Accepting minorities good for society

JOEL GILMORE
Last updated 12:50 31/08/2012

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OPINION: My mother and her father were both born with a genetic anomaly. They were worryingly different from the other little boys and girls.

As they grew up and started school, it became apparent that, while the other students grasped pencils and other miscellany of juvenile scholarship firmly in their right hands, my forebears felt an uninvited tendency to use their left.

This unnatural predilection was corrected; in my grandfather's case it was beaten out of him, while my mother was "strongly encouraged" to make the switch. "Strongly encouraged" in this context didn't allow a decline, and she was forced into a life of right-handedness and a stutter. My grandfather worked hard at being a longhand journalist with his wrong hand.

If you think this is cruel, try it with sexuality - arguably the most powerful aspect of being human. Perhaps its sheer psychological strength is the reason homosexuality - and other sexual nonconformism - has met with so much intense, completely irrational, persecution for so long.

Persecution is putting it lightly. Hitler burnt homosexuals, and some mainstream religious thinking still appears consistent with allowing them to be stoned to death. They are sentenced to hell, shot at and beaten up for no reason other than being homosexual.

With this in mind, put yourself in the position of one. Something so deeply human as love and sex cannot just be changed or ignored. We cannot expect them to be straight any more than my ancestors could be expected to be born right-handed.

And personally, I can come up with no reason to want them to be straight other than plain hetero-normative insecurity. We are phobic, and in the face of our fear they have had to hide their love, and be repressed in the most devastating way imaginable.

I therefore think the question about marriage equality should be rehashed. The question is not whether gays should be allowed to marry; it is about whether there is any earthly reason that they shouldn't.

Do gay people want to formalise their relationship through marriage? Unsurprisingly, surveys suggest a similar proportion of gay couples to straight couples do want to get married.

Do they love each other with the same depth of emotion and commitment as heterosexual couples? Of course they do. Are they somehow inherently inferior to straight people? Of course they're not. Are their acts of consummation more perverse than heterosexual ones?

The question is ridiculous.

Do we feel threatened by a minority? My God we do. And the best thing we can do for everybody is recognise and address it. Our collective psyche is unwell.

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Unfortunately, I am forced to bring religion into the picture here. I'm sure we've all heard enough from the religious right about how God made us to be a certain way and so on. (Presumably on this account, God made some of us gay.) But religion is a major player in the opposition to gay rights; and being of a not irreligious persuasion myself this embarrasses me.

There are a lot of things to be said about how the Bible promotes love and compassion and forbids things that homophobes inconsistently dismiss (for instance animal sacrifice), although this is always a matter of interpretation.

More fundamentally, religion just shouldn't play an instrumental role in legislation. State and religion should be firmly divided.

We should not be shaping laws because, for example, we are Christian and think everybody should be Christian, and that therefore our law should reflect one interpretation (ironically, an increasingly minority interpretation) of Christianity. This was an attitude proved fatally wrong in the Middle Ages. I suspect the Bible is largely (if unconsciously) used as an excuse, rather than a reason, for homophobia. This is worrying.

The only honest conclusion I can reach is that homophobia is bad and we should be moving away from it. Legalising gay marriage isn't automatically going to make us tolerant and healthy. In fact, it will stir up a lot of hatred. But it's a necessary step to a more honest and accepting society; and in the long run a society that can choose to accept a minority is better than one that can't.

On this basis we should live in a society that is comfortable with things like gay marriage, and how else to live in such a society but to allow gay marriage?

I live in a society where I can write openly with my left hand. Nearly no-one notices, and fewer people care. It's strange to reflect on how it was only one generation ago. If we can get to this point with other human rights, we're doing well. For God's sake let the queers marry.

Joel Gilmore is a freelance writer from Hamilton.

- The Southland Times

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