Helen and Joe Roberts, Christians from Lancashire, have been awarded £10,000 in an out-of-court settlement after taking legal action against Wyre Borough Council. The Roberts family found out that the council was using taxpayers’ money to “promote homosexuality”, by printing information leaflets about gay rights. They asked a council officer to put out Christian literature alongside these leaflets – and not only did he refuse, he made a formal complaint of homophobia to the police. Shocked at being investigated for a hate crime, the couple took legal action, and now, a year later, the council and police have apologised and settled.
The Christian press has been parading this as a victory for freedom of speech and religious practice. The Roberts family themselves claim that all they were after was “equal treatment” for their Christian views. They believe that homosexuality is morally wrong, and that it’s unfair for the council to weigh in on one side of a moral debate using public funds.
I disagree. Supporting LGB rights isn’t about taking one side of a moral argument. I personally think it’s utterly crazy to believe that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is in any way wrong – but if other people feel that homosexuality is immoral, that’s their own private matter. The important thing is that nobody forces their moral views on anyone else.
If you agree with me on that, then you must surely support gay rights, whether you think that being gay is morally acceptable or not. If people are supposed to make moral choices for themselves, then they need the freedom to go with it, and that means complete parity of treatment for LGB people.
Aha, say the Robertses, but the local council are telling people that homosexuality is morally acceptable. This is implicit in the fact that they are promoting it. They continue: Morality is the foundation of democracy and when you do away with morality, your democracy goes down the Suwannee and you end up with immorality and then anarchy.
I can’t help feeling that they have completely missed the point. It’s impossible to promote homosexuality, because people don’t consciously decide to be gay. (With prejudiced attitudes like the Roberts family's out there, I'm not sure why anyone would choose to!) The council’s leaflets were actually promoting equal rights – which is a key component of the freedom that lets people decide for themselves on moral issues.
Mr and Mrs Roberts are biting the hand that feeds them. The secular, amoral society that promotes gay rights is the same secular, amoral society that allows them to have their own views on homosexuality, however unpleasant, without being criminalised. (Remember, the Roberts family’s complaint against the police centred around the fact that they hadn’t broken any law.)
The council’s Diversity Officer completely also missed the point, every bit as much as the Robertses. He argued that Christian literature is offensive to gay and lesbian people. Again, it’s entirely the wrong attitude. It’s far better to live in a morally neutral society, where you risk coming across conflicting viewpoints, than live in a society where the moral majority can shut the minority groups up. This sort of politically-correct offence-taking can only harm the cause of free speech, especially when the police get sent round to somebody’s house to investigate them merely for having rather bigoted views.
The whole debacle has given the Christian right undeserved publicity, and a chance to pretend they’re sticking up for the same civil liberties they would dearly love to suppress. It’s made the council look like thought police, and it’s made the police look ridiculously heavy-handed.
It’s also ended up with £10,000 of taxpayers’ money being given to the Robertses, who have promptly donated the whole lot to the Christian Institute, a political lobby group which wants to see conservative Christian values made into UK law. I’m sure the Institute is at odds with the views of council taxpayers in Lancashire, far more so than fairly innocent leaflets explaining the detail of anti-discrimination laws, but the Roberts family’s thoroughly principled position on the appropriate use of public money seems to have quietly melted away …