Were I asked to answer by way of agreement or disagreement to the statement “‘I am proud of how Britain treats gay people”, I’m afraid I would answer in the negative. I am certainly not proud of how the United Kingdom treats its gay citizens. I have several reservations and it is certainly the case that this country is not a leader when it comes to equal civil rights regardless of sexual orientation.
But, by not answering “yes, I am proud…” the Demos think-tank who commissioned the poll may conclude that I am a homophobe.
I think that, among other issues:
- It is wrong that civil marriage and civil partnerships are separate institutions and that churches, synagogues and mosques that wish to perform religious marriages for gay people cannot do so.
- It is wrong that gay men who have never had an STD and who practice safe sex in the context of long-term monogamous relationships are banned from donating blood.
- I think it is wrong that hate crime legislation designed to protect minorities does not include gay people.
Those who now wave the Demos poll around seem to think that my disappointment with the only partial success of gay equality is homophobic. It also apparently thinks that approving of these inequalities and prohibitions is ‘progressive’. It is either that or it has come up with the most pointless poll question ever leading to the most meaningless results ever. It’s shock conclusions are: “Surprise poll shows widespread Muslim support for gay rights”. Additionally, they claim that Muslims are more likely to approve of this statement than atheists.
This is clearly nonsense.
Of course there are a great number of Muslim people of different degrees of religious observance who are quite comfortable with and supportive of gay rights. But to say this support is “widespread” is dishonest in the extreme. Even today in the UK there are very few gay Muslim campaigners willing to show their faces and use their real names. Where support for gay equality so “widespread” this would not be the case. There are no openly-gay Imams in the UK. Where support for gay equality so “widespread” this would not be the case. There are no Mosques welcoming gay congregants in the UK. Where support for gay equality so “widespread” this would not be the case.
It is claimed that this poll “mark a significant change” since a Gallup poll two years ago found 0% of British Muslims supported gay rights. While that poll result is clearly not credible or indicative, at least it has the defence of having asked a coherent question.
I’m not entirely sure what the point of the question in the Demos questionnaire was, however. Was it conducted with a view to establishing a true representative picture about gay rights and combating homophobia or was the aim to have a crack at secularists while letting religious groups off the hook? Perhaps it was merely neutral and indifferent. But the clumsy framing of the question makes it hard to imagine that no political agenda prompted its framing – or the conclusions drawn from it’s responses.
Considering that all organised opposition to the liberalisation of British law regarding homosexuality has been – and continues to be – driven by religious organisations, it is simply not credible that any religious group – and, being honest, Islam in particular – is more accepting of lesbian and gay people than the non-religious and secular.
At the end of the day, these sort of polls are not reliable ways of gauging what religious communities think about gay people or gay civil rights. Actions speak louder than words. For example, it is reasonably easy to get into the ballpark concerning Christianity and homosexuality. The debates rage in the open. There are arch-homophobes and gay bishops, there are churches who rage against “sexual immorality” and there are gay churches, there are Christian organisations which oppose gay participation in religious life and gay civil rights and others which welcome gay people and promote equality. There are gay Christians who speak openly about their faith and indeed some are clergy.
There appears to be no such openness, such range of opinion and such variety of expression apparent among the religious British Muslim community.
Those from a Muslim background who are supportive of the gay community tend towards the secular end of the spectrum and have no mainstream representation precisely because to hold such progressive views excludes one on the grounds of authenticity by those who take a communalist view of religious groups: to represent the Muslim community one has to be, well, representative. It begs the question. The very notion precludes an acknowledgement of wide ranging views and opinion.
To put it crudely, when sweeping claims are made by pollsters about British Muslims, who do we mean? That bloke at work who may fast over Ramadan but always buys the first round at the pub after work on Friday… or that guy with the beard whose wife follows him around in a niqab? Only one has any visible and organised ‘representation’.