Interfaith Week: Epilogue
Publish Date: 25/11/2011
With all the current updates in legislation to support equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, it is fair to say that some people of faith believe that they are being unfairly treated for expressing their beliefs, while others believe that gay people are being unfairly treated for expressing their individuality and sexuality…so who is right?
The law says that both groups are protected under the list of ‘protected characteristics’ as outlined in the Equality Act 2010, which includes: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex as well as religion or belief and sexual orientation.
But what happens when your faith or belief stops you accepting same sex couples formalising their relationship in law through a legally recognised civil partnership, adopting or fostering children and keeping them safe from harm or simply staying in the same bed in a hotel?
These issues (and many more) have recently been addressed by equalities legislation, and the law has decided that denying services to people based on their sexual orientation is simply not acceptable, in the same way that denying services based on a person's religion or belief (or none belief) is also unacceptable.
But what if you still aren’t happy about this as you feel that no-one is respecting your views or listening to your deeply held personal beliefs; what happens if you feel that you are the one who is being ignored and persecuted?
Born This Way
The fact is that many people of faith will never accept that people who are lesbian or gay or bisexual really are just born that way. If you accept that we are all made in the image of our creator, and that all men and women (and all of the other protected characteristics) are equal before God, then that surely is a very bitter pill to swallow if you cannot accept homosexuals, or you love them as human beings but you just don’t love their ‘sin’ (please let’s not go there).
You are perhaps going to find it easier to try and change them rather than adapt your point of view, which after all is based on the bible and historic teachings which have been translated over many hundreds of years and often doesn’t mirror many of the human prejudices that we may have today.
Some individuals may even attempt to find examples of people who have chosen to be gay or who have changed their homosexual orientation to prove the point that indeed sexual orientation is not God given but learned behaviour; nurture…not nature!
Of course most people who have lived their life growing up in a heterosexual world as a gay person would be able to accept that they were made to be gay. Whether this is by an overbearing female influence or that being gay is the work of Satan himself. As a left hander, as someone who was born on the 29th February or has someone whose eyebrows join in the middle…does that make someone satanic too?
However many people continue to believe that this must be the explanation for not following the path that millions of heterosexual people must follow their whole life.
The problem is that holding up or aspiring to heterosexuality as a model to follow is flawed too. You only need to look at teenage pregnancies, divorce rates, male violence against women to name just a few of the issues that prove relationships of all persuasions are flawed and there is simply no individual model for successful human relationships and personal well-being, obviously, many of these issues also affect gay relationships as well as heterosexual ones.
The only way any individual can hope to live any kind of fulfilling life is to be true to themselves and strive not to hurt another human being in any way, shape or form.
What we need to understand as lesbian, gay and bisexual people is that we have a lot of work to do to try and help some people overcome their fears. These fears may lead them into not supporting full equality for others and to question the accusation that perhaps they could simply be suffering from a certain phobia that can lead to prejudice. A long hard look is needed at the effect that certain beliefs have on other human beings.
Similarly we have to respect that we are never going to win everyone around to our way of thinking; and that’s not the purpose anyway! We are all human, we can make our own choices, our own mistakes and live our own lives.
The Christian way is surely to support each other when people need help, not to dictate the way that people should live their lives. Some people would have to walk a lifetime in the shoes of a gay person to understand the harm that intolerance and inequality creates.
If some religious organisations, who spend an inordinate amount of time trying to change other peoples sexual orientation, is any indication of where they are at, it really is just too much effort for them to try and imagine what life might be like for a person who is constantly being told that they are wrong for being who they naturally are.
The fear factor against all things ‘gay’ appears to have increased in some religious quarters over the last decade.
This is rather a coincidence when you remember that it is only in recent years that those of us who are victims of discrimination based on our sexual orientation, are now among the very last to have our rights brought into line with other ‘protected’ groups in society and it’s no surprise that some people do not like that.
Some people will fight tooth and nail to prevent lesbian, gay and bisexual people getting and keeping the rights that they themselves enjoy. They will often also try and turn the tables as soon as they believe their own rights are infringed upon.
This may be because they cannot any longer exclude these people from playing an equal part in a society that seeks to recognise all people, wherever they come from, whoever and whatever they are and whatever their beliefs may be.
The real confrontation between a person of faith and a person who is lesbian, gay or bisexual is that you don‘t just believe you are gay; YOU ARE GAY! You were created gay and all the disbelief, challenge and opposition in the world will not change who you really are.
We put pressure on ourselves to define as straight, gay, bisexual or however we choose to define ourselves and sometimes we are all, and sometimes we are none of these things. After all, we are just human beings who may fall in love and who are attracted to other human beings, for a variety of different reasons at different times in our lives.
We should never be punished, nor punish one another for that.
Every single person on this planet has a role to play in achieving equality and the trick is to find out what your role is today.
One thing we cannot do is rest and believe that our battles have been won because now, according to legislation, we have equal rights. Those rights can be just as easily removed if we do not fight to keep them and help others understand how important it is to protect those rights.
It is also important that we do not trick ourselves into a false sense of security and label people with views that are different to our own as being homophobic. Just because someone has a different faith or belief doesn’t make them different.
We are all human beings, all with different life experiences and a different understanding of what it means to be gay. We also cannot afford to ignore any calls to overturn legislation that gives us the protection in law that generations of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and their supporters have fought long and hard for.
It is our job to help them understand that the only way to protect their beliefs is to realise that other people have beliefs too. We must all be equally protected. The most important being the belief in yourself; to exist as the person you were meant to be by whoever or whatever created you.
Our beliefs can be challenged on a daily basis; whatever our backgrounds are! Everyone can see things from a different point of view, especially when we realise that certain beliefs are causing great harm to others if they pursue a strategy of intolerance.
Your phobias will not only stop you from seeing clearly, they will also cause many other people to suffer whether you know it, acknowledge it, or choose not to.
The purpose of this is not to be offended, but to pose the question; how would you feel if your sexual orientation was under the microscope and you were being told you were wrong to feel the way you do, wrong for loving the person that you do?
Fortunately more and more people are able to live their lives with a strong spiritual belief and a secure sense of justice that allows acceptance of diverse sexual orientation and live their lives being the person that they are, loving the person they love.
Human beings are complicated creatures, and often we make life complicated for ourselves and each other. It is often difficult to understand the simplicities in life that can help us to accept when a person is living their life in the right way for them, as an individual without imposing our own values.
Of course, from time to time we may not agree with other peoples choices and we may be able to give them advice and support them in the best way we know how…but we must never seek to change them, just because they are not like us, or like we want them to be!
We really have to live our own lives the best way we know how to…and let other people live theirs, free from hostility, prejudice, fear, discrimination and intolerance.
Now that’s not too much to ask is it?