Temperatures in the netherworld dipped below zero yesterday, and the outlook is forecast to remain glacial for the indefinite future. It’s official – hell has frozen over. And you don’t need a thermometer to bear witness to this fact – simply head over to Cristina Odone’s blog at The Telegraph and see for yourself.
Odone has publicly re-examined and changed her stance on gay marriage. Throwing her hands in the air in apparent acknowledgement of the inevitable, Odone – somewhat resentfully – now supports extending the institution of marriage to homosexual couples.
If, like me, you held the chances of such a thing ever happening to be so vanishingly small that its occurrence would represent a bellwether event in the movement for equality and civil rights, then this is more than just cause for celebration. We should celebrate. There must always be pause for reflection and thanksgiving when someone who once sat on the other side of the fence comes out in support of equal marriage, and bringing a hitherto-excluded group of people into the fold of marriage.
But after the celebration, it is also right to wonder what makes someone who is seemingly implacably opposed to an idea suddenly change their mind. Proponents of gay marriage will want to know this so that they can focus their arguments and target their resources where they will do the most good. And it is here, unfortunately, that one of the most high-profile recent converts to the cause of marriage equality will do them absolutely no good at all.
Because Cristina Odone was convinced not by rational argument or through personal experience, but by the President of Russia.
Vladimir Putin made Cristina Odone support gay marriage.
And this dramatic volte-face was carried out by a woman whose own vast persecution complex over gay marriage only recently led her to this spectacular “feed me to the lions” meltdown:
[David Cameron] may get away with bullying a great many – perhaps the majority – into accepting his proposals. But in doing so Cameron will create a less liberal and tolerant society. Those who have held fast to their principles, will have to accept what the majority wants. But will the majority respect what the minority believes in? Not in Cameron’s Britain, they won’t. The moment the vicar or priest refuses to celebrate a gay marriage in their church, the aggrieved couple will see them in court — in Strasbourg. Here, at the European Court of Human Rights, Christians will once again be thrown to the lions as their opponents will strive to set a precedent: equal rights means equal access to religious marriage ceremony. Anyone who stands in a gay couple’s way will be persecuted by the law (and those strident gay rights lobbyists who tolerate only those who see everything their way.)
But that was Cristina Odone in 2012. The Odone of 2014 has this to say, in her most recent column for the Telegraph:
I have written before about my fear that legalising gay marriage would affect the special status of marriage as a sacred institution. I have argued that once gay people could demand to be married, believers who refused to open their churches or even church halls to the ceremony would be punished. But Putin’s homophobic measures have changed my mind. If I oppose gay marriage I may be seen as condoning his anti-gay campaign. I couldn’t live with that.
She rightly goes on to rake Vladimir Putin over the coals for his opportunistic and divisive decision to shore up his political position by focusing attention on gay people as the new “enemy within”:
Putin will continue to pursue this hateful campaign because it strikes a nasty populist chord. Sadly it would seem that his supporters are not just in Russia but abroad, too: Putin ranks as number three most admired world figure, ahead of Pope Francis. Why? because Putin has manoeuvred himself to be the crusader against “the other” – in the shape of immigrants, alternative lifestyles, and above all gays. He has driven a fault line through 21st-century culture. On one side, there are the Russian leader and his supporters, who believe gays are fair game for abuse. On the other side are gays – vilified and beaten – and those who oppose their persecution. Putin is forcing us all to choose between him and his victims. I cannot stand with Putin.
Good. But think for a moment about the logic (or startling lack thereof) behind this statement. Cristina Odone apparently inhabits a world where deeply held personal convictions are no longer something to be defended through reasoned, intellectual debate and changed only in the face of persuasive evidence to the contrary. In this world, beliefs and opinions are instead chopped and changed as they wax and wane in popularity or inevitability, and can be picked up or discarded according to the reputation or behaviour of other people who hold them.
Always believed in low taxes, but just found out that a prominent individual got caught engaging in tax evasion? No problem, simply join the Labour Party and clamour for a mansion tax, because believing in low taxation is no longer fashionable. More horrific revelations in the media about the coverup of child abuse in your local Catholic diocese? Why not convert to Buddhism for a nice refreshing change, surely everyone loves a Buddhist?
The ease with which one can pick apart Odone’s reasoning does not mean that we should not be pleased at the end result. We can be delighted with the destination if still somewhat puzzled by the winding, circuitous route taken on the journey to reach it. But as someone who has long opposed gay marriage and full equality for gay people in Britain, I think Cristina Odone owes us a peek at the Google (or perhaps more likely Apple) Map routing that led her to this strange new place.
To publicly change a staunchly-held position on a major issue such as gay marriage without providing a line-by-line or argument-by-argument account of the evolution in her thinking is intellectually lazy, and significantly detracts from the impact of Odone’s announcement. That is bad for her personal credentials as a thinker and a writer, but it also denies equal marriage supporters the propaganda victory that could then take their argument further.
Until recently, Cristina Odone was thundering that the sanctioning gay marriage represented the “tyranny of the majority” and the end of religious liberty for anyone of faith. And yet she now supports gay marriage. So either her fears of tyranny and oppression were unfounded – in which case admitting as much would be the only intellectually rigorous and honest thing to do – or she considers aiding and abetting the onset of tyranny to be a small price to pay in exchange for preserving her reputation as a national newspaper columnist who does not want to be associated with a homophobic foreign regime.
Which is it?
The uneasy thought remains that perhaps Odone’s column was not intended seriously, and is simply the journalistic equivalent of throwing her toys out of the pram at being discredited by association with the likes of Vladimir Putin. We should certainly pay careful attention to her pronouncements on gay marriage once the Sochi Winter Olympics are over and the attention fades on Russia’s regressive attitude toward homosexuality.
Changing your mind on dodgy or unexplained pretexts once is cause for notice and concern. But if it were to happen twice on the same issue – if Odone should decide to backtrack on her words once Vladimir Putin is no longer commanding world attention and making her look bad – it would pose a very serious question as to why anyone should continue paying attention to anything she writes or says at all.
Let’s hope that Cristina Odone’s defection is the real thing, and not just a tactical ruse.