20/05/2012 18:22 BST | Updated 20/07/2012 06:12 BST

Hetero-phobia? Get Real - It's More Like Religio-phobia

A recent article described an intolerant "brigade" of hell-bent individuals that were leading a campaign of hatred and encouraging "phobia" and media censorship against anyone who opposed them. It sounded terribly familiar.

This piece was, however, referring to the "gay-rights brigade" leading a supposedly hostile assault against the gay marriage opposition through the encouragement of "hetero-phobia". Their pitchforks are their words and they hurl insults at unsuspecting religious leaders. There might be a form of phobia in the gay community - and more widely - but the author has it wrong. It has nothing to do with heterosexuality, it's a visible bias against religious association, which is just as prejudicial but becoming much more commonplace right across political lines.

The logic of the article seems to have missed a step from the start: if it had to do with 'hetero-phobia', surely gays would be thrilled to already have separate legal partnership rights. Why would they want their precious civil partnerships to be devalued by those pesky heteros? More fundamentally than this though, I take real offence when it comes to using the term 'hetero-phobia' to describe refutations to the anti-gay marriage movement. Real or perceived homophobia - from gay bashing and hate crimes to being uncomfortable holding your partner's hand for fear of judgment or reproach - is altogether different than this imagined hetero equivalent.

Like the author of the piece, I too am a gay man. I am also a Christian. I've come to be more closeted about the latter than the former. I'm not evangelical by any means but I am a regular church-goer. When I occasionally mention this to people, I am usually met with a mixture of surprise and fear ("but you're so young...and gay!"). It's as if I'm going to try to recruit them or immediately begin proselytizing at the lunch table. Many are shocked to learn that I do not carry around holy water to spray on the unsuspecting populace. When I recently showed support for an article about how the Church of England is a social good, I was met with an angry online backlash from people I was not even connected to. One has seen similar reactions in the debates on gay marriage.

It's fairly clear why there has been a backlash to religious-based arguments against gay marriage though. The equal marriage consultation is for civil ceremonies. Religious institutions would still not be permitted to perform them. It's therefore simply not a religious issue and yet it is being treated as such, particularly by leaders fearful of a slippery slope. Secondly, using "[my] Bible says so" as justification is not a particularly persuasive argument for much of the population and it also leaves little room for healthy debate. Thirdly, there is no doubt that religion has been (mis)used as a tool to fuel homophobia in the past, so it's no surprise that one might think the same was happening in this particular debate.

That said, there are many individuals and clergy within the Church of England reeling against prejudice and making strong progressive strides, including on this very issue. I have never been met with anything but support and communality in the churches I have attended, many of which focus on important social justice causes. For the entire and wide-ranging institution and belief structure to be tarred by the same brush is not only a shame but a disservice to, for example, the good work it does in local communities. Despite this, one hears much more from the radical right of the Church in public debates and in the media than the center or left. So the phobia is entrenched.

The author of the piece and I do agree on one thing though: we must encourage active and productive debate and appreciate differing views. Too often you see lectures or debates geared only at one of the parties, rather than having the two together to promote greater understanding. This is a rally, not a debate (one might say that was true about the Coalition for Marriage event that was cancelled by its venue, in fact).

So, a call against arms: let's do away with religio-phobia. It makes the community look hypocritical and equally as prejudicial. Likewise, let's stop using hideous terms like 'hetero-phobia' to describe something that is very far from it.