Homophobia won't go away once same-sex marriage becomes law

The passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill into law is cause for celebration. But we must avoid complacency, says Symon Hill.

Barring last-minute surprises, the House of Lords will pass the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill later today. It should then be a short hop via royal assent to the statute book.

The news will be a cause for celebration. But it must not be a cause for complacency. Homophobia isn't going away. Indeed, for the bill's more extreme opponents, its success will be a spur to ever more vocal and harmful homophobic action.
I know these anti-equality campaigners well. I used to be one of them.

It's over a decade since I was encouraging my fellow Christians to reject same-sex relationships. But while many Christians have become more inclusive, hardcore opponents have stepped up the fight. Frightened by the apparent decline of Christianity in Britain, they have latched onto homosexuality as a symbol of the tide they are trying to turn. This motivation, and the passion and fear that lie behind it, are easily overlooked by secular commentators. Some seem to think that we can simply wait for homophobia to die out.

I wish such people had been with me three years ago, when I sat at an election hustings organised by socially conservative campaign groups such as Christian Concern. I saw women in their early twenties cheering viciously bigoted comments. I listened to a young graduate denouncing a Christian Labour MP for supporting LGBT rights. I watched 300 people applaud former councillor Alan Craig as he said that civil partnerships threaten “the safety of children”.

These groups are not irrelevant. In 2010, a campaign by Christian Concern led to the Lords watering down the Equality Bill. There has been an upsurge in groups such as the Core Issues Trust offering “therapy” to “heal” LGBT people. When you read media reports about “Christians”, it is too often groups such as these, who are not even representative of evangelicals, let alone Christians generally. But they are media-savvy and every bit of coverage adds to a narrative of “Gays v. Christians”. This helps them to promote one of their key ideas – that “Christians” should be allowed to discriminate (when running guest houses or working as civil registrars) as a matter of “religious liberty”.

Christian Concern's latest “action alert” email to supporters was headlined “It's not over yet”. Their message will be the same after today's vote. I predict it will take them only a few days to announce some sort of legal challenge to the bill. 

It will surely fail, but court cases are their favourite tactic for gaining media coverage. Their supporters will have more chances to compare same-sex marriage with polygamy, incest or marrying your dog. And more young people will be hurt by what they hear in the media as they struggle with their sexuality.

If homophobia is to be defeated, secular LGBT campaigners must work with their religious allies to challenge the “Gays v. Christians” narrative, to undermine the homophobes' claim to represent Christianity and to make clear that there are religious people on all sides of the debate.

Today's vote is an important step, but it's only a step. Now is not the time to take a break.

The bill receives its third reading in the House of Lords today. Photograph: Getty Images

Symon Hill is a Christian writer and activist. His latest book is Digital Revolutions: Activism in the Internet Age, published by New Internationalist.

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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.