I’ve been forced to jump in on this debate because I can’t just sit back and watch it.
It’s more than making a mountain out of a molehill: there’s not even a fucking molehill.
This article, from the Independent, is a good summary of the controversy surrounding Tim Farron’s opinion on equal marriage/ gay rights.
For those who want a shorter summary, here it is.
Essentially, Tim Farron is a devout Christian, and he is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Some people believe these things are not compatible. I disagree.
There is speculation that as a result of his devout Christianity, Tim Farron believes that homosexuality/ homosexual sex is a sin. There is no evidence of this – indeed his history of campaigning for LGBT+ issues is exemplary. However, many have sited his choice to abstain from the programme motion of the Marriage Act as ‘proof’ that he is a homophobe.
Now let me begin by saying this: homophobia and indeed any kind of prejudice should be taken incredibly seriously. We should be on the look out for it with eagle eyes, and we should combat it at every opportunity. It is something I refuse to tolerate. I myself am not gay (I’m perhaps bi-curious with a strong preference towards men, am straight-passing and enjoy all of the privileges that come with that), but I am for the equal rights of everyone regardless of orientation, gender identity, race, creed. We are all the same. Just because the Marriage Act doesn’t necessarily affect me personally doesn’t mean I won’t fight for everyone else who is affected by it; it doesn’t mean I feel any less passionate about it.
I find any view that threatens anyone’s equality completely loathsome. So, if I did believe that the leader of my party put the equal rights of anyone in jeopardy, I wouldn’t be in the party or feel morally able to offer my support to the leader of said party.
Tim Farron’s voting record and actions on LGBT+ issues have been exemplary over his entire career; yet people seize upon his choice to abstain in the programme motion on the Marriage Act, a decision he has since said that he regrets (another aside: a politician expressing regret in itself is a wonderful thing; it shows he’s human and not infallible, and is willing to acknowledge it, unlike so many other politicians).
When asked why he abstained from the programme motion, he responded:
There was a whole bunch of issues where we were just not there yet. The whole point of the programme motion is it’s limiting the time for discussion.
I voted in favour at second reading and voted against the programme motion because it was important there was time to discuss trans issues and other very important issues – and there were two ‘conscience clause’ amendments.
I voted around the equal marriage bill in ways that I thought were basically liberal. What is regrettable is that people will draw their own conclusions, and assume that because you didn’t vote for it, you don’t support equal marriage.
I’ve made it quite clear I would vote for third reading now, and I probably should have done at the time. I thought issues hadn’t been covered properly – there was a whole range of things about protections, conscience objections for minority groups that have problems with equal marriage. I think fundamentally, it wasn’t sufficiently equal.
My clear view is that equal marriage needs to be equal marriage.
Until recently I hadn’t really thought about the fact that MPs might vote ‘no’ for something in Parliament because they don’t agree with all its clauses. It hadn’t really crossed my mind that that could be an issue, but it makes a lot of sense. You might vote ‘no’ on a programme motion on equal marriage because you’re homophobic, sure (although I doubt you would vote ‘yes’ in the first two rounds if that was the case); but you might also vote ‘no’ on a programme motion on equal marriage because you wanted more discussion time and more time to influence the nuances of the policy because it’s not quite fair to everyone.
Tim Farron has done so much for LGBT+ rights over his career, and to discredit that is wilfully ignorant and insulting. For example:
- demonstrating against Section 28 in 1987;
- leading calls against the persecution of gay people in Chechnya, lobbying Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on the issue;
- championing transgender equality;
- criticising the blanket ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men;
- personally intervening in Parliament to help secure the safety of a transgender woman who has been sent to a man’s prison.
The Pink News article just referenced goes on to quote Farron as saying:
I’ll give you three things I’m very keen we do.
One, when it comes to the equal marriage legislation, I think we really missed a trick on trans issues. On the spousal veto, I think it’s an appalling thing that one person is allowed to block another person’s freedom. We should be making that a priority.
Secondly, it strikes me as deeply troubling is that there was no regulation of psychotherapists in the UK for quack conversion therapy.
Thirdly, we’ve got to end the gay blood ban, which is a disgrace. My pledge to you is that my first opposition day bill will be getting rid of the gay blood ban. All of these things need to be based on the science, not on prejudice.
That doesn’t sound to me like a man who is homophobic or illiberal.
Another accusation people have of Farron is that he’s anti-abortion. And yet, in this interview, he is quoted as saying:
My instinctive position is we shouldn’t be telling people what they can and can’t do with their bodies.
There is no evidence at all that he is anti-abortion. I don’t doubt that if the issue comes up in Parliament, Tim Farron’s voting record would again be exemplary. If I wanted an abortion, I don’t doubt for a second that Tim Farron would support my right to do so.
For the benefit of those saying “vote Labour instead of the homophobic Lib Dems!”, I would like to link to this, which shows that more Labour MPs voted against the Marriage Act programme motion than Lib Dems. Let me show you a screenshot of a section of this list, showing the Labour votes against compared to the Lib Dem votes against:
So if a ‘no’ vote in the programme motion equates to homophobia (which, as discussed, it doesn’t necessarily), surely the Lib Dems are the most agreeable party? Yet there are so many calls for people to vote for Labour instead of the Lib Dems, based on Tim Farron’s “homophobia” (which I hope I have managed to disprove by now, based on all of the above…), when more Labour MPs voted against the programme motion anyway. Ergo, that argument is illogical.
I’m so sick of this being turned into something it’s not by the media who seem intent on representing the Lib Dems unfairly in all of their coverage. Let’s be honest: people love controversy and drama, and the media love exploiting and feeding that obsession. It’s more titillating and sells more newspapers to show how ugly Ed Miliband is when he eats a sandwich, how Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t sing the national anthem or how David Cameron fucks pigs (please don’t actually click these links, they propagate hateful vitriol. I’m only linking to show my sources – I’m an historian after all).
Why are the media focusing so much on Tim Farron being “homophobic”? Because it’s a potential headline. They want to milk it for all it’s worth. Why? Because there’s nothing else on him, because he’s a thoroughly good politician and a decent guy.
One article that criticises Farron for his Marriage Act is this one, by “former Lib Dem” Mark Gettleson. It was written two years ago, and has been doing the rounds on Facebook recently – the go-to article to share on Farron’s supposedly marred voting record. It might interest you to know that since he wrote the article, its author Mark Gettleson is very much back in the party and now supports Farron. So at least one person who felt genuinely concerned at Tim’s choice to abstain from the programme motion has since been persuaded that actually, his concern was not warranted. I know a lot of people within the Lib Dems have been through the same process, including my partner, who has been in the Lib Dems for years.
So why has Tim Farron avoided answering ‘is gay sex a sin’ for so long? Probably because it’s a stupid fucking question.
Something that also seems to be missing from much of this debate is that as liberals, we believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions, so long as they don’t detract from the rights of anyone else.
And, as Jennie Rigg so beautifully puts it:
If a person believes in their heart of hearts that something is wrong, and yet still campaigns for the right of other people to do it because it’s other people’s right to make their own moral choices?
That, my friends, that is liberalism.
The Lib Dems are all about being open, tolerant and united. Can we please stop trying to create controversy out of things that don’t exist? People who have the same values and desires for an equal society are being unnecessarily divided by the media and accusations about Farron that are untrue and unfair. This is all a big distraction from the ACTUAL issues at hand: the unequal society being created by the Tories right now.
Our NHS is falling apart. The gap between rich and poor is increasing. Racism and prejudice more generally is becoming more ‘acceptable’ and widely vocalised. This is the mess the Tories have created.
Our best chance of any positive influence in the current government is if the Lib Dems win more seats. The Tories are quite frankly disgraceful human beings on the whole, and Labour are fractured and falling apart with a weak and incompetent leader. The Lib Dems are consistent, fair, and progressive – not to mention more experienced and less marginal in politics than the likes of the Green Party.
Tim Farron is charismatic, effective, experienced and passionate. He is the kind of leader we should be looking to in times like this. And guess what? He’s not homophobic.
I implore you to actually act like the liberals you claim to be and not just swallow whatever is fed to you by the media.
Look at the evidence. Listen to what Tim has to say. Do your research. Check your sources. Think about the context of what you’re seeing and hearing.
It is positively illiberal to just shut someone down and to accuse them of being homophobic based on one vote that could have meant so many things, especially when their other actions and words express the exact opposite of your accusation. There are so many radical lefties who want to believe that there is no nuance or grey area, that everything is black and white. It’s not.
Ultimately, everyone will see and believe what they want to – but the evidence really is in Tim’s favour.
For more on this subject: