At the recent Conservative Party Conference, Anglican Mainstream, which describes itself as an information resource for orthodox Anglicans, distributed leaflets attacking the Prime Minister's stand on gay marriage. This dishonest piece of graffiti, part of their campaign to promote what they call 'real marriage' by claiming to highlight certain 'gay myths', is now available as a PowerPoint on their website. But Anglican Mainstream is indulging in its own cynical mythmaking, myths about gay myths, so to speak.
First up is the much-debated gay gene, or rather the absence of one: if homosexuality is not a genetic predisposition, so the argument goes, then it is not natural but merely sinful behaviour. They quote various references to support this contention. And where does this apparently scientific information come from? Well, in several instances the Core-Issues website, a group censured earlier this year by Mayor Boris Johnson for its rabidly anti-gay London bus campaign extolling the virtues of homosexual 'cures'. Material has simply been quoted wholesale from here without editing, or, I assume, checking the original citations.
To take one example, Chicago academic E. O. Laumann is quoted as saying that 'the notion that homosexuality is analogous to certain "genetically or biologically based traits such as left-handedness" is "exactly what we do not find"', which, due to the pruning of his text is exactly what he doesn't state. Laumann is at pains to emphasise that he is not suggesting 'homosexuality is a personal, deliberate or conscious choice', only that there are many factors involved in the development of human identity.
It's true that no gay gene has been found, but then neither has a heterosexual one, and virtually all geneticists agree that sexual orientation is more complex than that simple, if not simplistic solution; recent research conducted with identical twins, for example, has shown that shared genetic material can, in any case, produce markedly different results. Genes indicate a propensity, certainly, but aren't a blueprint of predestination.
Next up is the fact that some gay men and lesbians find themselves in straight relationships, so homosexuality is 'curable'. Again, the apparent scientific basis for this is a selective filleting of an article by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse charting the instances of 'change of orientation' among a sample of women. Jones and Yarhouse may have an evangelical agenda, but even they have the intelligence to acknowledge that their research shows profound changes of orientation occur infrequently, a fact ignored by Anglican Mainstream.
Perhaps the most dishonest and hurtful claim of all is the denial of the existence of 'gay love' based on the notion that gay men are notoriously promiscuous. Should we then conclude that, on the strength of the antics of a few, all heterosexual men are gang-bang lotharios looking for the next dogging night swing? Once again the agency behind the claim is Core-Issues, who use a 27-year-old US study of male couples to indicate that gay men, they say nothing of women, are incapable of monogamy.
When this study was compiled, relationships between people of the same sex were illegal in many states and virtually impossible to maintain, certainly publicly. Gay men's sexual encounters were, of necessity, random and brief, some made a virtue of this. It's impossible to underestimate what the absence of constitutional protection of your identity does to your ability to form relationships of any kind. But at the risk of bandying statistics, more recent research in the US indicates that monogamy is far more prevalent among gay couples than was the case in the past, particularly among those who have undergone some form of official union.
In addition, the Norwegian study quoted by Anglican Mainstream showing higher divorce rates among same-sex partnerships than among straight marriages is in inverse proportion to the figures available in the UK and Denmark, where same-sex divorce rates appear to be very low.
Some have even suggested that open marriages and sexual inventiveness can actually cement relationships, the green-eyed monster notwithstanding. Sexual openness may not be my cup of tea, but it's a perfectly acceptable ingredient for someone else's. Nevertheless it's quoted as proof homosexual love is not real love, and churchmen have already coolly downgraded it to 'friendship' in recent statements, an argument aimed at dehumanising LGBT people by denying them significant experiences and stripping them of their dignity as humans.
The promiscuity 'myth' continues with an all-too-familiar assault on people living with HIV/AIDS, a bunch of statistics thrown in the air for good measure charting the prevalence of certain STIs among gay men, disregarding issues such as how the data was collected and the far greater proportion of infections overall being found among straight men (86%). The gentle and eminently sensible advice offered to young people on sexual matters by Canadian and British sexual health resources is pilloried as 'lethal' and 'madness', when to leave teenagers in a state of ignorance about sex would surely be both.
But the real meat of this otherwise gristly fare is, of course, gay marriage itself, or more specifically, how much it is likely to damage our children. Research in this area is a warzone of opposing factions, pro or anti-gay parenting. There is very little reliable data on the impact of same sex parents on children, which, after all, has only recently been studied. Anglican Mainstream, not surprisingly, quotes researchers in the anti camp, such as the Canadian economist Douglas Allen, closely associated with the anti-gay Ruth Institute. Surely the only reason why children might suffer damage by being brought up in a same-sex family environment is as a result of the irrational and prejudicial scaremongering they're likely to encounter from the likes of Anglican Mainstream, who, if they were who they say they were, that is the mainstream of the Anglican Church, ought to be leading the way towards inclusiveness rather than joining the ranks of the more outré Christian communion.
Finally this hotchpotch of half truths, down-right lies and statistics introduces us to the real victims of society's recognition of LGBT rights: the tiny number of registrars and B&B owners who's religious beliefs and thoughtless actions have led them to court sanctions or employment disciplinary tribunals, a mere drop in the ocean of brutality meted out to gay men and women in so many countries around the world by so many so-called people of faith. There is nothing to stop a Christian couple from setting up their B&B as a private club, from which they can quite legally exclude certain people - ironically, gay only hotels work on this premise - and if you disagree fundamentally with an organisation's established and legal policy, find another job.
Anglican Mainstream's attack on the LGBT community should be consigned to obscurity, but it hasn't been. As Parliaments in Westminster and Edinburgh debate gay marriage, we can expect some religious groups to become increasingly shrill and increasingly dishonest. It's a shame too that this particular piece of vitriol is associated with the Conservative Party, albeit by default, when many Conservatives are working so hard to erase their image as the 'Nasty Party'. Ultimately, this sort of meaningless exercise trivialises the debate and it's puzzling that they have chosen to engage in this way. They could have raised the possibility of separate but equal institutions, for example, although as Rosa Parks showed through her protest on an Alabama bus, we're all going in the same direction.
There are many Anglicans and people of other faiths who happen to be LGBT, and many more who are supportive of them. Through its actions Anglican Mainstream has excluded these and will have alienated others from the very idea of the Anglican Church. Religions come and go, as do definitions of marriage, a point worth remembering, but, whatever the 'causes' of it, homosexuality doesn't; no doubt it's been with us since humans first emerged from the forest, it's certainly far older than any current faith system. And perhaps the most salient proof of a homosexual identity is that, no matter how many times we are marginalised, beaten, imprisoned, killed, we just don't go away. No belief, however cherished, can or should trump the human rights of others to live free from fear and discrimination, which is what is truly at issue here, and what will continue to haunt the marriage debate.
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