Carey's mental health that the government presses on with its plans. The sooner marriage equality happens, the sooner the mad barking will stop and the sooner everyone will realise that things are carrying on pretty much unchanged for most, except for a society more welcoming for all and that much further from that totalitarian state Carey fears so much.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Studio shoot - Steven


On Saturday I found myself trying to make my way to Brighton and the studio of Manel Ortega for a photoshoot with my friend Steven. As last time, the trip was not the most straight forward but I finally made it more or less on time, even after missing my train. It took me longer to get to the station by bus than it would have walking there!

Once we got started, things went very well indeed and Steven seem to enjoy himself a lot after the usual period of nerves.

I got a good crop of very decent shots. However, for some reason due solely to my incompetence, lots of the shots turned out grainy. They look fine viewed in small sizes but not so good when you start blowing them up. I'll have to figure out what I did wrong there.

On the whole, I am happy though. I think the images have moved a step or two further than those of previous shoots in terms of quality.

I need to find more victims to sit for me now...

The images can be viewed on Flickr, here.