Monday, 14 May 2012

It's not illiberal to say someone's opinion is wrong

Gah. This is why I shouldn't read the Daily Fail. There's an article about how Sarah Teather Lynne Featherstone, Lib Dem MP and government minister, has publicly disagreed with Tim Loughton, Conservative MP and another government minister, on the issue of equal marriage.

Loughton had responded to a constituent's letter and said:
"For me, marriage as a religious institution cannot be anything other than between a man and a woman, and particularly when all the rights and responsibilities of marriage are available  to non-heterosexual couples through civil partnerships.

I do not see why we need to change the law, especially at this time when there are so many other important matters for the Government to be addressing. Until now I have not received a  single letter from a constituent pressing me to support gay marriage."
Now, I'm not going to get into the whole debate about the fact that church used to perform same sex marriages for most of its existence, or that many, many same sex couples want to get married, as that's a debate for another time. So instead, here's what Sarah Teather Lynne Featherstone said in response to Tim Loughton's letter:
"Our consultation on equal marriage is about how to do this, not whether. Both Coalition parties have made clear we are committed to legislate by 2015." 
Predictably, this has brought forth such gems of wisdom from Daily Mail commentors on the article like:
"So you are not allowed to voice your own opinion where the loonie Libs are concerned, hardly democratic is it Featherstone."
- daveyh, Ho UKlt,
"Wow, the liberals are now telling people that they can'ht have an opinion!"
- Philip, Cameron - you promised us a referendum on the EU. Why did you lie?,
Now, those comments are the real point of tis blogpost because I'd like to clarify something for the ignorant, blinkered people who left those comments:

Being a liberal means believing that you have the right to air your opinion - and we will fight to defend your right to have and to voice your opinion. It also means that we have the right to vocally disagree with you and say that you're speaking a load of old tosh and that you deserve a metaphorical smack around the head for being such a prejudiced bigot.

It's not hard really. Everyone has the right of freedom of speech and of thought. And, if you're an angry illiberal - I'm sorry to break it to you - that includes the right for other people to disagree with you.

So many people seem to either to be too dense to grasp this basic point or to deliberately misunderstand it in order to whine pathetically about being victimised by the "PC brigade". And you know, my heart bleeds for them - what's the centuries old vicitimisation of LGBT people, ethnic minorities and women compared to the suffering of semi-illiterate white, male, middle-class Daily Mail commenters?


  1. "Being a liberal means believing that you have the right to air your opinion"

    Indeed. I assume then you'll join in the condemnation of the ASA for even considering to censure Cranmer for carrying a Coalition for Marriage advert?

    1. No. I'll condemn the people who reported him to the ASA but all the ASA is doing following the procedure it is required to follow by law and asking him to respond to the complaint.

      Given that the poll used in the advert on his blog is an accurate representation of a scientific poll (even if I think the wording of the poll question itself was push polling) then it would only take a five minute email to reply to the ASA, linking to the poll, and the ASA would quite happily tell the complainants that their complaint had been rejected.

      What Archbishop Cranmer is actually doing, however, is pretending that he is being personally hounded, attacked and censored by the ASA - even though he isn't.

      I refer you to:

    2. Free speech is free speech; you shouldn't have to justify what you say on a blog (which people are free to read, or not) to an agency which will then judge whether you should be free to say it or not.

      The ASA should be able, if they aren't already, to consider whether there is any reasonable case to answer before issuing demands for justifications. As LibCon so eloquently demonstrate, there isn't a reasonable case. There should be a stronger prima facie case required before a citizen is required to justify themselves to a state agency.

    3. Okay, clearly you've got completely the wrong idea of what this is about.

      This is not about what Archbishop Cranmer writes on his blog. This is about an "advert" that he hosted on his blog in exchange for money.

      Because it is an "advert" it is subject to certain legal "standards" which are regulated by an "authority which is called the "Advertising Standards Authority".

      All the ASA does is, in the event of complaints, look at an advert and checks if it breaches the advertising standards. As part of this they'll ask the subject of the complaint for their side of the story. Which is all they've done to Cranmer.

      Yes it's a frivolous complaint. But the complaints were made and they are obliged to investigate them. Just like the police are obliged to investigate if someone tells them that their neighbour grows drugs in his basement. If said neighbour shows the police that his house doesn't even have a basement then the police will quite happily leave it at that. It's the same thing with the ASA - and they'd be able to reject the complaints a lot more easily if Cranmer had responded to their letter properly instead of throwing a hissy fit claiming he is being censored.

      So, to recap, yes the complaints are stupid and will inevitably be rejected by the ASA. However, the complaints are about the *advert* and not the blog so no one is trying to limit or regulate what Cranmer can or cannot say on his blog. It's really not complicated.

  2. You're right. You shouldn't read the DM, and most assuredly not the comments. I could smash the computer screen sometimes in frustration at the ignorance displayed on these pages.

    In this case, of course, it is perfectly liberal (if not Liberal) to consider that someone is wrong, especially when they talk twaddle like that. It's political correctness that stops us saying that he is talking sh*t.

    Marriage, in any case, is not a religious institution. It is a civil one. It is the civil law that dictates the rights and responsibilities of a spouse. It's the civil law that fixes and pays benefits, levies taxes, decrees the almost inevitable divorce, and under which people in our two jurisdictions have different, but none the less, some, rights to a spouse's estate when they are dead.

    The religious aspect is an affectation (and I don't mean that disparagingly), but it's something you can affect to have if you want... or not. But if you have it, the minister, priest, rabbi, or whoever performs the religious ceremony, is doing it on behalf of the state, and the register still has to be signed, s it would be in the Registrars (Scotland) or Registry (England) Office. The "religious" then collects the registrar's fees and the details are sent to the nearest civil office!

    I have no doubt that in both Scottish and English law, the states will once again bow to the right of churches of whatever faith to be above the law by refusing equal rights to people in this matter as they do in employment law.

    (But let's be honest, what gay couple in their right minds wants to be married in a church that doesn't want to marry them because they think that they are, at best, not worthy of god's blessing, and at worst abominations...?)

    The died in the wool Tories will doubtless be against this, but even to be 'half elected' they did have to get themselves a leader (Cameron) who at least looked as if he belonged in the later half of the 20th century... and they should remember that until they did that and he brought on policies like recognition that gay people are humans Labour won hands down every time. They were happy enough with these policies in opposition and stood with them at election.

    1. Actually, your third paragraph is simply wrong. Marriage in Britain is a mixture of civil and religious, not purely civil (yet). Hence a vicar can do the whole thing (and not by doing a religious and civil component in a service: the whole thing is religious). Whether we like it or not, we are not a secular country.

      I would much rather remove marriage entirely from the state's grip, and simply have civil partnerships for any couple. We can then leave it to people and communities to define marriage for themselves. That would be a genuinely secular and liberal solution.

      Personally, as a liberal I find it slightly odd for couples to want the affirmation of the state for their relationship. Surely we should take it out of the hands of the state, and leave it to individuals and communities to give relationships value?

  3. Can I just point out that it wasn't Sarah Teather disagreeing with Tim Loughton, but Lynne Featherstone.

    1. Ugh. Sorry about that. I keep on mixing those two up :S


I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

I am happy to address most contributions, even the drunken ones if they are coherent, but I am not going to engage with negative sniping from those who do not have the guts to add their names or a consistent on-line identity to their comments. Such postings will not be published.

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