Holy Joe

The word according to Holy Joe, the former Pope Benedict XVI, is that social change in the sixties created the cancer of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. The ex-Vicar of Christ cites, among other things, “the clothing of that time” leading to “mental collapse” and “violence”. So there it is. The Church’s undoing is all down to miniskirts and loon pants – not the secrecy, the silence, the denials, the collusion or the arrogant belief that the Holy See is above the law. No, Joe, priestly kiddie fiddling and other clerical abuses were rife long before the sixties. It’s just that in a more enlightened, less deferential age, people aren’t willing to put up with it. The Catholic Church is not uniquely guilty of these sins, but it is guilty nonetheless. And that’s why the pews are empty come Sunday.

Image courtesy of Morten Ingemann

Holy Joe went on to preach that “the death of God in a society” means “the end of freedom”. The end of whose freedom, I wonder? Certainly not mine. It’s not religion per se that bothers me. I’ve no beef with faith as long as it’s not used to demonise others. No, it’s the corrosive stench of hypocrisy that hangs over it that I find offensive. God save us all from the bigots in the pulpit. And don’t get me started on the hangers, floggers and stoners out there.

The Day the Rot Set In

The Day the Rot Set In

On this day fifty years ago, the Sexual Offences Act received Royal Assent. The act partially decriminalised male homosexual acts. I say partially because the repeal only applied to rumpy bumpy between men 21 and over in England and Wales. It excluded the rest of the UK and those bastions of red-blooded machismo, the Merchant Navy and the Armed Forces. The ripe phrase ‘rum, bum and the Navy’ must have seemed even more ironic to randy sailors on a long and lonely tour of duty. By contrast, girl on girl action has never been illegal, perhaps because the (almost exclusively male) elite were rather titillated by the thought of it (well, those who weren’t fiddling with the altar boys or servicing the groom, that is). Reform-wise, the Scots didn’t join the party until 1980 and the Northern Irish brought up the rear in 1982. This may explain the over-representation of ginger queens on the pink streets of London during the seventies and eighties.

If the holier-than-thou pulpiteers, tight-arsed little Englanders, mighty-mouths down the pub or queer bashers on the streets thought the 1967 act was the one and only concession to be made, they were in a for a nasty surprise. It was a call to arms. The eighties and nineties brought the darkest days of AIDS and many hoped we’d all sashay back into our closets and die. No such luck. Despite the violence, the ridicule, the outraged press and pushy coppers in rubber gloves, a growing band of brave souls kept the rainbow flag flying higher than ever. Direct action and the outing of mitred hypocrites became rather fashionable. And it worked. One day, the walls came tumbling down and what followed was a bonfire of the prejudices.

The age of consent was reduced (first to 18 then to 16), the armed forces ban was lifted, the offence of gross indecency was repealed, Section 28* was abolished, gender re-assignment was recognised, fostering and adoption laws were liberalised, employment protection secured, civil partnerships were introduced and, by 2014, full marriage equality was realised across Britain. Then came the royal pardon for past deeds no longer illegal and, in time, so too will come the official apology.

On equal marriage, only Northern Ireland is still holding out, with some dour old dinosaurs desperately trying to hold back the tide, Canute-like. Their days in the sun are numbered, despite their last hurrah propping up Chairman May.

Rainbow Copper

The gestation of the 1967 Act was a long one. It was the Wolfenden Report of 1957 that recommended the decriminalisation of certain homosexual offences and concluded:

“…unless a deliberate attempt be made by society through the agency of the law to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private that is in brief, not the law’s business.”

Some still get hot under the collar in matters sex and sin, stoked up by bigots from across the religious divide. The issue even hit the headlines during the recent general election. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats and a devout Christian, was repeatedly harangued about whether he thinks gay sex is sinful. The poor man squirmed and wriggled presumably because in his heart of hearts, he probably does. After the election, he resigned because of it. I don’t normally feel sorry for politicians but even I thought it was all too much. I’m well-acquainted with oppression by the majority and it smacked of bullying. And I don’t like bullies whatever their persuasion – left, right or centre. Mr Farron’s personal religious beliefs are his own business and, to paraphrase the Virgin Queen, I have no desire to make a window into anyone’s soul. Mr Farron can think whatever he likes as long as he doesn’t move to impose those beliefs on others. And as far as I know, unlike the orange relics and meddlesome priests of the Emerald Isle, he never has.

So I celebrate the day the rot started to set in. It eventually brought the whole edifice of hypocrisy crashing down. Now we can live happily ever after. Or can we? For some in our sceptre’d isle, life is still a little bit shit – bigotry can lurk just beneath the surface and the pendulum never stops swinging. And what of rainbow life beyond our shores? You only have to look around to see how really grim things are for many – the recent roundup and torture of young men in Chechnya is a case in point. And Allah only knows which way the wind will blow now Turks have foolishly voted sweeping presidential powers to an autocrat with a messianic streak. As for Saudi Arabia and Iran, the sword and the noose are kept on standby just case anyone dares poke a toe out of the closet.

*A shameful and largely symbolic law banning the alleged ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, as if sexuality were a choice.

The Norwich Book of Records

The Norwich Book of Records

Norwich is stuffed with the biggest, finest, oldest and firsts in all the realm. There’s a gem on virtually every corner. These are a few of my favourites. Hover over the image for a brief hint and click for more scintillating facts that you never knew you wanted to know.

With thanks to Visit Norwich for much of this treasure trove.

Stonewall’s Bigot of the Year 2012

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has been named as Stonewall’s Bigot of the Year 2012. He gets my vote.  His ‘Eminence’ (these people do so love their titles and do so hate to be questioned) has declared ‘war’ on the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce marriage equality and likens gay marriage to slavery and child abuse. He should know. The Catholic Church is well-acquainted with war, slavery and child abuse.

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Marriage Equality – Much I Do About Nothing

Stonewall’s Bigot of the Year (2011)

Marriage Equality – Much I Do About Nothing

Marriage equality for same sex couples is a hot topic in the States and many other parts of Christendom right now. As the pendulum of liberal public opinion swings towards reform, the religious reactionaries advance ever more bizarre notions for opposing the right of consenting adults to choose whom they wish to marry. It’s in the Land of the Free where the debate (if debate is the word) is at its most venal. An unholy axis is scaring the horses and the old folk with talk of a disintegrating society and the fall of America. The do as I say and not as I do Catholic Church is wielding its considerable power and marshalling its congregation; right-wing American politicians seeking the highest office in the land talk of paganism and a vomiting God; and crazy pastors across the Bible belt warn of Old Testament fire and brimstone and the End of Days. These strange bedfellows all agree that it’s the thin end of the satanic wedge. What next? Pet-wedding perverts? Marriage is between one man and one woman, they say, sanctified by God for the purposes of procreation. How do they know? Because it says so in the Bible, stupid. Actually, the Bible says a lot about marriage – about forced wedlock, polygamy and concubines. It supports all of them. Bible-bashers have selective memories.

Rather than take a trip on the merry-go-round of fables and myths, it might be more illuminating to take a look at history and absorb some hard facts. Until relatively recently, marriage was primarily a property contract. In most societies, girls were the chattels of their fathers; wedlock simply transferred ownership from father to husband. There’s a clue in the word ‘lock’. Often, the contract was transacted within the extended family in order to consolidate assets or preserve clan cohesion. It was generally best to keep it within the family. At the top of the social heap, marriage was a political device to forge alliances, strengthen authority and maintain dynastic power. The rich would oil the marital wheels with generous dowries and the poor might secure a slave bride through war. Women were booty. Like goats. The consent of the unfortunate (and often underage) girl was not required. The wife could get a raw deal; the goats might be treated better. If a woman failed in her primary role to provide male progeny, she could be replaced, supplemented or worse. None of this sounds particularly honourable or pious to me. Nor has this depressing state of marital affairs been consigned to the history books. It’s alive and thriving in many primitive corners of the modern world.

The spawning argument hardly holds water either. It’s an obvious biological fact that marriage is not required to have children. People don’t suddenly become fertile because they’ve been blessed by the shaman. Breeding is like falling off a log and we’ve been at it like proverbial rabbits since our distant ancestors crawled out of the primordial soup at the dawn of time. When Fred Flintstone first clubbed Wilma over the head and dragged her by the hair into his cave to make Pebbles, he didn’t need a holier-than-thou clergyman to stick his oar in.

Just recently, on my side of the pond, a top dog collar in the Church of England jumped on the wedding bandwagon. The Archbishop of York claims that the democratically elected Parliament of Britain has no right to change the definition of marriage. I think His Grace will find that the British Parliament has the right to do as it pleases. England got rid of meddling priests when they pissed off Henry the Eighth. Hell hath no fury like a tyrant scorned. Despite what the Archbishop may think, the meaning and interpretation of abstract concepts often evolve over time through intellectual inquisition and discourse. There was a time when the Church taught us with absolute God-given certainty that the Earth was flat and sat at the centre of the Universe. Woe betide anyone who disagreed. Stoke the bonfire and burn the heretics, they used to say. Fortunately, we now know differently. We discover and we evolve. Our religious establishments would do better to concentrate their energies on addressing the problem of empty pews and unheard sermons. Ironically, the Church of England would find it far more difficult to operate without the growing number of gay vicars in its ranks.

For an unreconstructed liberal and an unabashed secularist like me, this is a fundamental equalities issue. It’s also a love thing; and love, above all other things, is at the core of the Christian message, is it not? As far as I’m aware, no religious organisation will be forced to conduct religious ceremonies for same sex couples if they object. So, let’s just calm down and grow up.

Read all about Jack and Liam‘s life in a Muslim country