Helen Martin: What’s love got to do with it?

A LIBERTARIAN, I am not. But even I am astonished by passion of the religious argument against legalising gay marriage in Scotland. Alex Salmond has even been told by former SNP leader Gordon Wilson – now chairman of a Christian organisation – that if he goes ahead with plans for recognising gay marriage, he could be kissing his plans for independence goodbye, such will be the anger and alienation among voters.

I just don’t get it. I can fully understand that the Catholic Church, the Wee Free, Islam, and I’m sure, individual priests, vicars, ministers, rabbis and more may refuse to sanctify such a union with a religious rite, even though there are some, maybe many, clerics who have no problems with the idea and, privately, would be happy to oblige.

It is a difficult theological issue depending on how literal an interpretation one places on the scriptures and precisely how marriage – and its purpose – is defined.

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So, if any church wants to refuse a gay couple wishing to tie the knot, that’s their business. It’s a free world. I told you I wasn’t a libertarian. Religious views should be accepted, if not always respected.

I didn’t get outraged over the much-publicised case of the gay couple being refused a double bed in a bed and breakfast. In fact, I was disappointed that their “wouldn’t-be” hosts were prosecuted for discrimination, which was way over the top.

The B&B owners discriminated against lots of people . . . anyone who wasn’t joined in holy matrimony in fact, an attitude that is charmingly quaint but outdated.

If I’d been part of a gay couple, or an un-wedded one, seeking a room, I’d stay somewhere else where I would be made to feel welcome, safe in the knowledge that if they carried on rejecting trade, it wouldn’t be long before the Holy Joes up the road went out of business anyway, rather than pursue them for “their sins” in court.

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The point with the B&B – as with marriage – is that as long as there is somewhere else to go in order to get the service you want, that’s fine.

The state cannot compel the church to sanction a marriage it doesn’t believe in; and the church can’t – and shouldn’t – attempt to prevent the state legalising whatever marriage between consenting adults it sees fit.

It is, of course, a spiritual tragedy for a devout Christian who is gay and is barred from getting married in his or her own church . . . but that’s between him/her and the church.

Clerics feel they are somehow the guardians of marriage. They see it, first and foremost, as a religious ceremony.

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That is not necessarily the case for many others in the population for whom it’s a legal option, a public profession of love and togetherness, a demonstration of emotional security and commitment, and therefore something that is just as applicable to a gay couple as a straight couple.

No one religion has a monopoly on marriage or the qualifications required to enter into it – apart from those they choose to conduct under their own terms.

They are perfectly entitled to refuse to marry any heterosexual or same-sex couple according to their particular criteria.

And I’m sure “civvie” and clerical lobbyists against gay marriage truly believe the pressure they are applying is for the good of the state and its morals. But is it actually any of their business?

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The risk is that they become the ones who experience alienation for attempting to bully the state . . . and all to prevent even a non-religious civic marriage for two people who love each other.

Mixed blessings

EVER since last Wednesday, the public sector one-day strike has been kept alive by a plethora of radio and TV talk shows peddling the arguments for and against. The main thrust of supporters has been what a hard job teaching is, how poorly the low-paid in the sector are rewarded, and how it’s not fair that they should pay for the profligacy and incompetence of bankers.

I wouldn’t argue with any of that. I would, however, point out that everyone works harder nowadays. Teachers are no exception and often considerably better off – or no worse - than anyone else.

Care assistants in Edinburgh council residential homes, for example, are paid much more than those in the private sector.

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And we are all paying for the bankers to the point where many of us have seen our pensions obliterated altogether.

Public sector employees are indeed in a special category. They cannot claim to be exploited by greedy fat-cat owners or shareholders. Their remuneration does not come – as they seem to think – from government or council “pockets”, which actually don’t exist. Their money, wages and pensions come from the public, the majority of whom have less job security, often lower wages and pitiful or non-existent pensions.

Many public sector employees and politicians have one thing in common . . . they have no idea how tough it is for everyone else.