New Internationalist

Gay rights are not in competition with religious freedom

Gay rights - Pride march in the US [Related Image]
At Washington DC's Captial Pride Parade ep_jhu under a Creative Commons Licence

A common thread runs through nearly every argument advanced by homophobic groups against extending equality to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) citizens – namely, that giving them increased rights and protections is somehow a direct attack on their own freedom of religion and conscience.

Claims that LGBTI equality is a ‘Western phenomenon that goes against local cultural practices’ is employed in African countries in particular, but by far the most regular assaults on our community’s desire for equal treatment are couched in selective and fundamentalist religious beliefs. Indeed, the use of religious belief and values as a battering ram against gay rights is often even legitimized by those generally sympathetic to our cause, who buy into the utterly false narrative that there are competing rights at stake here – gay rights versus religious rights – and that a sensible ‘balance’ needs to be struck between the two.

That fundamentally flawed argument found varying degrees of support during the recent debate in Britain concerning equal marriage, with senior members of both governing coalition parties either voting against the reform or, just as wrongly, supporting the ‘right’ of public servants to ‘opt out’ of dealing with same-sex couples. Thankfully they were firmly in the minority, but their behaviour was instructive in how opponents of gay rights seek to use religion to deny us equality before the law.

Freedom of religion (in addition to the equally important freedom from religion) is a fundamental tenet of any liberal democracy, but that freedom does not give one the power to infringe on the rights of others. It is fundamentally undemocratic to seek to enforce religious dogma of any hue through the civil laws of any state – in fact, it is the opposite of democracy and is rooted instead in theocratic thinking. Yet that is exactly what opponents of gay rights are seeking to do. The time has come to call them out on it, rather than having their anti-gay beliefs humoured on religious grounds in a way that other forms of prejudice would never be.

We have reached a point, however, where religious fundamentalists are claiming that equal treatment for gay couples amounts to state persecution of themselves. Leaving aside how incredibly mean-spirited and narrow-minded it is to define your way of life through the denial of rights to others, it is also gravely insulting to those who genuinely suffer persecution – LGBTI people in 76 countries are labelled as criminals simply because of their sexuality; in Russia, freedom of expression and assembly for the LGBTI community and its allies is now illegal. And even in countries that no longer subject gay people to state-sanctioned persecution, homophobic beatings and attacks remain all too common.

These are the real victims of persecution – not those who seek to disguise and dress up their anti-gay prejudices as religious conscience and expect the state to sanction such beliefs through the law of the land. Simply put, a selective interpretation of certain religious texts does not give anyone the right to seek to deny LGBTI people legal equality.

So as the LGBTI community and our allies continue to battle against outstanding inequalities, let us be confident and assured in our message. Our right to equal treatment is not a qualified one, nor is it subject to competing rights, as some so disingenuously seek to claim.  

This blog is part of New Internationalist’s series on human rights for Blog Action Day 2013

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  1. #1 Dr John Russell 16 Oct 13

    Thanks for this very interesting post. Not all religious people are homophobic of course! Ours is an inclusive Anglican church in Manchster that is proud to have a strong LGBT presence in our congregation, and we celebrate a LGBT Eucharist on the first Saturday of every month at 5pm.

    We've posted this piece about the death penalty and deaths in custody on our church blog.

    http://stchrysostoms.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/contentious-deaths/

  2. #2 PhilO 21 Oct 13

    OK, this is very poor journalism - using strongly emotive words such as 'battering ram' are making implications about motive that the journalist is not qualified to make.

    While I am undecided about gay-marriage, I do get annoyed by articles like this that completely miss the point about the same sex marriage debate. By and large, it is anything but homophobic and to suggest it is, ironically, is just adding fuel to the flames of the debate.

    It also has nothing to do with equal opportunities - they are covered comprehensively by the civil partnership law. It is more to do with whether two men or two women compliment each other in the same way. Marriage has been defined as a complimentary union and the suggestion is that a homo-sexual couple is not complimentary in the same way a hetero-sexual couple is - hence a difference (think drive to get male role models into primary schools, or women in board-rooms). A single person has equal rights, regardless of gender/orientation/etc. But two people together add a degree of complexity to a relationship that seems to be completely ignored by journalists like Mr Long.

    If you don't want to be tarred with the exact brush you're painting so many others with, I'd suggest taking a step back and listening to people who oppose your view before simply slamming it.

  3. #3 Leave each other alone 24 Oct 13

    What the LGBTI lobby is aiming to achieve is the suppression of the freedom of speech for individuals who choose, through their own perception of right and wrong, not to subscribe to a lifestyle choice of a minority.

    My perception is that the LGBTI lobby is one that suppresses freedom of speech and seeks to marginalise the majority element of the population that would, if left to their own devices, choose not to allow for LGBTI full integration into the fibre of society.

    Personally I believe in live and let live, however I am imposed to the imposition of a value system on supposedly free institutions that choose not to accept an alternative lifestyle.

    As much as the LGBTI community has the right to be LGBTI, communities that would otherwise not affiliate themselves with LGBTI have every right to do so.

    And in reality its simple, if your community rejects your choices, you have two choices, you can conform to the moral tenants of the community in question, or find a community that is accepting of your lifestyle. Why force each other to change? This provokes resentment and alienation on both sides of the spectrum.

    In short, why not leave each other alone?

  4. #4 Adam Long 29 Oct 13

    In response to the person commenting under 'Leave each other alone', he/she may find the following information helpful:

    1 - Debunking the myth that homosexuality is a ’lifestyle choice’ that can be changed or altered: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/sexual-orientation.aspx

    2 - Universal rights of LGBTI people not trumped by cultural and/or religious factors: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/story.asp?NewsID=44660&;Cr=discrimination&Cr1=

  5. #5 JamesInFtMyers 27 Jul 14

    It's OK to have your own religious beliefs and it's perfectly OK to express them, but Christians make hypocrites of themselves when they vehemently attack, pass judgement and ostracize entire groups of people (LGBT or otherwise) then hide behind the robes of Jesus and cry religious discrimination or free speech. Seriously, would Jesus do that?? What if the ’free speech’ and the religious beliefs I chose not keep to myself angered so many people that it incited a riot among otherwise law abiding citizens? Who's responsible? Can I get off the hook because of my beliefs? Christians would be a lot more tolerable if they would only act more like Christ. They have bastardized God to the point they've all been labeled intolerant bigots, hypocrites and simpletons. The first amendment protects freedom of speech and religion, but that just means you can't get arrested or be jailed for your beliefs.

    Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from consequence and there can be no freedom of religion until freedom FROM it is guaranteed.

  6. #6 JamesInFtMyers 27 Jul 14

    Oh yeah, and Adam Long:

    You're not the only one who can pull things off the internet. Here's a couple of links you might find interesting:

    http://www.otkenyer.hu/truluck/six_bible_passages.html

    http://www.otkenyer.hu/truluck/index.html

    The material was written by DR. REMBERT S. TRULUCK. One of the most respected theologians in his feild of work.

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