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Strangely Enough, Equal Rights Have to Be Equal

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The Church of England is in increasingly grave danger of embodying not just the drunk and homophobic uncle at the birthday party but, further, the uncle who is sick all over himself and needs to be ordered a taxi home.

Not one to say the following without a little discomfort, I applaud David Cameron and his publicly declared support for the legalisation of gay marriage. I have watched with disappointment the criticism to which he has been subjected over the last few days. We are, due to the campaigning and persistence of a small group of people, experiencing an exciting and significant period of change in this country; we are being provided a glimpse of the equal rights that will doubtless be afforded to gay people in years to come.

In exchange for this optimism we are witnessing extraordinary levels of childish disgust and reactionary bigotry. For the most part this unpleasantness masquerades as 'religious freedom'. Why are we allowing homophobia to adopt such a hideous disguise, and letting members of the Church of England (and, unsurprisingly, countless Tory MPs) preach revoltingly homophobic sentiments while claiming themselves to be paragons of virtue?

I am, to put it mildly, not a Christian, but this does not for a second affect my belief that every Christian is an equal citizen deserving of equal rights to those of any other person irrespective of gender, race, sexuality, or religion. There is by implication absolutely no right to which I would deny a Christian. This type of thinking comes easily to me and to many others, but it comes neither easily nor naturally to the religious, who are capable of believing things absurd enough to make your hair curl. The happiness of others is assumed to have a direct and damaging effect on theirs; in some strange way the inclusion of homosexuals in the (forever evolving) institution of marriage invalidates their own marital status or bond. This is, and we ought not to be afraid of saying so, a sinister position to adopt: either we are all entitled to equal rights, or we are not. Imagine for a moment, as I find myself doing, the situation transposed so that the issue being discussed, rather than what one did with one's genitals, was the colour of one's skin. (This is not a purely hypothetical experiment; the types of discussion in which we are currently engaged have always been conducted about members of different races.) We have advanced to the stage at which we are able to label such pitiful whining: it's called racism. We ought therefore to be confident enough to condemn it as homophobia even if it is wearing a crucifix and a stupid hat.

The issue is after all not a party-political one, nor one of popularity, but of fundamental human rights, and it is astonishing that people like Jake Wallis Simons (writing for The Telegraph) can be employed to say of David Cameron that it "serves him right" if his "crusade" in favour of gay marriage finds no support. Jake is in favour of gay marriage, of course, but he does wish people would stop banging on about it. Of course, he goes on to say, he is neither a Christian nor a gay man, so his opinion needn't count for anything. Just imagine anything this patronising being said in relation to equal treatment of black people in organised religion. "Yes, I think the Church ought to let two black people marry, but a) if they could keep their voices down that would be appreciated, and b) at the end of the day it doesn't affect me because I ain't black and I ain't a Christian". It is an embarrassment that articles like Simons' find any platform at all, because their contempt for gay rights is so palpable.

As things stand, all that is required of the Church of England is that it say the following: that homosexuals are equal citizens (can you believe that, in 2012, this sentence even needs to be written?); that it rejects the 'quadruple lock' that would make it impossible for it to conduct same-sex marriages; and that it will begin to allow willing clergymen - of whom there are many - to conduct the ceremonies. Given that there are thousands of homosexual Christians, many of whom would like the opportunity to be married in the eyes of God, this seems an extraordinarily easy concession to make. In failing to do so, the Church of England serves only to reinforce the notion that it is institutionally homophobic.

It is often rather tiring to criticise organised religion, and note at every turn its absurdities, contradictions and irrelevances, but it is at times like this, when issues of such fundamental significance are at stake, that it is so very rewarding. It may be tempting to believe that the fight has been fought, the battle won, the concession having been made that the Church of England won't 'be forced' to perform same-sex marriages if it doesn't want to. This, I contend, is both surrendering to a lazy way of thinking and delaying the inevitable: we are all very aware that it won't be long before gay marriages are able to be conducted in every religious building. The sooner this moment arrives, the better.

My proposition is a simple one, if the Church is unable to make the three statements listed above: churches that do not allow same-sex marriages should no longer be given tax breaks. If punitive measures like these are not taken, churches are not only avoiding reprehension for blatant discrimination but are actually continuing to be rewarded for it. Imagine the same being true of any other publicly subsidised organisation and I hope you will see the transparency of my argument.

In 250 years, when this country will have either loosened or entirely relinquished the moronic grasp of organised religion, how do you think this issue will be chronicled in the history books: as a crucial battle for the inalienable rights of homosexuals, or as the period in which the Church bravely stood up tall against the immorality of a sinful nation? If you are able in any way to express your opposition to those who state, in whichever slippery method they choose, that homosexual couples ought to be treated differently to heterosexual couples, please do so. Do not for one second accept that discrimination may be practised in the name of 'religious freedom'.