When Theresa May announced that she was, with the appropriate consent of Parliament, to call a general election on June the 8th, the political world scrambled to prepare itself for the now seemingly annual democratic marathon. Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron might well have been the happiest to hear of the election, with a lot to gain and very little to lose. He likely thought that he would spend the day batting on the airwaves for his party’s well-tuned lines on a variety of issues, chiefly Brexit. He probably did not expect to be ending it under bombardment of accusations of homophobia.
Indeed that is how his day unfolded. During an interview with Emily Maitlis on Channel 4, he was thrice asked if he regarded homosexual sex as a sin. Rather than put a dead end to this line of attack with a resounding ‘no’, he talked about everyone being a sinner. At this point, much of Twitter and other social media promptly grabbed their pitchforks and demanded the seasonal crucifixion of this well-known homophobe, and the Liberal Democrats likely took an unwelcome knock.
Whatever our many political disagreements, this kipper must defend Mr Farron. He stated unreservedly that everyone is deserving of equal rights. Hence there may be no prospect of his support for the banning of homosexual intercourse, nor the reversal of same-sex marriage, nor any other inequality of the past. If the purpose of voting for politicians is to achieve votes for and legislation supporting certain policies, then there is no logical reason to vote against Farron on the basis of LGBT rights. As if there were any confusion, he claimed ‘to fight for the freedom of every single individual to be who they wish to be’.
In fact, the one instance when Farron did take an intolerant approach on LGBT rights was when he supported the legal action against Ashers bakery in Northern Ireland in the notorious ‘gay cake’ row. On Question Time nearly two years ago, he falsely accused the bakery of ‘discriminat[ing] and act[ing] in a prejudicial way’, when in fact the refusal of service was on the grounds of the product, and nothing to do with the sexuality of the customer. Farron can certainly be accused of failing to take a stand for freedom of religious conscience; however, any allegations of homophobia are nonsense.
Indeed, as a politician – a profession with an unhealthy reputation for failing to give straight answers – Farron could not give a straight answer to the questions. He could not reply in the affirmative because he would meet a chorus of outrage that would make the recent outcry seem pitiful. Nor could he deny it, however, as he would be incorrect. Farron is a Christian, and though it is difficult to determine his precise denomination, it is a fair guess, given his equivocal answer, that his faith teaches that active homosexuality is sinful. He instead pleaded to avoid ‘a long theological discussion’ and rightly does not think it relevant to any political issue in the election campaign.
If someone’s difficulty is with his personal views on homosexuality, they should ask why that is relevant. Farron also probably regards promiscuity, pornography, taking the Lord’s name in vain, and failure to attend Church on Sunday as sinful, as any Christian probably should. There has been little sign of his being interrogated on his stances on these issues. Nobody has apparently accused him of bigotry against cohabiting couples or non-churchgoers. Yet many seem unable or unwilling to suppose that equality of respect for gay people or anyone else, and faithfully informed, privately held convictions on certain acts or ways of life are not mutually exclusive.
This viciousness not only places Christian politicians in an unhappy quandary. It also undermines the position of those Christians who attempt and struggle to balance their faith and homosexuality, and who may choose to reject temptations in accordance with their own beliefs. What such Christians are essentially being told is that their personal choices are invalid, nor is their respect for openly gay people of any importance – they must surely hate gay people, and their character must be destroyed appropriately, should they choose to obey their faith. Such demonisation of the Christian faith and slander of its followers represents an abhorrence of respect and tolerance, and nobody engaging in it has any business identifying as a liberal.
In fact, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of MPs are Christian, alongside many more elected politicians nationwide. Picking apart the faith of each will yield many examples of doctrine that may be interpreted as homophobic or otherwise discriminatory. A similar argument would apply to politicians following the Islamic and Jewish faiths, and a range of others. Is it to be a new standard that each is demanded to account for every teaching of their religion, and pilloried if not each is benevolent towards every activity and lifestyle?
Homosexuality was not the only source of discomfort for Farron in the interview. Before asking about it, Maitlis asked if Farron thought that abortion was ‘wrong at any time’. Farron gave the only answer that should be relevant to anyone who cares about the issue – that he thought that the law should remain the same. Not satisfied, Maitlis probed him on his personal views. Who gives a damn about what he thinks? He clarified that his own views would not influence the decision of any pregnant woman, which should satisfy every pro-choice voter, and disappoint every pro-life voter. Having extracted an admission of his (very sensible) view that ‘every abortion is a tragedy’, Maitlis went on to use the same cynical trick on homosexual sex, that well-known political crisis of modern times.
When Parliament is dissolved and the Parliamentary gearbox goes into neutral for the election campaign, it is not improbable that these quotes will be unleashed by other parties and their candidates, and especially their cheerleaders on social media. Our national democratic events, whether elections or referenda, are already riddled with quite enough dishonesty, misrepresentation, obsession with trivialities, and distraction from matters of national import. Emily Maitlis, far from being a master interrogator of a flimsy politician, as many have painted her, behaved most irresponsibly and shamefully in smearing a decent man. This kind of treatment of Mr Farron does not only promise further degradation of good, tolerant people of faith, but disgraces our democracy. May voters not buy into it.