It took no more than 48 hours after Nick Clegg removed that notorious word from his speech for him to send a grovelling letter of apology to the leaders of various faiths. Not even seeing Peter Bone demand such an apology was enough to put him off doing it. It was an unedifying sight – once again a politician succumbs to religion on an issue that many argue is a simple recognition and altering of a gross inequality in our legislative system.
This inevitably resulted in many comment articles and pieces about what bigotry actually is. Of course, it’s not a compliment, it is certainly an emotionally-charged term that invokes a perception of knuckle-dragging uncompromising prejudice. It’s also quite a tired word – it’s been on far too many NUS banners and attributed to individuals far too often (sadly, not because the word is inappropriate, but because there have been far too many appropriate times to use it). It is in many ways an overused cliché that I try my hardest to avoid using but, in many circumstances, it is perfectly accurate.
Very few people disagree that racism is bigotry. This hasn’t always been a common strand of agreement of course, the Bible from which many anti-equal marriage sentiments are drawn doesn’t just define marriage as one man and one woman – Deuteronomy is not too hot on multi-race marriages either. But anyway, that’s irrelevant, it’s one of the many elements of scripture that the primary Churches have ruled outdated and wrong, a bit like not eating meat on a Friday. What matters to them are the bits of the Bible they can extract, twist and use to their current advantage, ignoring of course the many redefinitions of marriage that male ancestors of their faith have both been responsible for and enjoyed. To me, racism is and always has been bigotry. I do not “simply disagree” with racists, I find their views abhorrent. The notion that you are better or worse than someone because of the colour of your skin fits precisely under the definition of bigotry, even if backed by religious doctrine. The fact that homophobia, to many people, does not simply exhibits that we haven’t quite got there yet.
It is astounding to those of us who have escaped the clutches of religious indoctrination how possessing a belief surrounded by mythology gives prejudice a certain level of respectability. Presumably this is down to the supposed virtue of faith – if you pray regularly, go to Church every Sunday and show devotion to your deity then surely you can’t be lumped alongside scruffy drunk EDL yobs. I made it quite clear on Twitter last week that packaging your prejudice as religious belief does not absolve you from being a bigot. The responses I got seemed considerably strong when compared to their reactions to religious figures describing two men marrying as the “grotesque subversion of a human right”. If I dare to call religious people who oppose equal marriage as “bigoted”, I’m called puerile and insulting. Yet those who say that to me seem less vocal about the acidic language that, historically and presently, still essentially tells me that I’m wrong, disordered and will burn in hell. One rule for me, one for others. Behold the awesome power of religious belief.
It’s also rather important to tackle this nonsense assertion that calling somebody a bigot infringes on their right to freedom of speech and expression. The ability for an individual to hate me for what I am and hold the above belief that I’m wrong, disordered and will go to hell is as sacred to me as my right to get married – disagreeing with the views, no matter how emotively, does not translate to disagreeing with their right to express those views. Suggestions to the contrary essentially factor out into the notion that “I have every right to offend you without having to fear being offended in return”. It is extremely hypocritical to piously proclaim the right to freedom of speech, then claim that such a freedom is being stifled when somebody else responds to your views by using exactly the same right of expression.
One common response is to insist that I should not call someone bigoted simply because they “disagree”. It’s quite a genius repackaging exercise to call statements, intentions and prejudices about the validity of same-sex relationships and any formal state recognition of couples within them as simply a “disagreement”. It appeals to this “prejudice of respectability” concept – we’re not bigoted, we simply disagree. It also lends to the suggestion that by calling them bigots, we are somehow removing their right to disagree. Again the freedom of speech argument is invoked – insulting them is not, apparently, the utilisation of freedom of speech but the infringement of it. Unless, of course, it’s them doing the insulting.
I will never consider the Vatican, Sentamu or anybody else to represent all those who associate with their denominations. This is often another charge thrown at me. If I say “the Catholic Church” when I talk about the systematic child rape scandal where perpetrators are still defended and politicians fail to commit to any form of action in bringing them to justice, there are those who are rather quick to remind me that not every Catholic agrees with it and many were quite upset about it. I make it clear that I do not talk about those Catholics, but I also make no apology for the apparent confusion when, once again, those of faith are more vociferous in opposing those who criticise the actions of their leadership than they are in demanding action on the levels of gross misconduct. This example transfers directly to that of the recognition of LGBT people and their relationships – of course I don’t believe that those who attend Sunday mass all individually hate and malign the LGBT community, but they are not loudly banging down the doors of the Vatican demanding a change in policy either. Much like the scandal that rocked the Catholic Church, words from religious supporters offer me little comfort when the £10 they put in that collection box goes towards another C4M leaflet and when they offer nothing more than a tut when Cardinal O’Brien furthers his obvious campaign to be the next Pope with an outrageously homophobic slur.
Bigotry isn’t a question, it’s a very clear line. It is distasteful to see men (primarily it is men… and Widdecombe) who opposed progress at every turn now say that usage of the word “bigot” is unfair, hurtful and something that should warrant the profuse apology and resignation of the Deputy Prime Minister. They assume the position of being the real victims, subjected to this horrible damaging word. Having experienced schooling in the Catholic education system under the dark days of Section 28 I can assure them, they’re getting off lightly.