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.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

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