You know, when gay marriage legislation was going through parliament and Christian campaigners were warning about the possibility that those with a conscientious objection to gay marriage would find themselves at a disadvantage in public life – especially teachers – I honestly thought that it would take some time to happen. You might have some nutty secularist calling out a teacher who stubbornly refused to teach the parity of gay and straight marriage to children, but outside the Liberal Democrats, I couldn’t really see persecution ahead, other than for marriage registrars who would, unfortunately, just have to lump their conscientious difficulties with marrying same-sex couples.
Well, I was wrong, wrong, wrong. For Mr Mark Spencer, Tory MP for Sherwood, Notts, Robin Hood territory, has just emerged from complete obscurity to suggest that teachers who use their position to teach children that gay marriage is ‘wrong’ should be subject to Extremism Disruption Orders. These anti-terror measures are the kind of thing most of us were automatically probably rather in favour of, on the grounds that they are designed to deal with the sort of people who run off to Syria to join Isis, and we don’t lose sleep over them. Well, seems like I should. Because the orders gun for those who oppose ‘British values’. And it turns out that one of those values is – surprise! – a commitment to undifferentiated equality between gay and straight relationships including marriage.
In a letter to a constituent, Mr Spencer said that Christian teachers were ‘perfectly entitled’ to express their views on same-sex marriage, but only in ‘certain situations’. What might those be, then? In classroom debates rigged to ensure that the approved notion of ‘tolerance’ should always win? In the privacy of their homes? In social education classes, but only if they also give the party line that gay marriage is completely normal?
I suppose we should be grateful that this complete lunatic has come up with the suggestion in time to stimulate a rather vigorous debate about what, precisely, the extremism is that the new orders are designed to disrupt. The charitable view might be that this was his sole purpose, to make us think again about what a ‘British value’ is, other than views that happen to be fashionable with the kind of people who like to call themselves progressive. But I worry that Mr Spencer is not in fact a satirist, that he does actually mean it, and what started out as a well-meaning if, to my mind misguided, bid to put gay and straight relationships on a par has turned from an attempt at greater tolerance to a new and horrid intolerance. Unintended consequences, eh?
PS By the way, can I just register an objection to this notion that the only people who can possibly be against gay marriage are Christians, possibly of an evangelical persuasion. It’s quite possible, you know, to see marriage as naturally and inherently heterosexual, on the basis of the complementarity of the sexes, even if you’re not religious.