Monday, 21 April 2014


The viewing deck by the Information Center at Þingvellir

A young tourist couple shared the viewing platform overlooking Þingvellir with us during a sunny break in spastic weather we've been having over this Easter holiday.

This shot is taken from the western, North American Continental Plate side, looking east out over Þingvallavatn lake to the Eurasian Plate on the other side of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. On the horizon we could just see another set of ominous clouds bearing towards us from the south, ready to burst over the national park. We stayed just long enough to goof off a bit, marvel at the landscape, then get in our car and drive away just as another flurry of snow hid this lovely view ...

Sunday, 13 April 2014


This is one of my all-time favorite photos because our Óðinn looks so absolutely happy. It's not new, though with the weather as it was today I'm sure this hot pool at Nauthólsvík was just as packed with bodies basking in the spring sun. I posted this first in 2010, and what I wrote then is just as applicable now:

 Today is a perfect day to follow our bliss, and to begin in the middle, where we stand, centering ourselves for the start of a new era. We turn our faces to the sun and, like children, bask in the beautiful and glistening now. 

We were all little once, learning and exploring and laughing and crying and loving. I like to remember that when I think I've become too sucked in to the adult world, with all our rules and politics and greed and machinations and righteousness. At those times I try to imagine the grownups I'm dealing with as four year olds, innocent and hopeful, and it never fails to make me smile* : )

*As a matter of fact, the Kid Snippets video series pretty much nails it - if you haven't seen their episodes yet, you definitely have to check it out. 

Friday, 11 April 2014


If you've been reading Iceland Eyes for a while now, you'll know that I have a thing for pics of construction, and for how we're constantly digging down to the bedrock here on Þingholt then filling in the holes again. Some call it progress, others call it profitable, and still others say it keep the economy rolling by creating jobs.

Sometimes, not always, though it tends to look a lot like endless busy work, with men (and a few women) milling around a construction site with unseen purpose, in their orange outfits and hardhats and steel-toed worker boots. Sometimes they man jackhammers or diggers, and sometimes an electric saw can be heard from outside the perimeter fences of the construction site. But mostly it's as if by magic that, months later, a road is drivable again, or a building (sometimes tasteful, sometimes not) appears where the chaos of that gaping hole once was.

To turn this into a metaphore, it seems we're all being asked to dig to our own personal bedrock these days, to find our truths and discover who we'd like to be in the blueprint of our future. Like the Heart Park, which so many of us loved for the few seasons it existed, but which had been neglected along with many of the buildings surrounding it (purposely or not), sometimes we need to find the courage to let the familiar deconstruct, exposing our core foundation so that we can allow something new to come in its place. How much do we control the rebuilding of our lives? That I don't know, and I guess the answer depends on what your personal (spiritual) beliefs are.

What I think I understand, though, is this: our futures are constructed by all the small decisions we make each day. Those decisions are our building materials, and they can either have or lack the integrity to create a life structure of beauty, longevity and personal worth. Our constructs will be affected by the external unknown, and by others over whom we have no control. And we are blessed to be able to, at each moment of our lives, choose how we'll interpret and interact with the outside world as it itself unfolds and grows.

I like to think a brick of courage has more lasting strength than one made of fear, and that humility makes a better, more flexible rebar (for example) than anger. I would like to decorate my life's structure with kindness and forgiveness and gentle love. Even if it takes longer for people to see what it is that I'm creating, and even if I lose myself sometimes in the chaos of living, crashing into others' constructs and definitions of rightness, even if parts of my personal structure are weak with ill-made choices, I hope that as a whole the life that I'm creating will be beautiful, and an integral part of this amazing society in which I've chosen to live.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Is it Homophobic to oppose Same Sex Marriage?

The first same sex marriages in England and Wales took place this week.  It gave an ideal opportunity not just to celebrate the love of the people getting married, but for those who disagree with marriage equality to have one last blast at airing their views about how wrong this all is.

Catholic Voices, for example, has been keen to get its members media time on the subject.  The group
was co-founded by Jack Valero, a member of Opus Dei.  CV purports to represent the views of ordinary British Catholics*.  It has put out various items on the issue, such as this blog post, which at first glance seems reasonable enough.  However, breaking it down, in it they say that by allowing same sex couples to wed, there has been an "evisceration" of marriage.  That word generally means "disembowelment": removing the internal organs of an animal.  According to them, when two men or two women enter together into a legal, civil marriage, these are not proper weddings, but instead are a "parody" of the real thing.

They predict that:
  • all civil marriages will become insignificant and incoherent; 
  • marriage will be weakened; 
  • the state will be beset by groups wanting recognition of polyamorous and "other kinds" of sexual unions.  
Their claim is that society must rebuild itself.  You may agree or disagree with these quite serious claims about the effect of opening up of marriage to same-sex couples, but I'm interested in the question of whether being opposed to same-sex marriage is by definition homophobic.

Is it Homophobic? 

Well, I could answer this question in fewer than 140 characters by nicking Sean Jones QC's tweet below.  It's just brilliant and gets straight to the heart of it for me:

Catholic Voices take a quite apocalyptic stance about the effects of marriage equality, particularly when you strip away their attempts to be reasoned and reasonable.  Sean's tweet covers other less dramatic positions of people who simply don't "like" the idea of same sex marriage but haven't really formulated why.  I'll go on below to look at the matter in a bit more detail below, and explain why I agree with him.

The Word Homophobia

The first thing I'm going to do is to try to move away from the use of "homophobia".  It's an interesting word, first coined in 1969 to describe the "mixture of revulsion and apprehension".  It was also called homosexual panic.  I think back then that probably was the reaction of plenty of people (particularly straight men) when faced with people attracted to the same sex.  No doubt it is still the case for some now.

However, what most people naturally mean when they use the term is something akin to racism or sexism, which is directed at LGB people.  The word covers a whole range of negative feelings that range from antipathy or mild prejudice, through to actual violent contempt.  It can include phobia, but on most people's usage it doesn't actually by any means require fear.  I therefore understand why some get hung up on that aspect of the word, particularly when they try to give it its literal meaning.  I'm therefore going to use the term "anti-gay" in this post instead of homophobia here.

Just like any prejudice, anti-gay feeling and behaviour cover a huge spectrum of words and activities.   Someone who calls gays "poofs" in a tweet is clearly not in the same league as those who beat up, attack or kill gay men because of their hatred (19.3% of all hate crimes in the US were incidentally motivated by sexual orientation bias).   By having your position on same-sex marriage challenged as being anti-gay, it does not mean that the person doing so is suggesting that you're in the same category as someone who engages in violent assaults.  It's perfectly possible for you to know, and even like, some LGB people, whilst believing the law should rightly discriminate against them and to seek to deny them the rights that heterosexual people enjoy.   That really should be obvious.

Also, as with racism, you can of course feel that you're entirely not anti-gay, whilst behaving in such a way that others would agree falls into that category.  Those affected by your prejudice certainly don't have an absolute monopoly of determining what is and what is not anti-gay, but they are often in the best place to assess the effect of it because of their day to day life experiences.

The Symbolism of Marriage Equality

Let's be clear that in the UK the huge legal injustices facing same-sex couples were not the driving force in LGB people arguing for marriage equality.  Civil Partnerships had already meant that almost the same legal rights were available to civil partners as to those marrying.  In this the UK differs to many other countries around the world.

The matter of marriage equality was foremost one of equal treatment, dignity and principle.  Marriage is of course an entirely made up thing: a social construct that humans have created and defined.  It's a concept, not a tangible "thing".  It is however an important institution from which we collectively have agreed certain rights and responsibilities should flow.  This change in the law on marriage was about the State saying "your unions are equal".  It's about the State sending out a signal that "you are equal" after many, many years of state instituted discrimination and wrong treatment, and in the context of ongoing social prejudice. 

It was extremely important to many LGB people, myself included, to win this battle.  I'm enormously glad we did.  The symbolism was absolutely enormous.  We have already moved from a society where, growing up as a gay teen in the 80s, my only point of reference to homosexuality was parody characters on Are You Being Served, and hearing how homosexuals were dying of a "gay plague".  Instead we have an incredibly positive affirmation of same-sex unions by a Conservative prime-minister who himself had even voted against the repeal of Section 28.   This is enormous.

Again, Sean entirely gets it:

I cannot emphasise enough what it represents to have the option of marriage available to me personally, and to know the positive effect on the next generation of gay teenagers growing up in an environment where the State recognises their relationships and treats them as equal.  What an amazingly positive change and healthy development in our society.

Being Anti-Gay

It's not terribly hard to set out tests for whether someone is expressing an anti-gay position.  Here are a few examples:
  • Do you believe that LGB people should have fewer or different civil rights to straight people?
  • Do you believe that civil marriage between an LGB couple is a parody of "real marriage"?
  • Do you believe that LGB relationships are only worthy of separate recognition by the State and LGB people should be satisfied with that?
  • Do your views and words tend to upset, offend or hurt a sizeable proportion of LGB people?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I'd say there's a good chance you're being intrinsically and inherently anti-gay.  It really is rather difficult for you to argue that is not case.  I think, with respect**, you'd have to be quite thick to not get this point.  If you were saying black people should have fewer civil rights, people would rightly say you're being racist.  Here, you're saying things that are anti-gay, and if you had your way the effects of this would be laws that discriminate against (i.e. treat differently) LGB people.  You're being anti-gay.

And if, remarkably, you still haven't got the point that you're being anti-gay by arguing I should not be allowed marriage equality, then consider this.  In 1967 the US Supreme Court overturned the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which had prohibited inter-racial marriages.  Similar rules existed in other states.  Imagine if, instead, the court had permitted blacks to enter unions with whites, but it created a "separate but equal" institution called "inter-racial partnerships".  Would you argue that mixed race couples should be content with it because it gave all the same legal rights as "ordinary" couples AND this position is not racist?  I think people would label you as racist on this issue, with justification.  I see no difference with stating that LGB people should put up with the separate but (almost) equal institution of civil partnership is being anti-gay.

Please do think about this if you're stance is "I'm not anti-gay, but I don't think they should be allowed to get married."  Really think it through and realise what you're saying.

Baffling Denial

We've had plenty of examples in history of laws related to marriage that discriminate against any given group.  The 1701 Act of Settlement was anti-Catholic.  It said that anyone who became Roman Catholic or married a Roman Catholic was excluded from the succession.  The Nuremberg laws of 1935 were anti-Jewish and prohibited non-Jews from marrying Jews in Germany.  I've already mentioned the ban on whites marrying blacks in some US states.

In each of these cases people were, I believe, consciously aware that the policies discriminated against a particular group.  They felt it was right to do so and put forward justifications for this.  This country faced what it considered to be a serious threat from Roman Catholicism in the early 18th century.  Millions of Germans supported the discriminatory Nuremberg laws as necessary to protect the "German nation".  People who argued for segregation knew they were backing a racist policy.  They wrongly thought it was correct to do so in the interests of social harmony.

The extraordinary thing same sex marriage issue, though, is that many people are in utter denial that by seeking to keep marriage from LGB people that they are being at all anti-gay.  Catholic Voices do it in their article.  They say that they are offended by "jeers" that they are homophobic or bigoted for taking the stance they do.  Here's a Catholic Priest, Father James Bradley, who says we live in "dangerous times" because of this and this is "not the path of a civilized society".

Quite how he reaches this point I'm not sure.  He's entitled to his view that I should be discriminated against by the State and to put forward what he sees as his compelling faith based reasons for this.  People will agree or disagree with them.  But to deny that anyone who takes a position that is by definition anti-gay is being anti-gay makes no sense at all.  It is not dangerous to point this out, and it is not uncivilised to do so.  It is only uncivilised if it's accompanied by abuse, but that's not what I'm doing.  I'm simply stating something which should be quite evident if you use some logic.

The Roman Catholic faith teaches (Catechism 2357) that homosexual acts are "acts of grave depravity" and are "intrinsically disordered".  It says that they are "contrary to natural law".  They do not "proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity".  "Under no circumstances can they be approved".  It talks about same-sex attraction being a "trial" for homosexuals.  This is as inherently anti-gay as it gets.  With these teachings, it is a virulently anti-gay religion.  The Catechism then talks about treating these poor homosexuals with "respect" and not unjustifiably discriminating against them (justifiable discrimination is by definition okay according to the faith).

Why should I not point out that all of the attempts to deny me civil rights come from an inherently anti-gay set of religious views?  They are entitled to their beliefs and can argue them as much as they like, but I will not accept that whilst doing so they are not being anti-gay.
Just as a side-note, we have always to remember that there are many Christians who take a different viewpoint to the one above.  The Church in Wales last month issued a report by the standing doctrinal commission which stated the following:

Isn't that beautiful?  A very recent poll found a majority (53%) of Americans now support same-sex marriage, with support amongst white Catholics even higher, at 58%, and amongst Hispanic Catholics at 56%.  Perhaps Rome will catch up with the huge number of its own members who don't support its anti-gay position.  Don't believe that it doesn't or can't ever change its policies on fundamental issues either: that's demonstrable historic nonsense.  To give one example, the Catholic Church banned the charging of interest on loans during most of its existence.  It said the practice was "detestable to God and man, damned by the sacred canons and contrary to Christian charity".  The doctrine was enunciated by popes, expressed by three ecumenical councils, proclaimed by bishops, and taught unanimously by theologians.  People who lent for money were refused the sacraments and Christian burial.  Then, in the 19th century they changed the rules and, hey ho, allowed it. Such is the immutable Word of God.

It Bothers Them

Now, back to the curious point about those being anti-gay denying that they are in fact so.  If you point this out to them, wow does it bother them.  They want to have their communion wafer and eat it.  NO, they are motivated by God's word and love and nothing about their anti-gay stance is at all anti-gay.  They trot out the words that everyone is created in God's image and is worthy of human dignity.  It's "love the sinner, hate the sin, and go out and campaign loudly for the State to actively discriminate against the sinner in civil matters."  They get most upset when their anti-gay stance is called out as such.

A few of them are obviously and offensively homophobic.  The ostensibly reasonable Catholic Voices piece contained the slippery slope argument about "other sexual unions" being recognised.  These words are a bit nebulous and they don't spell out what is meant with that.  Given the piece has already considered straight, same-sex and polyamorous sexual unions, I can only assume it refers either to bestiality, paedophilia, or both.   Considering the union of two people of the same sex with screwing animals in the same context is a bit anti-gay isn't it, even it if wasn't overt?

This Catholic convert and former monk below, who calls gay men "LGBT perverts" and "poofs", is much more direct:

And YET, it bothers the donkey-loving former monk to be called anti-gay.  He's been off recently on a long rant with a doctor I follow about how he worked with gay men in the 1980s during the Aids crisis, preaching abstinence.  Because of this, and despite his anti-gay tweets, he maintains he isn't anti-gay.  This is, to me, very baffling psychology.

A Fifth of Britons wouldn't go to a Gay Wedding

Just to wrap up, it was widely reported (BBC, Guardian, Telegraph etc) that a recent poll showed 68% support for marriage equality, with a minority of just 26% who actually object to it.  That result must have hurt those opposed to same-sex marriage, with their claims that the majority of the population is opposed to it.  26% opposition is actually quite a remarkable figure.  There actually aren't many contentious political issues (HS2, fracking, EU etc) where just 26% of the population are opposed to something.  It shows surprising and heart-warming consensus given the public hasn't even had time to get used to the change yet.

Rather than emphasise this positive point, most of the press however highlighted a subsidiary finding in the poll that a "fifth of Britons (22%) would turn down an invitation to a gay wedding."  Father Bradly, above, said the findings of the survey reflected the reality that people remained "deeply uncomfortable" with being honest about their true feelings on the meaning of marriage.

I actually wouldn't be at all surprised if 20% of the British population would respond in a poll that they would not be comfortable attending a Muslim wedding.  People can be very uneasy and/or prejudiced towards groups, particularly when they have had no personal contact with members of it, and have soaked up negative stereotypes from the press and elsewhere.  If this were the case, a sensible approach might be to accept that prejudice of all sorts is deeply engrained in our society and to ask what can be done to justify it.  I certainly wouldn't argue that it means that Muslim people shouldn't be allowed to marry by the State, because people are personally "deeply uncomfortable" with going to one of their weddings and we need to pander to that prejudice.

Some Gay People Get Married. Get Over It.

The really GREAT thing is all this is over, or it should be.  Those seeking to be anti-gay about marriage have lost their argument, the vast majority of the population supports marriage equality, and this is the last opportunity for them to air their anti-gay views with anyone taking any kind of notice. 

I believe it's been a particularly disastrous week for the likes of Catholic Voices in getting their anti-gay viewpoint over and attempting to win hearts and minds.  Some attempts have led to enormous mirth online, and it's been really quite amusing watching it unfold, and see it bite them back on the arse.  The opponents of marriage equality appear, in my view, to be increasingly isolated, bitter, unreasonable, and often hysterical in their predictions. 

I hope this is my last blog post on the subject.

Love wins in the end.

* Christian Voices is in somewhat hot water at the moment when one of their Speakers, Paula Thompson, an architect, put out an anti-gay tweet regarding Mozilla that spoke of "normal people".  In response a person in the US agreed with her and added "All fags are mentally ill and need to be exterminated".  She retweeted this hate-filled statement to her 1100 followers with no indication that she objected to the contents of the tweet.  She further agreed with a tweet that said "Homosexuals do not want tolerance.  They want to dominate with their sick, deviant life style choice".  Finally a tweet came to light before she was a Catholic Voice in which she said she hoped the IRA would bomb an abortion clinic in Northern Ireland.  It was after that they recruited her as a speaker.

Catholic Voices apparently has the "blessing" of the Catholic bishops in the UK. They apparently "can be relied on to express authoritatively the Church's positions in ways that are succint [sic], compelling and reasonable."  Make your own mind up how those tweets fit with that.  Genocide and sectarian violence.  Paula has since resigned, which has conveniently led Catholic Voices to say it's nothing to do with them any more.  Neither she nor Catholic Voices have offered any form of apology to the anti-gay tweets.  The issue of whether this constitutes illegal hate speech is currently with the Police.

** not really