On the 5th of February the streets of Soho were suspended in a febrile tension. Finally, accompanied by the sound of glugging Sancerre, it was broken by the news of the passing of the second reading of the government’s gay marriage bill. Hurrah for equality and a doff of the hat to liberty – all seemed well in the sceptered isle. Alas, not two weeks since the vote, those who had purported to fight against bigotry and oppression began to demonstrate an ignorant bellicosity of their own.
Last week a group of our fellow Hollowegians planned to photograph same-sex couples in a mock-marriage scenario in the college chapel. The objective was to then turn these photographs into Valentine’s cards that could be sent to The Right Honourable Philip Hammond MP to remind him of his constituents’ feelings toward his rejection of the gay marriage bill. It was indeed an entertaining idea, not entirely void of any symbolic significance, though certainly not the most profound of political statements.
However, the students’ request for permission to photograph within the chapel itself was denied. It was reported that one of the reasons for not allowing access was due to the differing opinions within the Christian denominations regarding the sanctity of gay marriage; essentially, some do not believe the institution of marriage should be applicable to homosexual couples. To avoid ‘politicising’ a religious space, it was decided that it would be best not to use the chapel itself but the outside area of the entrance.
Of course, to any sane and rational member of our tolerant society, the chaplaincy’s decision was entirely correct. The Marriage Bill itself proposes an exemption for any religious institution that finds its doctrine incompatible with homosexual marriages. And yet the reaction of many at Royal Holloway was one of outrage and disgust; how dare somebody differ from us in their conception of unity between two individuals.
Comments were twisted, words corrupted and the chaplaincy were immediately labelled homophobes and bigots. Naturally, the first wave of attack came in the form of the digitalized tirade on social media. Once shielded behind the screen of their insipid online personas and all rationality cast out of mind, calls for the resignation of chaplaincy staff began to ring throughout the twittersphere.
In the past few months I have spent a significant amount of my time hunched over pints in the corner of pubs, attempting to persuade certain friends and acquaintances that the granting homosexual couples to marry would not impinge upon religious rights and liberties.
On this rare occasion, I concede that I may have been mistaken. Regardless of the tolerance that has been shown toward sexual minorities, many have been ideologically blinded in assuming that equality negates diversity. Despite being granted the right to marry, many have embarked upon a relentless charge against all those who hold contrary views and beliefs. In the struggle for equality, the fervour of an extreme few now seeks to warp and manipulate the institutions of others for their own ends.
When I spoke and wrote of gay marriage in the past, I did so supporting legislation based upon the freedom and equality of the individual. However, I did not consent to my socially constructed and forcibly categorised sexual identity to be pinned upon the banner of any faction that seeks to erode and antagonise the religious rights of others.
These attacks on religious institutions also appear to expose the disturbingly neurotic desire for some sexual minorities to conform to established social orders; the need to exist within a pseudo-heterosexual monogamous relationship, masochistically delighting in the stagnation of bourgeois domesticity. Those of us who once enjoyed an existence on the fringes of society, challenging conventional conceptions of sexuality, have now been forcibly assimilated into perceived social expectations and mores. Nothing repels me more.
Some within the gay community have turned their back on the principles on which they have established their social acceptance, betraying the tolerance that has treated us so well. Upon that night in Soho I proudly bore witness to one of the last battles to be fought in the field of civil rights. Yet as with all acts of liberation, one always risks resembling the tyranny that one so eagerly sought to overthrow.