Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Blog Love: Where I Agree with Tony Blair

Now the title of this piece may be somewhat of a revelation to any who didn’t see my Tweet from Wednesday evening. But I was talking about a particular article that featured from the first Prime Minister in the UK to give an interview to a gay publication, not just give an interview but be the cover man.

On the occasion of that publication, Attitude, celebrating its fifteenth birthday they had a little bit of a retrospective in all sorts of ways including having the former Prime Minister back for another interview. Having missed his first interview in 2005 I may have been too busy with one election or another, I found myself agreeing with him for quite a lot of what he said*. Thankfully before Ruaraidh Dobson accuses me of being dead wrong (again) I’d like to point out that the area under discussion was equality of sexuality which has seen robust advances under the Blair years; not the various policy areas that I and the rest of Liberal Democrats still vigorously oppose the Blairite doctrine.

Like Blair I find myself in a similar position in one way as a person of faith with an interest in the politics of sexuality, and the aim to improve things socially in that area as far as possible. However, of course and any who saw my last full speech at a Lib Dem conference will attest while he can remain objective in his viewpoint mine is a bit more subjective. For years I was like one of those that Blair described as having a dialogue within religious circles about sexuality and faith, although a lot of that debating from my teenage years into my middle to late twenties was going on in my own head.

While for many years I mulled over the option as being an either or in relation to my faith and who I found myself to be it took a lot of searching to find out that both was an actual option. One thing I hope that people like Iris Robinson can come to understand in the long-term. Blair says in the interview:

"For many people in the world of religion, they have found they’re facing the same challenge as everybody else is in changing times, when it comes to the role of women, the issues to do with sexuality, and so on. But the problem within the institutions of organised religion as opposed, for example, to those in politics, is that those attitudes get mixed up with those of doctrine. For something that is religious in nature, it can be far harder for them to break with the past. They’re hard – they’re really difficult. Because people are debating – what is the word of God? If something is expressed in a particular way in the Bible or the Koran or elsewhere, can you possibly contemplate a process of modernisation where attitudes change over time? But my own view is
that it’s better to have these views debated within religious circles than to pretend that they don’t exist.

"...also to treat religious thought and even religious texts as themselves capable of evolution over time. You have to understand the context and the society in which they were expressed. So, when people quote the passages in Leviticus condemning homosexuality, I say to them – if you read the whole of the Old Testament and took everything that was there in a literal way, as being what God and religion is about, you’d have some pretty tough policies across the whole of the piece."

If you just look at the raft of legislation that has come in under Labour since 1997 and consider if the 1997 brand of Conservatism that was on offer would have made such in roads. 1997 homosexuals weren't allowed to serve in the military, teachers were unable to defend gay pupils in the classroom, there was a status of legal homophobia in the workplace and in failing to recognise partners. So great strides were being made towards equality (despite at the same time the liberties of us all being eroded simultaneously).

Blair says the highpoint of the various pro-gay legislation that he oversaw come into being was the introduction of civil partnerships. However, these are separate arrangement and still not equal. The equal marriage campaign is seeking for Scotland to:

  1. Lift the ban on same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partners

  2. Allow religious and humanist celebrants to legally solemnise same-sex marriage

  3. Put an end to the discrimination faced by transgender people and their partners
As Ruaraidh said earlier this week that this is something that the Scottish Liberal Democrats could well take a lead. As Tony said in the interview we have come a long way from the 80s when if you campaigned for gay people expected that, well, that you were. The generation that make up LYS are the first generation that such a suggestion does not go hand in hand with campaigning. I'd be delighted to see them take this step forward backing up the Homophobia is Gay campaign and the policy they moved which got passed on the blood ban last month.

Is it doable? I think so. I think this statement of Tony shows that we are on an evolutionary trend where we can get this done.

"This process of evolution and change [in religious thought] carries on the whole time. Otherwise, you end up pitting religion against reason, and that is the single most dangerous thing you could ever do. Because in the end, if you force people to choose between religious faith and reason, they will choose reason. But that is not, in fact, what should happen. Religious faith and reason are actually in alignment, in my view – or, at least, that is the argument."
So while I'm quite certain that Ruaraidh would happily tell me I'm dead wrong in holding on to my religious faith, I'm sure he'd also the one of the first to ask me about the debates I've had with myself to deal with moving this debate on.

*You do have to register to read this link but it is free to do so.

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