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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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.