In an amusing turnaround for DUP MP Iris Robinson, wife of the new Northern Irish First Minister Peter Robinson, following a complaint by Gay and Lesbian Across Down (GLAD), she is to be investigated by police for hate speech. Presumably in her radio interview she thought that being a Christian made her immune from consequences for her insensitive, crass, borderline mad and seemingly hateful response to the news of the brutal homophobia attack on Stephen Scott in Newtonabbey (discussed in a previous post). GLAD’s coordinator Andrew Muir said:
‘They were reluctant to pursue the matter until I told them it was covered by the hate crimes legislation and I would not be leaving until they took a statement from me.’
Good for him. Is she allowed to be homophobic privately? Yes. Is she allowed to hold those opinions on ‘religious grounds’? Yes. But the day she starts to promote them is when she crosses a line with the law, and using the increasingly familiar ‘I’m religious so I’m allowed an opt out’ refrain just won’t wash. What she said in addition to the quotes from my previous post was:
Stephen Nolan: Do you think for example that homosexuality is disgusting?
Iris Robinson: Absolutely
Stephen Nolan: Do you think that homosexuality should be loathed?
Iris Robinson: Absolutely
Stephen Nolan: Do you think it is right for people to have a physical disgust towards homosexuality?
Iris Robinson: Absolutely
Stephen Nolan: Does it make you nauseous?
Iris Robinson: Yes
Stephen Nolan: Do you think that it is something that is shamefully wicked and vile?
Iris Robinson: Yes, of course it is, it’s an abomination.
It makes her claim to want to balance out condemning violence against the gay community with expressing her ‘religious beliefs’ completely bogus. Thankfully her colleague Caitriona Ruane, Sinn Fein Education Minister, phoned in to complain, maintaining:
“I think it is really important that politicians play a leadership role and that leadership role should be not to say anything that could possibly inflame the situation or cause further distress.”
She went on to say that all politicians should be guided by equality legislation, but Robinson wouldn’t have any of it, insisting:
“My Christian beliefs teach me that you love the sinner but hate the sin.
“But homosexuality is something that is an abomination.”
“We are deeply concerned at these comments. We believe that the comments are at best damaging and at worst dangerous. Furthermore, they are completely unacceptable — indeed an abomination — in pursuance of an inclusive society based on values of dignity, respect and equality.”
Dr Phillip McGarry from the Royal College of Psychiatrists added his voice to the growing attacks on her comments about ‘turning’ gay people straight:
“People are born with sexual preference – that is a fact of life.
“Treatments that purport to change someone’s sexuality can be harmful and there is no evidence that they can be successful.”
“There is a lot of evidence going back 50 years to suggest that attempts to change people’s sexuality in either direction are not possible.
“Such treatments do not work and can actually cause quite a lot of harm. Homosexuality is a state and a sexual orientation and is not a question of behaviour.”
Robinson’s pet doctor disagrees however – it’s not surprising considering he’s also a ‘born again’ Christian. Dr Paul Miller says:
“First, no one is born gay because gay identity is a complex interaction between genetics and environment; second, no one chooses to experience who they are sexually attracted to; and thirdly, change in sexual orientation is possible.”
Dr Miller cited a study by American psychiatrists Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse which he said concluded that people can change sexual orientation and that the process of change was not damaging.
“That was a very robust study because in the past, and rightly so, people who worked in this field were criticised for not having robust research.”
Robust research eh? A quick look at Jones & Yarhouse shows:
…we have also been concerned for the well-being of individuals who we know who struggle with homosexual orientation and who themselves receive very confusing messages from church and society about how they are to live their lives. Often, it is “science” that is given as the reason for advice that departs from the teachings of scripture.
Except of course it is all about science – we haven’t based our philosophy as a society on the ‘teachings of scripture’ since before the Enlightenment. Whilst science doesn’t tell us how to live our lives, it does tell us why we’re made as we are, and why we behave as we do. Whether or not you like that behaviour is another matter – morals aren’t absolute, they’re philosophically relative, but there is a scientific acceptance at least in the Western world that sexual orientation is inherent. To try to regulate it by instruction is neither desirable but it’s also not possible; using a static moral framework to mediate a relationship with the world will only fail in a world which constantly moves on. Jones & Yarhouse’s study was funded by Exodus International, an religious organisation dedicated to ‘curing’ gay people, and published by InterVarsity Press, a Christian publisher, and Exodus is run by Stanton Jones himself. Jim and Brenda Johnson are right – both organisations are preoccupied with passing off repackaged theology as science, much the way in which creationism and intelligent design are being passed off as a ‘challenge’ to evolution. Jones’ & Yarhouse’s claim that science is trying to subvert Church doctrine about homosexuality is also wrong however, neatly twisting the position of science into one it doesn’t have, providing a further suggestion that their study might be somewhat biased.
We can only wait and see whether the police take the complaints against Robinson seriously. And of course it’s clear that Miller was indeed a maverick and a fraud. Hopefully he will now be recognised as such. This whole affair has been yet another example of fundamentalist Christianity and hardcore theists trying to subvert the norms which have guided society for the last few hundred years, by attempting to twist their intolerance (and in Jones’ case self hatred) into a human right, and to present pseudo science as fact – much the way in which creationism and intelligent design are being heralded as some sort of legitimate challenge to evolution. The difficulty in arguing against these people is as true as with any theist: it’s all about belief for them – an absolute, unchanging position they don’t have to prove empirically. Fortunately the law is ever more clear that at least in public and professional life they must behave according to norms of equality, which have been tested empirically and have demonstrated that society operates more happily and effectively when people previously marginalised for difference are instead included. Worryingly though, the fundamentalist naysayers still inhabit positions of influence, and remain snapping at the heels of modern society.