“That would be an ecumenical matter”

There has been some fuss recently about Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat party leader, and his views on sin. I am finding I am having to answer the same questions and rebut the same half-truths over and over again, so I put together a quick handy guide. The progression of points in here is typically how the debate unfolds but my style tends to be quite dry. Those who want a slightly more emotional response to the issue, which can best be summarised by “FFS, not this again”, should read Jennie Rigg’s post. Jennie is also chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats.

For those new to this blog, I should clarify that I’m a bisexual transwoman in a polyamourous relationship.

I have avoided criticism of other politicians in this post, but I would like to note that there is more than enough of the brown stuff to go around if we want to get into a mud slinging contest. Some people might want to go there, but that’s not something I’m doing in this post.

Edit: Since I wrote this post, Tim has answered a direct question on this in parliament. His reply to “Do you believe that homosexuality is a sin” was “I do not”. You can see the clip on BBC iPlayer at about 13:46. It remains to be seen if he has opened Pandora’s Box or not…

But why won’t Tim Farron say gay sex is not a sin?
I don’t think he can, because the question is a trap. It’s not a new trap, and back in 2003 Tony Blair was stopped from answering questions on religion by his spin doctors with the now-infamous line “We don’t do God“.

For political leaders, religion is a Pandora’s Box and should stay closed. Cathy Newman, when she asked him the question, no doubt had followup questions for him to try to back him into a corner – she’s an accomplished political journalist and anyone of that calibre will not ask a question without follow up questions in mind. With enough questioning, any politician is going to find themselves forced either into a row with religious leaders (Just look at what happened with Cadbury’s and the National Trust) or with their own party. Neither of those are vote-winning choices.

Unfortunately, Tim did fluff a 2015 interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 by starting to talk about theology before he had realising it was a bad idea in his new role as party leader. This original error is why the issue has become a story. For those who might have missed the initial interview, what he actually said was “We’re all sinners”. Yes, it is theologically accurat, but it is unhelpful for a party leader to say. Nevertheless, he has definitely never said he thinks gay sex is a sin.

I do recognise that some people won’t be happy unless he says “No” to the question, and that not everyone will agree with me here, but I believe that Tim’s statement that he is not going to make theological pronouncements is probably the right approach. Although Cathy Newman has so far failed to ask any other political leadership figures the same question, you can bet that the likes of May, Khan and so on now all have their own soundbite-sized version of “We don’t do God” prepared.

But he abstained on Same-Sex Marriage!
There were six votes, and Tim abstained on one of those due to issues surrounding the spousal veto. “They Work For You” have more on this, just click the linked image on the right to see the detail. If you think that trying to fix the spousal veto during the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was a bad thing, then that’s far from evidence that Tim is homophobic and I must respectfully disagree with you on parliamentary tactics. One of my regrets that is that trans politicians didn’t rock the boat more at the time and try to persuade people to vote against the bill due to it’s transphobic content. Sadly, we did not as a group have the influence then that we have now.

Gay frogs!
Seriously? That wasn’t even close to Tim’s usual tweeting style and he’s hardly likely to wade into random twitter debates on LGBT issues with the British Humanists Association. He’s not the only party leader to have his twitter hacked either.

He’s only suddenly become LGBT+ friendly since he became party leader!
This is where I get to point out that Tim has a long track record of positive action on LGBT+ issues. Tim doesn’t – or didn’t, I suspect the school of hard knocks may affect this – do vapid soundbite politics. Those of us in bi/queer/trans circles often get marginalised by soundbite politics, with “Equal Marriage” being a prime example. (Top tip: We do not have Equal Marriage in the UK. We have Same-Sex Marriage, and you only have to look at the injustices perpetrated by the spousal veto, pension laws and so on to realise this) What he had done is learnt about the detail and spoken in favour of many positive Liberal Democrat policies that are often overlooked.

There’s plenty more press coverage since he became leader, and Pink News have a pretty good list of his pro-LGBT work once you scroll past the headline and attacks on him. Most recently, Tim was front of the queue condemning the homophobic atrocities in Chechnya, when I don’t think we’ve heard anything at all from Corbyn or May. However there are whole host of other things linked to from that article. Please do go and have a look.

The older stuff has less coverage as party presidents don’t usually get the limelight, but the photo at the top of this article was at an LGBT+ Liberal Democrats event he spoke at in 2012. From memory, that was the event where several of us spoke to him on the concerns trans people had about accreditation at party conference and which he helped us lobby on in his role as party president. The photo on the right was taken in February 2015, when Nick Clegg was still leader and Tim was out campaigning in my ward. Anyone local to Cambridge may recognise this as being outside the primary school on Coronation Street. Apologies for the poor photo, we didn’t realise this was going to be a “thing” at the time.

You’re only defending him because you’re a Liberal Democrat!
Hardly, and I was quite willing to be critical of Clegg when he messed up.

There are a number of loud bisexual/poly/queer/trans voices in the party defending Tim – Jennie Rigg, whose blog post I linked to above for example. A number of us get Righteously Annoyed when people attack Tim on LGBT+ issues, because he has been solid on the BT+ parts of the debate for many years when other political leaders have left us out in the cold for not being vote-worthy enough. Seeing people, and sometimes even the same people who sold us down the river over Same-Sex Marriage, attack him for not being word-perfect and repeating the same damaging soundbites as other leaders (“Equal” Marriage) is predictably going to rile us up.

As I said on Twitter, we’re the Awkward Squad. We don’t DO “Loyal party drone”. But I do have a nice photo of two of us with Tim Farron in Bournemouth that I’d like to share.

6 comments

  1. Actually, Farron abstained on the third reading of the same-sex marriage bill, having voted for an amendment to allow registrars to refuse to perform same-sex marriages on religious grounds. And he voted against the programme motion that was necessary to prevent the bill being talked out. He had also voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in 2007.

    Being a politician, of course he has come up with justifications. I tend to be sceptical about self-justifying politicians. Perhaps it would be better to emphasise that he later regretted his record on the same-sex marriage bill, and wished he had supported it.

    Anyhow, credit to him for finally saying he doesn’t think homosexuality is a sin (though let’s hope there isn’t a legalistic distinction between sex and sexuality on its way). But if I were still a Lib Dem supporter I would worry about what it says about his political judgment that he refused to answer that question several times yesterday – even though he had been through precisely the same car-crash experience a couple of years ago.

  2. Anyhow, credit to him for finally saying he doesn’t think homosexuality is a sin (though let’s hope there isn’t a legalistic distinction between sex and sexuality on its way).

    OK so although Farron had no problem giving a direct answer to the “theological question” about whether being gay was a sin, he is now again refusing to answer the question about whether having sex as a gay is a sin:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tim-farron-gay-sex-sin-liberal-democrats-a7700356.html

    So the net result of all this manoeuvring has been to make it perfectly obvious that he does think gay sex is a sin, but lacks the honesty to say so.

    No thank you, Mr Farron. And no thank you to his “liberal” apologists too.

    1. Surely what he ought to have said was a couple of things. First, that he is a politician, not a theologian, and his professional business is with people, not with his God, or anyone else’s. Second, that as a Liberal and Democratic politician his concern is with trying to get everyone to do right by his or her neighbour, carrying on a responsible and social life doing , so far as one can, harm to no-one, and good wherever possible. Sin is a spiritual, not a moral matter, and falls altogether outside the remit of any and every politician. [ The wrong that many people do may or may not be sinful, that is their choice; but which way they choose will not alter its wrongness.]

      1. What is all this stuff about sin being nothing to do with morality? It sounds like nonsense on stilts to me.

        Are we really meant to think “religious” people can believe that something is sinful and offensive to their god on one hand, but on the other that in everyday life it’s a jolly good thing that’s to be encouraged?

        But the thing is that, even if religious and secular concepts of right and wrong could be divorced to that mind-boggling exent, Tim Farron’s problem is that – as far as his voting record goes – earlier in his career, his priority was very much to protect the interests of those who wished to discriminate against homosexuals on religious grounds, even at the cost of allowing discrimination on other grounds to continue.

        That means Tim Farron’s own religious views about homosexuality are very much a legitimate area of interest for the electorate, whether he likes it or not. He may say he has changed his views, and wouldn’t now vote in the same way he did before, but if his views are to be swathed in secrecy, who can really tell?

  3. And now finally he says he doesn’t think gay sex is a sin, after evading the question so many times.

    Who knows what’s been going on here? I only know I’m not going to vote Lib Dem while Farron is the leader.

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