Vladimir Putin, Gay Marriage’s Best Salesman?

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.

All the reasoned argument in the world could not sway Cristina Odone. But apparently this man has what it takes.
All the reasoned argument in the world could not sway Cristina Odone. But apparently this man had what it takes.

 

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.

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Kevin Rudd Defends Gay Marriage

 

With the Australian general election campaign drawing to a close, the website Upworthy.com highlights an exchange between sitting Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and a pastor who questioned Rudd’s change of heart on the subject of gay marriage.

The exchange took place at a recent general election Q&A session between Rudd and Australian voters, and is shown here:

 

The Guardian reports on the same event:

Mr Rudd was questioned about the issue by Christian pastor Matt Prater during a live Q&A session.

Mr Prater asked Mr Rudd how he could support gay marriage as a Christian. “If you call yourself a Christian, why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?” he said.

Mr Rudd responded: “Well mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition.”

“Because St Paul said in the New Testament, slaves be obedient to your masters. And therefore we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the US Civil War.”

It is hard to put the case – not just the civil rights case, but also the Christian case – for marriage equality much more succinctly than Rudd manages to do in the space of these few minutes. Indeed, in the Twitter feed at the bottom of the screen, one viewer can be seen retorting “KRudd just pulled a Jed Bartlet on that guy”, a reference to fictional President Josiah Bartlet from TV drama The West Wing.

Sadly, at least in terms of government policy relating to equal marriage in Australia, it appears that opposition leader Tony Abbott and his conservative coalition are poised for a decisive victory when voting takes place this weekend.

Tony Abbott will be in no hurry at all to pick up Kevin Rudd’s baton (no pun intended) with regard to this particular issue, so civil rights for gay and lesbian people in Australia is likely to be stalled for some time.

In Praise of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

 

NBC news reports that US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become the first sitting Supreme Court justice to officiate at a same-sex wedding ceremony:

Saturday marked the first time that a Supreme Court member conducted a same-sex marriage ceremony. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg officiated at the marriage of a longtime friend, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts President Michael M. Kaiser, to economist John Roberts in the atrium of the center in Washington.

[..] Ginsburg, who turned 80 this year, was among the majority in a Supreme Court decision earlier this summer declaring that people in same-sex marriages are entitled to the hundreds of federal benefits that couples in opposite-sex marriages have.

Well, three cheers for that! Ginsburg has long been one of my favourite justices on the Supreme Court, both for her compelling life story and her written opinions and dissents – which, while I do not always agree with them, are always sharply and persuasively written. I think that it is very fitting that she was the first justice to help usher in this new era of tolerance and equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans.

I have yet to find any footage of the ceremony taking place at the Kennedy Centre, so for any legal geeks reading, in honour of this occasion I am linking to video footage of a recent lecture/conversation she gave at Colorado Law School.

 

The topic is judging and the current state of the judiciary, and the full video is well worth watching.

Free Speech And Hypocrisy

 

Cristina Odone’s latest piece for The Telegraph really takes the biscuit. Today she uses her platform to  distort the words of an actual principled libertarian and a thinking man, the Education Secretary Michael Gove, who recently made the fairly benign statement that we really shouldn’t be using the word “gay” as an insult anymore. Given, y’know, the fact that it is now the year 2013.

Naturally, Odone sees this as an attack on her and her values.

The original Telegraph article reporting Gove’s words, by Rosa Silverman, states:

“It’s utterly outrageous and medieval to think that to use the word gay as an insult is somehow acceptable,” he told Stonewall’s Education for All conference in London. “If it’s Chris Moyles or anyone, they should be called out.”

Mr Moyles, the DJ who previously hosted BBC Radio 1’s Breakfast Show, was accused of homophobia in 2006 after describing a phone ring tone as gay.

Mr Gove said: “If you’re growing up wrestling with your sexuality…the last thing you need to feel at school is any sense that the difficulties with which you’re wrestling or the path on which you wish to embark are in any way a legitimate subject for humour, ostracising or prejudice.”

He said he belonged to a generation that felt attitudes towards homosexuality “that still persist in part or many parts of our country” should be actively challenged to make society fairer.

So far, so uncontroversial. Or so you might think.

Odone, extrapolating wildly from Gove’s words and playing the victim card with as much drama as she could muster (which is a lot), took this to mean that the word “gay” should be banned, and that anyone who disagreed with homosexuality is guilty of hate crime, thought crime, or is in some other way a bigoted monster who should henceforth be shunned by society.

From where does she derive these fevered imaginations? Nobody knows. Certainly not from Michael Gove himself. To my recollection, Gove never endorsed the idea of imprisonment for people who make “gay” jokes, or advocated re-education camps for those who disapprove of homosexuality. He just said that, since we no longer live in the 19th century, while people are free to remain set in their ways and to say bad things about gay people, others have the right to call them out on it and register their disapproval.

But Cristina Odone has to transform this into a persecution story where she and others like her are somehow being suppressed. So let us tackle Odone’s ludicrous straw-man plea for tolerance of bigotry line by line. From the top:

Michael Gove, the impressive Secretary of State for Education, has just decreed that the term “gay” cannot be used as an insult. It’s “outrageous and medieval” to do so.

No, he didn’t. That is an outright falsehood. Michael Gove said that the word “gay” should not – as opposed to can not – be used as an insult, for the obvious reason that it is hurtful to people who are gay. At no point, however, did he propose infringing on anyone’s right to free speech if they wish to do be obnoxious and do so, however.

And Odone should know this, given Michael Gove’s spirited defence of free speech at the recent Leveson enquiry into the practices and standards of the media. But she continues:

I wonder what he’d have done at the fabulous wedding we attended, last Saturday. A young guest in morning suit used his iPhone to snap a friend in similar attire. He peered at the result: “Oooooooh you look sooooooo gay!” The word, clearly, was interchangeable with “naff” and “chav”: but henceforth, if Mr Gove gets his way, would it land the boy on a sinister register of “hate speakers” – disqualifying him as an applicant for just about any job?

Again, the modus operandi of those fighting the rearguard campaign against gay rights: Take a quote from someone you disagree with. Add ten pounds of outrage, a pinch of wounded pride and a splash of resentment. And hey presto, you are social crusader Cristina Odone. Where and how did you make the jump from Michael Gove’s words to people who use the word “gay” in a juvenile and irresponsible way being presented with criminal charges and convicted?

Oh, I know it happens in today’s dystopian Britain, for all sorts of reasons. The police knocking on your door if you put up a poster saying anything slightly controversial, or arresting people for saying things that might “hurt the feelings of others”. But surely it would be better to campaign for a PROPER right to free speech in Britain across the board, and against the politically correct thought police who censor us for expressing all manner of opinions, rather than focusing specifically on the gay topic? Not if you are the hypocrite Cristina Odone.

Only the day before, as he faced UK immigration officials, Mr Tony Miano had been afraid of precisely that: was his name on a secret register, and would he be stopped from leaving the country? The American street preacher had been arrested outside Centre Court shopping centre in Wimbledon on July 1. He had been reading from St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, which condemns homosexuality. A passer-by called the police. Three officers arrived and arrested Mr Miano, a retired deputy sheriff from California, for disorderly conduct.

The irony of being marched to the Wimbledon nick after having spent 20 years as a law enforcer was not lost on Mr Miano. He told me over the phone: “The booking process held no surprises.” He had his DNA and fingerprints taken (and was relieved of his wedding ring) and was then locked up in a small cell for seven hours.

In the police station, he was granted his request for a Bible and for a lawyer from Christian Concern, a group that fights cases involving religious freedom. Then the police asked if he’d ever feed a homosexual, or do them a favour.

“I said yes, of course: the Bible taught that I should love my neighbour as myself,” Mr Miano told me. “The policeman asked if I believed homosexuality was a sin and I realised that I was not only being interrogated about what had happened but about what I believed.”

This is unacceptable, but is indicative of a wider problem in Britain – the fact that the police can come and arrest you for saying things that might be hurtful to the feelings of others. No longer do you have to incite violence or utter libelous comments – today, ruffling feathers is enough to put you inside a police cell. If Cristina Odone really cared about this, she would campaign against restrictions on free speech across the whole spectrum – and yet she is peculiarly hung up on the topic of speech about gay people.

Mr Miano could have pointed out that, while preaching at the shopping centre, he had condemned pornography and slushy novels, too; but it was clear to him that the police were only interested in one “thought crime”, just as Mr Gove seems only interested in one kind of insult. You can believe that homeopathy cures ailments but not that homosexuality is a sin.

You can call someone a bigot, but not say something’s “gay”.

If anyone is being hypocritical here, it is Odone, not Gove. If Cristina Odone had watched Gove’s testimony at the Leveson hearings, or paid any attention to him at all, she would know that he is a stalwart defender of free speech across the board. But she didn’t take the time to do her research. A national columnist for the Daily Telegraph couldn’t be bothered to check her facts, but just sat down at her laptop in high dudgeon and penned a polemic about how Gove wants to put her in prison.

Homophobia deserves to be condemned. But muzzling freedom of speech is the wrong way about it. When the Government decided last January to drop Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which criminalised “insulting language”, the move was hailed rightly as a victory for free speech. But if Mr Gove now says that he supports free expression only if it doesn’t offend gays, he undermines the gains made in ditching Section 5.

Michael Gove did no such thing. Odone should ho back and read his comments again if she is in any doubt. Michael Gove said in his Leveson testimony that “free speech, by definition, will offend some of the people some of the time”, and took a lot of flak from the egotistical Leveson for doing so. There is no muzzling of free speech going on. If you honestly cannot discern the difference between encouraging children not to use the word “gay” as a playground insult (but not banning them from doing so), and making disagreement with homosexuality a thought-crime then you really need to have your brain re-wired.

He also sets an alarming precedent. Tolerance will come with caveats, freedom with clauses. Today, Mr Gove and his Government prioritise the gay lobby; tomorrow, it could be the fat lobby to persuade the authorities that discrimination against their members damages pudgy youngsters growing up in a climate of hostility. We’ll inhabit a world where people cannot say “fatty” or “fatso” for fear of ending up on a secret register or in the Wimbledon nick.

There is no precedent, because nothing is being banned. If you want to be the dumbass who thinks that it is cool to insult people by calling them “gay”, then good for you, keep doing it and see how far it gets you in life. Gove was simply saying that it is not a nice thing to do. Where is the FEMA re-education camp that Odone seems to fear so much? If you want to insult people for being fat, or ginger, or gay, or black, then you can keep doing it (within the already over-draconian limits set by the previous government). Gove proposes no enhancements to our already restrictive laws, and in fact he would love nothing more than to roll them back. He just wants people to be nice to each other. Not under threat of criminal penalty. Just because that is how adults should behave.

In the end, Mr Miano was released without charge. He asked if he could keep the Gideon Bible that he’d received in prison. When it turned out to be the only copy, he asked if he could provide a few more. The following day, he dropped off 10 copies of the Good Book at Wimbledon police station.

That’s tolerance for you.

Well done, Cristina Odone, what an ending to your excellent piece of writing. You win The Argument. I am very glad that Mr. Miano was so magnanimous following his ordeal at the hands of the heavy-handed British police state. I am ashamed of my country that such a thing would happen to him, simply for proclaiming his beliefs on the street. But why do you not broaden your argument? Why take a plea for adults to teach their children not to use the word “gay” as an insult, expand it in your mind to include people who respectfully and politely disagree with homosexuality, and then falsely sound the alarm bells that both sets of people are now considered thought criminals?

I suppose my concluding point is this: If Cristina Odone genuinely believes in free speech and civil liberties then she should join with people like Michael Gove, who are passionate defenders of the very rights to freedom of expression that she claims to love, regardless of the subject or people at hand. But when she attacks Michael Gove, and falsely accuses him of attempting to clamp down on free speech when he did no such thing – he simply wanted people to teach children that using the word “gay” as an insult could be hurtful, because it can be – she reveals her true priorities.

And aren’t those priorities rather insidious and ugly? Cristina Odone doesn’t care a fig about free speech per se – but she is willing to forge an alliance between people who morally disapprove of homosexuality and people who use the word “gay” as a childish slur in order to advance her regressive, socially conservative agenda.

What a true, principled moral crusader she is.

Farewell, DOMA

Equal treatment under the law

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been struck down by the United States Supreme Court. Same-sex marriages conferred by the individual states can no longer be denied or not recognised by the federal government.

From the majority opinion, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy:

The differentiation [between heterosexual and homosexual couples] demeans the [homosexual] couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, see Lawrence, 539 U. S. 558, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.

No longer will your legal married status fade and strengthen like intermittent cellphone service when you travel from one state to another.

Take the time to hug a Fox News viewer today. After the brief thrill experienced holing the Voting Rights Act beneath the waterline yesterday, today they have had to suffer the end of federal discrimination against same-sex married couples, and the onward march of immigration reform. It’s a tough day to be an intolerant, theocratical reactionary.

And, for all of its flaws and slowly turning wheel of justice, what a great thing is the United States Constitution, and a Supreme Court willing to overturn populist, discriminatory laws in favour of the universal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The complete ruling in the case of United States v. Windsor can be read here.