Tim Farron’s record on homosexuality is liberal, not bigoted
Michael Gove and Liz Kendall show how intolerant we’ve become
You’re just about coming round to the Lib Dems because of Brexit. You’ll probably lend them your (reluctant) vote but you won’t tell any of your friends.
But what’s that? “He’s a homophobe!” a friend complains about Lib Dem leader Tim Farron. He thinks gay sex is a sin. Or, more precisely, he kept dodging questions about it. After a fortnight of hounding, he finally clarified he does not think it’s a sin. Phew. But why did he dodge the question for so long? You’re still concerned.
So were Labour’s Liz Kendall and Conservative Michael Gove. They want you to be angry. In an interview, Liz says: “I think it’s pretty offensive and will rightly anger a lot of people.”
“I agree with Liz,” pipes up Mikey. “I’m a church-goer too.”
— Peston on Sunday (@pestononsunday) April 23, 2017
Quite right, you think, seeing those oh-so-serious faces.
You’re still not sure about Farron’s views. You Google his voting record. That’s weird. Only one abstention on the readings of the equal marriage bill (there weren’t enough provisions for transgender people) and – ah yes, got him! – because it didn’t allow opt-outs for individual clergy. Clearly a massive homophobe. Except he voted for loads of other LGBT rights. And he’s put together a plan for how to further campaign on LGBT rights.
But hang on a sec. Maybe their frowns were a bit too sincere. You remember we’re in the heat of a General Election. Both parties could lose votes to the Lib Dems. Were they using LGBT people to win votes, you wonder? Don’t be silly, you tell yourself. Straight politicians would never pretend to be offended on behalf of LGBT people to win votes. Would they?
A paradox: someone who (probably) thinks gay sex is a sin is, nonetheless, campaigning for LGBT rights.
Except it’s not a paradox, is it? It’s the premise of the whole gay liberation thing. Campaigning for others’ rights, despite you personally disagreeing with them, is the point of liberalism. Not endorsing something is not illiberal; banning it is. This argument is so cliché I can’t believe I’m actually putting it in black and white.
But Kendall and Gove show how illiberal we’ve become. They want you to join the Tory-and-Labour-vote-winning-machine, which essentially masquerades as a righteous mob. They want you to assume that because someone disagrees with something you do, they hate you and want to ban you. They’re a good ol’ BADDIE. Ironic, then, that Farron was the first party leader to call for action on LGBT persecution in Chechnya.
So as broadcaster after broadcaster insists on talking about the sex lives of a minority on prime time TV, you ask yourself whether you’re really comfortable with all this. Maybe you, like me, are part of that elaborately-acronymed LGBT minority. Maybe a friend is.
What you’ll see is a Christian being harried for his views on how some people reach a climax, and questioned on whether he eats shellfish or wears blended fabrics. You take a look at the world around you and wonder whether this is going to solve Brexit. Or the housing shortage. Or the productivity gap. Or the refugee crisis. Or anything. You wonder how many others might be put off reasonable politics when everyone assumes you’re a ‘baddie’ if you don’t approve of everything you do – not even if you support their rights.
Obviously you think some of Farron’s private views are a bit odd. So are most other people’s. But it occurs to you that maybe Farron is, in fact, the kind of person we need to be emulating: he actively campaigns for other people’s rights, even if he disagrees with them.
As it dawns on you that Kendall and Gove are actually demeaning liberalism by implying you can’t fight for the rights of someone you disagree with, you redirect the anger they are calling for right back at them.
Does disapproval of smoking mean you hate smokers? Do you want to ban them? No. So get out there, and argue the primary-school case for liberalism with your friends next time they shriek “HOMOPHOBE!” in Farron’s direction.