Sorry for the trite title. I was a bit stuck on this one. I wrote it a week ago and decided I needed some time to let it sit while I thought about it. So, here it is.
I’ve grown up in a world where some people have been raised to believe that there is something deeply wrong with being gay. Other people have been raised to be pretty ambivalent about it. Others have been raised to feel passionately that there is nothing wrong with it. More still have grown up and made up their own minds. I wasn’t raised in any way, my parents aren’t that type of religious and I don’t remember any priest or teacher ever broaching the subject of sexuality. My granda can be a bit homophobic, but he can also be a (very tiny) bit racist and sometimes I wonder if that’s just his generation. He’s not a bad person.
What I find so deeply troubling about it, is that the idea that homosexuality is wrong comes from the Church. From a lot of Churches. I find it upsetting that this translates into our laws and actions. But that’s Northern Ireland for you. It’s all so deeply entangled, religion and state and identity. You can’t just be one thing. You’re you, but you’re also your religion (or at the very least the religious community you were raised in), your national identity (Irish or British), your politics (green or orange), they all feed into one another.
I’ve spoken out about the rights of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland before. So when the whole Ashers Cake Row became a thing, I immediately decided that it was discrimination. And I had a few impassioned arguments with people about it, surprised that there was even an argument to be had, if I’m honest. I started thinking about it. A lot. And I’m finding it so difficult to articulate my own feelings on the matter because I do feel so strongly about it. I have friends and family who are members of LGBT community and I hate the idea that there are people out there who don’t think they deserve to have the same rights and protections that heterosexual people have in their marriages. It leaves me literally flabbergasted. I don’t think I’m wrong when I say they were using their religion as reason to discriminate against a section of society.
I don’t think the McArthurs are bad people either. I don’t think religion is necessarily a bad thing, although I’m not at all religious myself. I do think they grew up in an environment that led them to believe that Christianity has a right to the idea of marriage, and that the LGBT community isn’t entitled to that (note here, that no religious institution would be forced to perform a marriage under the marriage equality act, this is just about the legal side of things).
I read a really lovely blog by Gemma Ruth Wilson (my sister had been reading it on my laptop, so I found it purely my accident) where she talks about listening to peoples stories and opinions. About being quiet. She’s a more calm and measured person than me from the sound of it. And she writes with an eloquence and grace on the subject that is pretty admirable (I may be a bit of a fan now, her blog is pretty darn good). And she’s very astute, picking up on the fact that groups and organisations might use the ruling to further their own agendas, agendas that aren’t necessarily interested in the equal rights side of things. They might, that’s politics for you.
But I can’t do it. I can’t keep quiet. I can’t watch attempts to keep some of my friends and family second class citizens. Not when my own parents and grandparents were second class citizens in their own lifetime, merely by virtue of their religion. I think I feel more strongly about it because of Northern Ireland’s history. Because I know how my dad’s family couldn’t get a house from the housing association when he was growing up because they were Catholic (and when they finally did it was pure luck and who they knew). Because I know my grandparents weren’t allowed to vote unless they owned property, and even when they could, a hell of a lot was done to ensure their vote didn’t matter.
And I know what happened to their generation when they did demand their rights. I know I am incredibly lucky, I know I am treated equally because of the sacrifices made by those who came before me.
This is something we need to talk about.
I can’t be calm about people being against marriage equality, because that feels the same as saying LGBT people don’t deserve to have the same rights as straight people. I equate it with refusing to make a cake celebrating freedom from slavery (the idea of slavery also came from the Bible). Or with refusing to make one celebrating women gaining the right to vote (something bitterly opposed by the Catholic Church*). Both of these things seem ridiculous now, that someone should be denied equal rights because of their gender or race, we would find it ridiculous for people to morally object to them. But people did. And marriage equality feels the same to me.