Some people are religious. Get over it!

The proposed "ex-gay" bus advert was offensive, but gay Christians face a genuine dilemma.

Boris Johnson stepped in yesterday to stop the "battle of the buses", banning a campaign by the Core Issue Trust -- which promotes controversial therapies designed to turn gay people straight  -- and the evangelical pressure group Anglican Mainstream. The decision is likely to increase feelings of persecution and marginalisation among a minority of traditionally-minded, and increasingly assertive, Christians. 

Johnson told the Guardian that his London was "intolerant of intolerance". The proposed slogan ("Not gay! Ex-gay, Post-gay and proud. Get over it!"), whatever its intention, was at least open to interpretation as an assertion of crude homophobia, or at least of heteronormative triumphalism.  It was intended, however, as a direct riposte to similar-looking advertisements being run by Stonewall with the slogan "Some people are gay. Get over it!" -- a campaign that implicitly targets opponents of gay marriage as reactionary bigots unable to come to terms with the modern world.

Some bigots may, indeed, hide behind religion.  Yet Stonewall's slogan, it strikes, me, misses an important point, which is that some people, who are gay, cannot "get over it" that easily.  A devout religious believer, who belongs to a tradition that says firmly that homosexuality is wrong, but who feels a strong inclination towards members of the same sex, is faced with an agonising dilemma.  Demands to "get over it", while not directly aimed at such people, can easily come across as insensitive and bullying.

Say you're a young gay Catholic.  The Pope has said, quite firmly, that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered" and represents an "inclination towards an intrinsic moral evil".  Well then, ignore the Pope: many Catholics do, after all, when it comes to birth control, and some gay Catholics will be comfortable with that option.  But not all, because obedience to church teaching is, for many Catholics, a crucial dimension of their faith.  At the very least, so long as Catholic teaching remains what it is (and there's no evidence of any change on the horizon) many gay Catholics will feel conflicted.

Or say you're a Bible-believing Evangelical, and your reading of scripture tells you that homosexual practices are an abomination unto the Lord.  That isn't the only way to interpret the Bible, of course, and some gay Christians are fortunate enough to belong to churches that are welcoming of their sexuality.  But some of the Biblical verses that speak about same-sex sex are pretty plain, to say the least.

And of course commitment to a religious faith involves more than just intellectual assent to a set of belief-propositions.  It involves heart and soul, family and community.  There may be partners and children involved, if a gay believer has already "chosen" to ignore their same-sex inclinations.  Leaving all these things is not just potentially traumatic, it may well be something that the believer, however painful their internal struggles with sexuality, is not willing to contemplate.  And yet their inner turmoil is damaging to themselves and to those around them.

There's no reliable evidence that the therapy being promoted by the Core Issues Trust is effective in changing people's inner sexual drive; there's some evidence that it has helped some people to suppress their gay feelings and to function more comfortably in heterosexual relationships.  And this may be enough.  Human sexuality is not fixed at birth.  It's also more fluid for some people than for others.  There's no doubt that there are, in fact, self-described "ex-gay" or "post-gay" Christians, many of whom do indeed claim to have been helped by these therapies.  The Rev Peter Ould is perhaps the most prominent British example.  He has written:

I’m post-gay because I chose to leave “gay” behind. I chose to no longer accept “gay” as an explanation of who I was and instead to begin a journey away from it. I chose to do so because I was convinced from the Scriptures that “gay” wasn’t a suitable way to describe myself, that it wasn’t a valid way for a Christian to establish identity.

Ould's choice to "leave gay behind" is not the same thing as choosing his sexuality.  Rather, he chose to prioritise his understanding of his faith over his sexual inclinations.  Or perhaps it would be better to say that he felt a strong inner conviction of his need to do so.  Because, as the law and society have increasingly come to recognise in recent years, religious identity is deeply rooted.  It is part of "who people are", how they relate to the world around them, how they conceive of themselves.

Of course, many people change their religion, abandon religion altogether or discover it for the first time.  But for many who make such a transition the process involves moments of existential crisis and a slow, difficult adjustment to a new way of life and a new set of social relationships.  The consumerist language of choice simply doesn't do it justice.

The fact is that neither faith nor sexuality are a "choice".   And some people are religious.  Get over it!

The ad, backed by the Core Issues Trust, which stated: "Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!"
Belief, disbelief and beyond belief
Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.