Friday, 12 August 2011

Is it not bigotted to disallow freedom of religion to all Mr Walker?

Of course I was sad when Jim Tolson was one of the Liberal Democrat MSPs to lose their seat in the elections today. I was even more saddened this morning when I saw that his replacement the SNP's Bill Walker appears to not believe in equality.

He has signed John Mason's amendment to the Scottish Parliament's Equal Marriage motion, which in itself failed to see the equality of all and freedom of religious groups to decide if they wish to offer same-sex marriage that was enshrined in the motion itself. He claims that he has received some "highly abusive messages" saying he is being intimidated and almost threatened. While I doubt that such behaviour may have been taken from concerned citizens writing to their MSP I would ask any that have done anything other that state a clear point to desist. What I suspect that the MSP has encountered though is a sheer volume of correspondence on the issue, seeking him to change his mind, possibly more than on any other issue that he has faced before. If he finds that intimidating that the public write to him then he is clearly in the wrong jobs as neither Jim Tolson nor Willie Rennie as the MP who was unseated in 2010 found correspondence from their constituents intimidating but a challenge to be seized.

What has saddened me is Mr Walker's response as published in the Dunfermline Press.

"I'm very upset about it. I feel I’ve been intimidated and almost threatened.

"I have been called a bigot and all sorts of names, saying I live in the dark ages.

"The irony is I got married a few weeks ago. Needless to say it was to a woman!

"There are things called civil partnerships, which I accept, but I'm really concerned about the use of the term 'gay marriage' because to me it’s a contradiction in terms and anything that puts homosexual relationships as any way equal to male-female marriages is just not right."

Tim Hopkins, of the Equality Network, told PinkNews:

"By saying that same-sex relationships are not in any way equal to male/female ones, Bill Walker is expressing homophobic prejudice. 

"His remarks are an affront to many of his constituents, and not just the LGBT ones. He is free to express his opinions, but must expect those opinions to be criticised if they are prejudiced and offensive.

"Bill Walker claims to have received 'highly abusive and bullying' emails from 'gay rights organisations'. However, the national LGBT organisations in Scotland – ourselves, Stonewall and LGBT Youth – invariably engage debate with anyone without abuse or exaggeration – unlike Bill Walker, it seems."

There is an arrogance about some of these in religious groups, Mr Walker is a member of the Church of Scotland but claims this does not affect his decision, that only the stance of their religious group is the right one. There are religious groups the Quakers, Unitarian and some liberal Synagogues plus the Humanists that wish to carry out marriage for all, whether mixed-gender or same-gender. They do not have the issue over the word.

Even calling it 'gay marriage' shows an element of separation in Messrs Walker and Mason's minds. I don't want to have a gay marriage that is separate from a 'straight marriage' I just want the option of a marriage. I'd also like it not to be separated into a civil partnership section and then a religious element (as has been proposes by David Cameron at Westminster to try and get around objectors) if 'we'* choose to have it in a church building, but fully integrated as all current church weddings are conducted.

There are religious groups that are prepared to offer not just their building to same-gender partnerships, but to fully integrate same-gender marriage to all into their ethos. These are welcoming people of faith, yet their beliefs and desires for religious freedom are being blocked by a few who disagree with their interpretation of the word marriage. The only people being forced to do anything are those open religious groups from turning away same-gender couples from the marriages they wish to perform. That surely is bigotry that we cannot condone.

* There is no other half of that we statement yet, but obviously the choice of service will be down to two of us in the end. So you can all stop thinking of buying a hat for the wedding just now.

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