In a letter published on The Times of Malta, a priest found solace in the classic ‘fire and brimstone’ (virtual) sermon, as he preached about the destruction of traditional marriage at the hands of ‘the gays’.
This is hardly news as conservatives struggle to make their case ahead of tomorrow’s historic Marriage Equality Bill, that is all but guaranteed to pass. But the venom in this letter was particularly palpable, a tone we’ve heard a little too often lately. But where is it all coming from?
The letter, entitled ‘Holy Matrimony Will Stay’, opens with a bombastic narrative about how gay people will “never walk the red carpet of our historic cathedrals”, staying out of “the gaze of icons and the solace of the relics”.
Without getting into the merits of gay people definitely not needing the church to work a red carpet (and how countless LGBT+ people have, and will continue to, walk freely in and out of chapels and cathedrals) it’s clear many who oppose the bill have this irrational fear that the fight for equal rights will directly affect them in some way.
Despite all the harsh words, these attacks have no real bite. The half-hearted protests don’t resonate, probably because few really believe gay marriage will introduce the “culture of death” we were warned about.
However problems start to arise when we don’t even try to have a conversation with people whose beliefs are different to our own. This makes them feel disenfranchised, and while you may not care about how they feel, this approach won’t change people’s opinions, it just hardens their resolve.
When Malta first introduced divorce, many felt we were decades behind when it came to liberal progress. Yet, despite weeks of campaigning, almost half the country voted against allowing it. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would actively campaign to repeal the law.
While this change paved the way for a lot of the liberal progress we see today, (arguing against civil unions for same-sex couples is a hard one to pull off when there’s already civil unions for heterosexual couples) none of the new laws had the level of discussion that divorce did.
As more and more people believe their voice is being ignored, the first to feel the unease at liberal progress will be those with their finger on the pulse of the population – the very same people who draft the laws. It’s not hard to imagine that following the religious backlash over billboards or gay marriage, the government will not be charging into other liberal issues (such as the discussion on legalizing marijuana) with the same vigour they had on LGBT+ rights. And here lies the greater danger to our future liberal progress.
While some may argue the 40,000 vote difference means Labour’s liberal agenda has all the support it needs, the party ran its campaign on more than just civil liberties. The progress it has made is awesome, but without dialogue the laws will change, but opinions won’t.
A clear example of this can be seen in the US, where the 1960s saw legislative changes, but even after two terms with a black president, the racial divide has never properly healed. Locally, the same can be said about LGBT+ rights. A look at comments section of any political video reveals at least one person calling the rival party some form of homophobic slur.
Should this slow down the liberal progress being made? Absolutely not. Still, tomorrow’s historic legislation should have seen those who currently oppose it celebrating alongside us, not protesting outside it.
Not everyone will rely on the ‘fire and brimstone’ crutch, and if they do it’s unlikely that any discussion will change their mind (so feel free to devote your energies elsewhere). If we don’t at least try to hear out the perspective of others, we may end up wondering how after two (or more) terms of liberal progress we’ve managed to elect a Maltese version of Donald Trump.