John Sentamu and the acceptable face of bigotry

To deny that gay people do not have equal rights is to be on the side of evil, no matter how twinkly

John Sentamu is nice. That’s his schtick. He’s one of those religious men that it’s okay for atheists to look at and say: “Oh, isn’t he cuddly with his archaic belief in an invisible man who tells us what to do.”

Read his article on marriage rights though and you’ll see the cuddly facade masks just another reactionary. It is clear from the very first sentence:

I will be the first to accept that homosexual people have suffered discrimination and sometimes worse through the decades and that the churches have, at times, been complicit in this.

Oh bully for you John Sentamu. Thanks very much for conceding that gay people have had a crap time throughout history and that, yes, sometimes, you know, not too much, the church has been an engine for vile bigotry and, oops, still is.

And boy does it get better. This mealy-mouthed cleric has more Thought For The Day wisdom bomb to drop: “…that baleful history does not diminish the need to speak the truth in love.” Truth? To mangle Tybalt: What, drawn and talk of truth? I hate the word as I hate hell, all patronising preachers and thee.

Here’s the kernel of jumping John’s argument:

I firmly believe that redefining marriage to embrace same-sex relationships would mean diminishing the meaning of marriage for most people with very little, if anything, gained for homosexual people. If I am right, in the long-term we would all be losers.

Oh yes. I know that giving gay people the right to express their love as straight couples do would boil my brain within my skull. How the hell can those bastards even dare to suggest that they might have equality in the law? Sweet little baby Jesus wearing a cute babygro emblazoned “Is this dude tripping?”. Sentamu pulls out all the classic anti-equality arguments and it is disgusting, whatever his sweet, folksy presentation.

He goes on:

Drawing parallels between the proposed same-sex marriage and inter-racial marriage ignores the fact that there is more than one paradigm of equality . . . should there be equality between the sexes because a woman can do anything a man can do or because a good society needs the different perspectives of women and men equally?

Dragging Mary Wollstonecraft onto his side, Sentamu says:

Unless one believes that every difference between the sexes is a mere social construct, the question of equality between the sexes cannot be completely addressed by the paradigm of racial equality. Defining marriage as between a man and a woman is not discriminatory against same-sex couples. What I am pressing for is a kind of social pluralism that does not degenerate into fancy-free individualism.

Fancy-free individualism. It takes some skill to pack so much offensiveness into three seemingly sweet words. Sentamu cheerleads marriage but goes on to say, so what if gay people don’t have the right to it as civil partnerships are really, really awesome and basically the same. It is a disingenuous argument. If civil partnerships are different but essentially equal to marriage why not call the union between man and man and woman and woman a marriage just as that of a man and woman?

Sentamu says:

The question for me is one of justice and not equality . . .it does not mean not treating everyone the same way but giving everyone what they need or deserve . . . equality follows justice and secures its consistent administration . . . if it was a question of justice, what injustice would result from not turning civil partners into married couples? I suggest: no injustice.

I suggest: bullshit. Colossal bullshit. Bullshit of biblical proportions, appropriately. Of course there is injustice, because in making gay people have civil partnerships (which straight people are not entitled to enter into), they are being placed in a different section of society. They do not have all the rights accorded to heterosexual people. They cannot sit at the same lunch counter, cannot choose the same bus seats as the straights. This is a fundamental question of equality. To deny that is to be on the side of evil, no matter how twinkly your smile is.

Here’s what Sentamu thinks marriage does: “Marriage is built around complementarity of the sexes and therefore the institution of marriage is a support for stable families and societies.” Run your eye over the divorce stats and tell me how that’s going. And for your supplementary homework, tell me why gay couples' love is not conducive for family and societal stability. If you can give me a good answer, I might even pretend your invisible opinion former exists.
 

Mic Wright is a freelance writer. This piece originally appeared on his blog. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbottleboy

Mic Wright is a freelance journalist.

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Emily Thornberry heckled by Labour MPs as tensions over Trident erupt

Shadow defence secretary's performance at PLP meeting described as "risible" and "cringeworthy". 

"There's no point trying to shout me down" shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry declared midway through tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. Even by recent standards, the 70-minute gathering was remarkably fractious (with PLP chair John Cryer at one point threatening to halt it). Addressing MPs and peers for the first time since replacing Maria Eagle, Thornberry's performance did nothing to reassure Trident supporters. 

The Islington South MP, who voted against renewal in 2007, said that the defence review would be "wide-ranging" and did not take a position on the nuclear question (though she emphasised it was right to "question" renewal). She vowed to listen to colleagues as well as taking "expert advice" and promised to soon visit the Barrow construction site. But MPs' anger was remorseless. Former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones was one of the first to emerge from Committee Room 14. "Waffly and incoherent, cringeworthy" was his verdict. Another Labour MP told me: "Risible. Appalling. She compared Trident to patrolling the skies with spitfires ... It was embarrassing." A party source said afterwards that Thornberry's "spitfire" remark was merely an observation on changing technology. 

"She was talking originally in that whole section about drones. She'd been talking to some people about drones and it was apparent that it was absolutely possible, with improving technology, that large submarines could easily be tracked, detected and attacked by drones. She said it is a question of keeping your eye on new technology ... We don't have the spitfires of the 21st century but we do have some quite old planes, Tornadoes, but they've been updated with modern technology and modern weaponry." 

Former first sea lord and security minister Alan West complained, however, that she had failed to understand how nuclear submarines worked. "Physics, basic physics!" he cried as he left. Asked how the meeting went, Neil Kinnock, who as leader reversed Labour's unilateralist position in 1989, simply let out a belly laugh. Thornberry herself stoically insisted that it went "alright". But a shadow minister told me: "Emily just evidently hadn't put in the work required to be able to credibly address the PLP - totally humiliated. Not by the noise of the hecklers but by the silence of any defenders, no one speaking up for her." 

Labour has long awaited the Europe split currently unfolding among the Tories. But its divide on Trident is far worse. The majority of its MPs are opposed to unilateral disarmament and just seven of the shadow cabinet's 31 members share Jeremy Corbyn's position. While Labour MPs will be given a free vote when the Commons votes on Trident renewal later this year (a fait accompli), the real battle is to determine the party's manifesto stance. 

Thornberry will tomorrow address the shadow cabinet and, for the first time this year, Corbyn will attend the next PLP meeting on 22 February. Both will have to contend with a divide which appears unbridgeable. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.