“Society moves on, and moral attitudes soften, blur, or change entirely…”

In the Newsletter today, Alex Kane takes Ian Paisley Junior to task for his remarks on homosexuality. Towards the end he notes that ‘repulsion’ works along several axes in Northern Ireland: “I couldn’t help thinking that many homosexuals in Northern Ireland – particularly those of a unionist outlook – probably regard it as both perverse and obnoxious that his “partner” in junior ministerial office is a convicted and unapologetic terrorist!” But, he argues, things change.By Alex Kane

Repulsed is not a halfway house word. It isn’t one of those slightly ambiguous soft-in-the-centre words that you use to express mere annoyance or minor disagreement. It is a hard edged word, which leaves no room for misinterpretation; and it is the word which Ian Paisley Jnr used to sum up his opinion of homosexuals and homosexuality.

In an interview with this newspaper on Friday, he tried to backtrack a little, saying that the Oxford English Dictionary defined repulsed as disgust; believing, I suspect, that disgust is somehow a more acceptable word to use. He is being utterly disingenuous, of course, particularly when you remember that he has previously used the words perverse, obnoxious, offensive and immoral to describe homosexuality. Like so many who choose to attack the beliefs and lifestyles of others, he does so under the banner of “freedom of speech.” In this particular instance, though, I think that Ian is fundamentally wrong and that he has abused the freedom afforded to him as a public representative.

When the legislation was introduced—-a very long time ago—-to provide for civil or Registry Office marriages in the United Kingdom, the churches and assorted Christian-based organisations lobbied very strongly against it, claiming that it would debase the institution of marriage. Many of the same arguments were trotted out again when changes were proposed to the law governing divorce, and again, when the Civil Partnership Bill (which put homosexual couples on the same legal footing as heterosexual couples) was introduced in 2005.

The reality is that society moves on and that moral attitudes soften, blur or change entirely. I think the main churches themselves have actually done more to damage and debase the institution of marriage by allowing couples, neither of whom believe in God, let alone attend church, to marry “in the sight of God” and in “the presence of a congregation” most of whom are probably atheists or agnostics. If a minister is willing to marry a heterosexual couple who don’t darken his door before or after the ceremony, then why complain about couples who choose another form of marriage which is, at least, based on a more honest approach?

As an atheist I respect the beliefs of those, of whatever faith, who regard homosexuality as a sin and an affront to everything they believe. But it needs to be remembered that the law in the United Kingdom is neither dependent upon, nor determined by, the contents of the Bible, the Koran or the Talmud. I say that, not to diminish the importance of those doctrines, nor to offend those who believe in them, but simply to point out a legal and political fact.

Homosexuality is a fact of life and a way of life for hundreds of thousands of people across the United Kingdom. It is a fact of life too, for their families and friends. Indeed, I suspect that many of you reading this will know at least one homosexual, or maybe even a homosexual couple. Bear in mind also that homosexuality is not a criminal offence in the United Kingdom and nor is it a criminal offence for homosexuals to live together as a couple.

I have no doubt, either, that the level of emotional intensity between homosexuals is just as powerful and exhilarating as it is for heterosexuals. If they then want to take the relationship a stage further and make a formal, legal and lifetime commitment to each other I don’t believe that the state should stand in their way. Rather, it should, as the Civil Partnership Act has done, acknowledge and recognise the relationship and afford it equal rights, status and dignity.

Love is not a human or even a legal right. But in a world which is often hard and appalling capricious we should cherish and champion love and ensure that as few barriers as possible are put in its way. I am lucky enough to be in a long term and blissfully happy heterosexual relationship. If we ever have children who were homosexual I would expect them to have no inhibitions about telling us. I would give them the same advice as the others, while hoping that they would find someone they love and with whom they could share their lives. I would much rather see my children happy and loved, than see them inhibited, isolated and emotionally unfulfilled.

In an era when more than half of all church and civil marriages end in divorce (is Ian repulsed by those who turn their back on a promise they made to God in a church wedding?) and separation, leading to increasing numbers of lonely single people, should we really be standing in the way of, or condemning those, who have found the happiness that suits them? Homosexuals are not freaks of nature. They are mostly decent, ordinary, normal men and women who respond physically and emotionally to people of their own sex.

Ian is entitled to his view; although, as an MLA and now a Junior Minister, he must exercise caution when expressing it. While leafing through a pile of cuttings of his descriptions about Sinn Fein and the IRA (including comments about Gerry Kelly and Martin McGuinness) I couldn’t help thinking that many homosexuals in Northern Ireland—particularly those of a unionist outlook— probably regard it as both perverse and obnoxious that his “partner” in junior ministerial office is a convicted and unapologetic terrorist!

If Ian Paisley Jnr really does believe that homosexuals harm themselves and society, then perhaps he should reconsider his position in the department which allocates funding to gay and lesbian organisations. When your public duty conflicts with your private conscience, there is only one honourable course of action. I suspect, however, that he will simply demonstrate the sort of flexibility at which the DUP has become so adept since last October.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty