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Personal Beliefs On 'Sin' Do Matter, Especially When You Lead A Political Party

24/04/2017 10:31 BST | Updated 24/04/2017 10:31 BST
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

"When I look back upon my life, it's always with a sense of shame, I've always been the one to blame". When the Pet Shop Boys' infamous hit was released in 1987, a musical description of Neil Tennant's upbringing in a Catholic school, I was three years old. I'd yet to experience the joys of a Roman Catholic education and, in hindsight, I probably should have paid more attention to that song as a child. Had my grip on artistic analysis been slightly more advanced, I might have realised what a ridiculous system sin is - a contrived set of religious diktats largely designed to intrude and impose on sexual proclivities. Sadly I didn't and, like Mr Tennant, my education and upbringing in the Catholic faith was a painful whirlwind of sexual repression that, at one point, nearly finished me off.

Don't get me wrong, I'm fully aware that when it comes to victims of the Catholic Church, I really did get off lightly. It is pretty psychologically damaging to hear adults at school, the ones who are supposed to make you feel safe, say that what you are is wrong, dirty and bound for Hell. But I did have a loving family who, when I eventually came out, embraced and supported me. My grandad, who originally trained to be a priest, couldn't give a damn. His God would not hate one of His creations for what he was so as far as he was concerned, why would it be a sin? He loved me for who I was. Oh how I wished I knew he would say that through all the nights I cried myself to sleep, all the times I desperately tried to make myself attracted to girls. But I couldn't have known - the Church was unequivocal. Gay means Hell.

I'm happily an atheist now, and an angry one. It's funny how Catholic schools produce so many of those. I can understand why anybody who didn't have an experience like mine might think that Tim Farron's equivocations don't matter. After all, if you don't believe in God, why care about what this man thinks? It's just his belief, right?

Well, if it was just the belief of the odd backbencher, I'd happily deal with that. As it happens, it's the belief of somebody who, however electorally unlikely, seeks to be Prime Minister. It's also the belief of the leader of my party - a party famous for its secularism and its enthusiastic support for LGBT+ rights, even when it wasn't popular. Some Lib Dems have attempted to divide personal belief from political record. This ignores that Farron's voting record isn't entirely unblemished (although, to his credit, it has been since he became leader) and, more importantly, forgets that personal belief is the very core of what brings us into politics. All of Farron's political beliefs are personal. It's just the religious ones that apparently deserve an exemption from scrutiny.

Another defence is that Farron's right to a religion is under attack. The last time I checked, he had not been arrested, imprisoned, tortured or murdered for his views, so I suspect this is either hyperbole or a fundamental misunderstanding of what rights are. Farron absolutely has a right to think that gay sex is a sin, just as party members have a right to think such a view is despicable and voters have a right to not vote for him because of that view. No rights have been violated.

Farron also attempted to dismiss Robert Peston's questioning as a suggestion that the UK political system is hostile to people of faith. I suppose this is true. If you ignore the fact that every Prime Minister in modern history has been Christian, that a denomination of Christianity is literally the established Church of the state, and that the UK is one of only two countries (the other being Iran) to reserve seats for that denomination in its legislative House; getting a few awkward questions about gay sex probably is an indication of religious persecution.

Sin is not just a mere element of cuddly religious belief. It is invidious, it is harmful and it has a death count. It is the reason "fallen women" were sent to the Magdalene Laundries. It causes so many gay children to contemplate and commit suicide. It causes people to hate, to harm and to kill. If sin was not a religious belief, various Lib Dems who have defended Farron since his Peston interview would be outraged by it. Imagine a secular system of sexual regulations penned by a monolithic organisation that causes the same amount of harm? You would hear the screams of "Conference, I am appalled...!" from a hundred miles away.

I do not for one second believe Farron is homophobic. I think he suffers from the typical religious cognitive dissonance that so plagues many Liberal Democrats, whereby one can be opposed to the state hurting gay people but don't seem to mind when God does it. This general election should be about Brexit, yet Farron's refusal to answer this question will continue to plague it until he does. For those of us LGBT+ activists who bear the scars of religious homophobia, Farron has a duty to do just that.