Civil Rights

For once, hats off to the USA.

If you’ve been living anywhere that is not under a rock for the past couple of days, you can’t have failed to notice that, in a pretty monumental move, the United States Supreme Court declared that same sex marriages are legal across all fifty states. Previously it had been possible for gay couples to wed in only a handful of states with the majority of states banning and not recognising them, however, following a 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court, gay couples may now tie the knot in all fifty states.

As one can imagine, the response has been huge – go anywhere on the web and you’ll find rainbow banners; they are all over facebook as people “rainbow-fy” their profile pictures and, even as I write this, there is a rainbow banner across the top of my WordPress post editor. The legalisation of gay marriage in the USA has been seen a massive step in the direction of LGBT+ rights and a step towards true marriage equality – and a long time coming, America, but welcome to the club all the same!

Much of the international community has been celebrating this historic event and even Republicans are beginning to wake up and smell the coffee, with one Republican pundit appearing on CNN to tearful urge her party to move with the times or fall behind for good. It has, for the most part, been quite a happy occasion.

However, what I can’t help fail to notice are those who are still vehemently opposed to marriage equality – they’re all over my newsfeed on facebook, there are newspaper articles all over the place and videos from American “news” programmes denouncing it as “the darkest 24 hours in American history”, the “beginning of the [American/Christian] holocaust”, etc…

And here’s the thing; they are all citing, for the most part, the bible and their right to “religious freedom”. The former really isn’t a real reason and the latter is totally misconstrued as a valid argument. As a matter of fact, quoting the bible and then citing rights to religious freedom are totally contradictory, and here’s why:

When people cite the bible as a means of opposition to same sex marriage, they tend to go along the lines of “marriage is between one man and one woman”. So, in essence, one is saying that marriage – a legal contract between two people, as far as the state is concerned – should be defined by a religious text. Those opposed would also say that allowing same sex marriage is an infringement on their rights to religious freedom, i.e., the freedom to deny certain rights to certain groups of people (Not really fair either, but we’ll cover that later).

But religious freedom extends to those without faith as well – the right not to practice a religion. Therefore, if we truly respect the right to freedom of religious practice, then to deny citizens a basic right such as marriage is an infringement of that right as they (those same-sex couples wishing to marry) are defining marriage outside of religious text, in a legal setting where it belongs as a legal contract.

There’s another crucial fact to remember too before you pull out your King Jim copy and start thumping away – marriage pre-dates the bible, it pre-dates every Abrahamic religion too and it has not always been defined as “one man and one woman” as you’d perhaps read in your copy of the good book. Even now, in – what is officially – a secular society, it’s not defined directly by the bible; it is, as I said earlier, a legal contract between two people that offers certain legal benefits and securities to those involved.

I used another important word there too – “secular”. A secular state, for those who are still in the dark over this one, is one in which the laws can not be defined or influenced to any great degree by religion or religious dogma or doctrine. In other words, religion is separate from the state and the state legislates within the interests of all its citizens without making laws to discriminate against any groups of people based on religion – i.e., not refusing the right of a large demographic to marry because it says so in scripture.

However, if you want to go to a country with a state religion, where religious figures still have a say in legislation, you have a couple of options; Iran… perhaps not, and the UK. Yep, good old Blighty; where there are still unelected bishops in the House of Lords, the state religion is Anglicanism and same-sex marriage is legal… ah, sorry, chaps. And for those of you Americans saying you want to move to Canada, same-sex marriage has been legal there since 2005. Almost like it’s the right thing to do, eh?

But, I digress; there is another argument that the Christian far-right like to use and that is that homosexuality itself is a sin. Now, I’ve two things to say on this: the first is that if one decides to follow all the laws of the bible, then we’re going to have to kill those wearing clothes of two fabrics, those who eat meat on Fridays, those who divorce, those who have sex outside of marriage, those who show disrespect to their family members, etc.

Now the responses to this fall into two categories; those who follow them to the letter and, as a consequence, are either dead or have no friends, and those who claim “some of those laws are no longer appropriate today”. The latter leads me onto point number two, quite nicely. You see, you cannot simply cherry-pick the bits of the bible that are appropriate in this day and age and those that aren’t as you please, the fact is that, since the bronze age, much has changed in our attitudes to things such as divorce, extra-marital sex, composite cloths and, in keeping with tonight’s theme, homosexuality.

The bible doesn’t really deal with homosexuality, rather with sodomy and lust. The idea of homosexuality was not quite fully understood that long ago, rather those who engaged in homosexual practices were seen as lustful and engaging in acts of the flesh without real love and commitment. The bible, and cultures throughout history, have defined marriage primarily as a means of expressing one’s love and commitment to another – as homosexuality was not understood and seen as loveless lust, it didn’t fit this idea. However, as with meat on Fridays and divorces, attitudes towards homosexuality have changed in recent time; we understand that there are no differences in the love felt between two people of the same sex and two of the opposite, that homosexuality is not a choice and that people have a right to be happy with those they love.

But this article isn’t about homosexuality in general, it’s about marriage, so, back to that.

Thankfully many religious people realise this and much of the church is becoming more progressive – but there are still a few who oppose the right of same-sex couples to show their commitment and love for one another in the same what that heterosexual couples do. And whilst the voice of the dissenters is still very loud and very angry, the voice of the growing movement of progressive religious groups is growing – and that is superb to see.

There is one final argument that gets tossed about too and it’s not necessarily a religious one – rather it’s a last ditch attempt to gain some pity support; I am, of course, talking about the “my marriage now means less” defence. Utter pish. Nobody is forcing you to marry someone of the same sex, you can still have a heterosexual wedding; it’s not like a one-or-the-other affair. Your marriage was built on your love, support, commitment, and devotion to your spouse – a bond between the two of you and nobody else. If the fact that other people can now marry those they love devalues your marriage, perhaps it wasn’t going to work out anyway.

Because, and here’s the killer, if you’re a heterosexual couple, it doesn’t affect you in any way, shape or form.

Why? Because nobody is forcing you to have a “gay wedding”. All this law does is allow same-sex couples who love each other and want to show their devotion to one another do just that, your marriage is not affected in any way. All that is happening is that one more demographic within your country gets to be treated as human beings: afforded the same rights and legal protections as everyone else. And if that upsets you, then, sorry, you’re a mindless, bigoted fool.

Your religion, or interpretation thereof, might say that it is wrong for two people of the same sex to marry – you don’t have to marry someone of the same sex and you don’t have to go the a same-sex wedding (odds are you’re not getting invited anyway!). But the right to freedom of religion does not extend to the right to deprive others of rights enjoyed by yourself – especially when that right is one to a legal contract, not a solely religious practice.

To the United States of America, I say a big, and well deserved, “Well Done!” That doesn’t happen often, so cherish it. To those of you still opposed, I beg you to look around you; the world is changing, it’s moving forwards and, if you continue to oppose that progress, you’ll be left behind.

And to those of you still fighting for marriage equality – be that in countries where same-sex marriages are still not legal or as a member of the trans community still looking for representation and equal rights, keep fighting; we’re making progress and we will get there someday.

This is a happy time – but we’ve still got work to do!

16 and 17 year-olds thrown into the spotlight as they fight for the vote.

Last week’s referendum on Scottish Independence (I know when will this guy shut up about it?) was a first in many respects. It represented a triumph for democracy as for the first time ever 16 and 17 year old Scots were given the chance to vote on the future of their country. The proposal was pushed through mainly by the SNP and by other pro-Yes groups who saw 16/17 year-olds as the future of this country. The plan was to allow them the vote in the referendum, but the powers in Westminster kept brushing calls for the vote to be extended in general under the carpet.

However, now that the referendum has drawn to a close, the entire country is now looking ahead to the UK General Election which takes place in eight month’s time and the question of allowing our younger generation to vote in such elections. The idea was backed by the Scottish Youth Parliament who spoke to Kevin Bridges on his BBC Programme “What’s the Story? Referendum Special”.

There are a number of arguments for it from a purely ‘mechanical’ view; a lot of youngsters are of the impression that if you can pay taxes, get married, have children, join the army, etc., why shouldn’t you be able to vote? Voting for the people who are setting your tax rates, deciding whether you can or can’t get married, or sending you to war only seems fair after all.

The younger generations are seen, by those who support the move, as the future of our country. They are seen as those who, in a few years time, may well be our big CEOs, doctors, teachers, politicians, etc. There are also a vast number of 16 and 17 year old people in smaller jobs, toiling away to pay their bills and keep our world ticking over. We are, as a species, only mortal and our hopes and aspirations for society inevitably rest on the shoulders of those yet to come.

So what’s all the fuss about then? Well it seems to come from the older generation who feel that young people simply aren’t capable of voting properly. It’s immensely insulting but the arguments go along the lines of “they don’t know any better”, “they aren’t engaged enough”, and, one of my favourites, “they aren’t independent enough.”

The last one was a reason given by someone phoning into a radio show on BBC Scotland this morning. The reasoning was that they still live at home and hence aren’t independent enough to make their own political decisions. This is to say nothing of a large number of adults who still live at home or elderly people who now reside with their children for support. Are these people too dependent? Should we take away their votes too?

As a 16 or 17 year old, you are fighting for your own independence, you’re at the age where your parents are “cramping your style” and “bumming you out” (god I feel old saying those things…), all you want to do is be your own person with your own identity.

As for the previous two citing that young people are either wholly unengaged or simply don’t know any better is quite annoying to put it mildly. The referendum debate saw young people more involved in politics than many of their parents or older relatives, groups such as Generation Yes sprang up providing a platform for youngsters to get involved in the campaign. Some of the most well informed people I spoke to were young people who were being allowed to vote for the first time.

This can largely be attributed to the advent of the internet and social media. Things such as Facebook and Twitter are predominantly used by the younger generations and the vast amount of information and debate out there was thrown right at them, and they responded brilliantly. Young people were all of a sudden engaged in politics and fervently discussing their countries future. I am, as a matter of fact, convinced that the decision to allow teens the vote forced their, perhaps otherwise apathetic, parents to engage in the debate too.

At an age where they are in their later stages of school, 16/17 year olds generally delight in being able to take in new information and debate it with their peers, their families and their teachers. School debates and mock referenda across the country provided some great questions and answers.

Contrary to this is the opinion of a fair portion of the older generations who seem completely set in their ways or otherwise “see no point in voting”. My thought is that the established powers see the naturally progressive views of much of our younger generations and fear for what they may well do at the polls.

I grant you, it was a big issue, and an 85% turnout cannot be wholly attributed to young people’s votes, however, the flare and enthusiasm for the debate that young people brought to the debate can’t have hindered it. I, for one, would love to see that same kind of youthful flare brought to a general election.

And if they’re not engaged enough? Then they simply won’t vote, a situation no different than with the rest of the population. And in a country that sees some of Europe’s lowest turnout rates it certainly couldn’t hurt.

Holyrood Passes Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill

Hello once again, it’s been a long week but worth it. The kids at the primary school we visited absolutely loved our shows and were perhaps more keen than some professional astronomers I have seen to learn more about outer space. I think we may have made some astrophysicists and perhaps even an astrobiologist or two. It really is great seeing kids getting so into science at such an early age.

LGBT rights group Stonewall’s campaign for equal marriage received high praise in the chamber this evening.

The eagerness of the kids was quite a way away from our session at the observatory this afternoon. Solar observations really don’t work too well in Scotland, and we got a real sense of that today as we were rained off, leaving us with only one decent image of the sun and no usable flat field images through the telescope. Still, there is plenty of time yet, so fingers crossed that the weather can stay onside for at least one of the next seven weeks.

However, today was not all gloomy, as you can maybe see by the title. I got home from the lab, and out of the rain I might add, just in time to catch the closing few speeches of the debate on the Marriage and Civil Partnership bill in the Scottish Parliament this evening. It was quite a wonderful debate to watch, as the overwhelming support of the bill in the chamber really spoke volumes about the progressive nature of Scottish politicians across all parties.

Many members spoke of personal experiences, of friends and family members, of the attitudes of the past and those of today. Yes, there were a number of members opposed to the bill, some on religious grounds, but the majority of the chamber spoke out in a resounding chorus of acceptance.

The bill passed through its first stages back in November by a resounding majority before moving to the committee stages for further scrutiny and debate. This evening it entered the chamber for its final reading and vote, and across the chamber party barriers were dissolved. Members from different parties congratulated members from other parties on their actions, campaigning and their speeches, Jackie Baillie (Lab) even complimenting Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil (SNP), a moment, even she said, “he should savour”.

Even members of the Conservative party who had not offered their support to the introduction of civil partnerships, back in 2004, stood today behind the bill legalising same sex marriages. It just goes to show how far Scotland as a country and as a people have come in 10 years. In fact, for a country that only decriminalised homosexuality in 1980, we have come an exceptionally long way in terms of equality. At just after half past six, the bill was passed by a clear majority of 105 for to just 18 against.

Today really has seen a land mark decision made in the name of equality, as Scotland becomes the 17th country in the world to legalise same sex marriage. I know that we are a long way from true equality in this country; discrimination still exists in many places, support can sometimes be hard to find, and education on the subject is far from comprehensive. However, today has definitely seen a real landmark passed, and today truly is a day for celebration, a day that I can quite sincerely say that I am proud to be Scottish.

Thanks for reading.

Freedom of Speech = Freedom to Offend?

Hello, hello, hello. Last night I had the rather unique experience of seeing Jimmy Carr perform his new show live at the Dunfermline Alhambra Theatre. As usual, he was absolutely hilarious and the seeing him live made the whole experience so much more entertaining, my face was literally numb from having laughed so hard by the end of the night. However, as hilarious as he was, and indeed usually is, his humour is certainly not entirely for the faint of heart or easily offended. He did in fact make quite a point about the issue of telling offensive jokes, however being Jimmy Carr, he couldn’t keep it on a serious note for too long. But the whole thing got me thinking once more about how we perceive freedom of speech and whether freedom to offend is inherently a part of that or not. If you haven’t yet seen his new show, I apologise, there may be spoilers, but I will try to keep them to a minimum.

Jimmy Carr, around the “tax evasion” incident. Image Credit – Mirror, from Getty Images

It is indeed an age old question that has gone hand in hand with the question of the right to free speech; Do we have a right to offend others? Well, the simple fact is that if we truly advocate freedom of speech, then yes we should, after all, telling people that they can’t say something – regardless of its offensiveness or lack thereof – is censorship of speech. On the other hand, there are those who would say that we should not be allowed to offend other people and that in the interests of being kind and, god help us, “politically correct”, we must be prepared to face restrictions on our freedom of speech.

It is generally argued that the reason we should be willing to forgo full freedom of speech because we are too civilised to allow for people to go about offending others, and that in order to keep everyone happy we must censor ourselves in various respects. However, the idea that we need some group of people at the “top” to tell us how we may speak and what we may and may not say is simply a show that we are not civilised enough, in their eyes at least, to use simple common sense and have the freedom to say what we want. In fact, if if we are to be as civilised as these people at the top would claim, it would be precisely that which means we can say what we like, with common sense as our guidelines.

Still, there are always likely to be people to whom common sense does not come naturally, who will take things too far and offend everyone. Then there is also the matter of the touchy lot who are either looking for attention, wanting a fight or too damned dense to take a fucking joke. So where then do we rest with them? Do people have a right to be “offended”; and by that I do not mean that people should have not the right to take offence to a remark, but as to whether or not they should have the right to “be offended” – shouting at and abusing the other person and informing them that they have no right to say what they just said and should they deign to say it again things of an unpleasant nature may occur.

Now you see, I can find some sense in the idea that there are some ideas people don’t want being floated about by certain people. For example, the banning of certain groups with “extreme” views from expressing those views. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m never too happy to see neo-Nazi groups parading through the streets, waving their slogans of ignorant, ill-thought-through hate, but regardless of how we feel about them, they are legitimate political views, and to censor them would make us no better than what they are. I am a firm believer in the idea that if an idea is profoundly wrong and stupid, that society will reject it. Whilst there tend to be a fair number of nutters around, take the EDL and SDL as examples, the majority of society knows that they are crazy, and will eventually whittle away at them and the idea will die out. We don’t need governments to tell us that these things shouldn’t be said. Society is generally quite good at working these things out.

Secondly there is the matter of people who get offended on behalf of others, which Mr. Carr highlighted quite well in his show. As most people who are in a university will know, there are many crazy societies – may favourites in Glasgow being the Marxists (in fact all the left societies in Glasgow are a touch mental) and the Feminist Society. Now before we go any further, this is not to say that I don’t agree with some of the things these groups stand for, but the groups themselves can become a touch crazy from time to time. One thing that a number of them have in common is this self-righteous sense that they have a duty to be offended on behalf of everyone and anyone. A little pointer, you fucking don’t.

It really annoys me that white, middle class, reasonably privileged students can sit about claiming that I must retract statements as they are offensive to Gay Black Jewish Chinese Whales living in Russia or some shit like that. Because the simple fact is, you have no idea what you are talking about, and as a matter of fact are probably offending those you seek to be defending by deciding you can speak for them regardless of how far removed your two respective demographics are. I have found this out for myself first hand too; I was down in England, chatting with a number of English people, you tend to find them in England, and one of them made a joke about me being Scottish, doing the accent and everything, as you do. A rather self-righteous lady then stepped in, informing the people I was with that such jokes were offensive, then having the audacity to point out to me, as a Scot and the butt of the joke, that I should be offended by this. It was quite a belittling experience, to have someone I don’t know and who has no idea what I think telling me that I ought to be offended, as if she, and Englishwoman herself, knew better than I.

But I really have to say, what annoys me so much more, is when something intended as a joke, attracts the attention of the self appointed thought police. When people are not only getting offended on behalf of a demographic they are in no way tied to, over something intended as a joke to which the teller attached no real intent of harm. The good thing is that these people are quite small in number, at least here in Scotland where we are able to have a laugh at our own expense – a fact that Jimmy Carr took immediate advantage of, and very well at that. At the end of his gig, he asked if there was anyone in the audience who was genuinely unoffended by his material, and the response was quite a fair majority of people not offended. Most people know how to take a joke. The only problem is that the people who can’t tend to find themselves in charge. To those people I say pull the stick out your arse and lighten the fuck up.

As usual, please feel free to comment, keep the debate going, etc. If you haven’t seen Jimmy Carr’s new show, it’s called “Gagging Order” and he’s touring now and I would recommend it to anyone, especially the lot needing to lighten up. Thanks for reading.

Russian Olympics, To Be or Not To Be?

Hello once again, it’s been a busy week and the next week is scheduled to be just as hectic, but I’m sure I’ll manage to get by. Looking at the title of this article, you’ll probably be thinking, ‘Christ on a bendy bus, Russia again?’ And yes, I’m sorry, but Russia again. Last night’s post was a bit of an uncoordinated rant that sort of spewed out amid other things I was going, I know, check my crazy forward planning skills. However the situation in Russia has been attracting more and more media attention, and rightfully so, given the sharp increase in violent attacks against members of the LGBT community in Russia. One notable development is the increase in people petitioning to either have the Olympics boycotted or to have them pulled altogether.

Yes, you read that correctly, pull the Olympic Winter Games for 2014. Cancel the Olympics. It’s an idea that I, being quite a fan of the Winter Olympics, originally tried to find my way around, but there is no justification for trying to weasel one’s way around it; Russia’s systematic abuse of civil rights and persecution of people based on their sexual identities directly contravenes with the message of the Olympics. The Olympic games are about uniting people in sport, regardless of political, religious or even sexual orientations. It is a movement about peace, diversity and simple competition based on athletic ability. As Rule Number Six in the IOC’s Mission statement quite neatly puts it:

“Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race,
religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic
Movement.”

In an open letter to Mr. Cameron, Lord Coe and M. Rogge, to which I shall include a link post script, Stephen Fry, pointed out that if the games in Russia went ahead, given the current state of Russian politics, “The Five Rings would finally be forever smeared, besmirched and ruined in the eyes of the civilised world.” Mr. Fry points out that in 1936, Adolf Hitler’s regime was given an unimaginable boost internationally by the Olympic Games in Berlin, at a time when Hitler’s regime were persecuting the Jewish people.

Hitler’s persecution of the Jews was a way of pinning all of Germany’s problems on a minority group of people who could easily be persecuted and destroyed to distract from the real political issues of the time. Nowadays we see these acts as villainous and horrific, but at the time of the Berlin Olympics, these acts of persecution were ignored by the IOC and Hitler’s regime elevated on the international stage.

What we see now in Russia is no different; the ruling powers, the Orthodox church being well embedded in there too, are using the LGBT community as a scapegoat for Russia’s political problems without having to address the real issues. The results are the mass persecution and abuse of an entire group of people, simply due to the fate of the way they were born. To allow the Winter Olympic games to go ahead in Russia in this climate would be giving Putin and his Russia the same mandate that the world gave Hitler and his Germany in 1936.

Now I love the Olympic games, the Summer games in London last year were one of the few occasions on which I have felt a twinge of “British Pride”, not to worry, a sharp blow to the head sorted that out quickly, and I truly enjoy, being a curler, the Winter Olympics, I was glued to the screen for most of the Vancouver games, even in the dead of night. Having the Olympics pulled is one of the last things I want to see, however one thing I would hate to see more, would be the name of the Olympic games being tarnished by the blatant abuse of civil liberties in Russia, abuses which so directly contradict everything the Olympics are about.

Russia, in what seems a desperate bid to retain the games, has said that it’s new laws will not apply to spectators or athletes at the games. To me, there seem to be a couple of problems there, not in the least being, how would one enforce that? Given the massive spate of attacks by neo-nazi gangs of thugs acting outwith the law, you cannot possibly expect to maintain the safety of any LGBT athletes or spectators. In fact fear arises for LGBT Russians who may use the games as a respite and flock to Sochi, only to be trapped by these thugs.

But quite simply put, these measures aren’t good enough. To simply have a bubble in Russia that for two weeks will allow a small number of people to exercise, what are essentially, their basic rights as human beings to express love and compassion, fitting neatly around the games and then disappearing once more to allow for the gangs to move in once more, is simply ludicrous. How can one possibly think that is enough?

It smacks of an insult to the LGBT community in Russia and across the world, not to mention the Olympic Movement. “Yes, we will bend our socially backwards laws to fit your games and then continue our mass persecutions once you leave.” Frankly at this point, I see no fair enough reason for the games to not be pulled, Russia’s abuse of civil rights would tarnish the Olympics to the same kind of degree as in 1936, one could even say more as we should have learnt our lesson by now.

In his letter, Mr. Fry suggests holding the games in some place like Utah, Lillyhammer, Oslo, etc. Which could work, given the facilities of past Olympic games still exist there, but to do that may be more trouble at this point, given that it is less than a year to the games, it sadly seems that the only reasonable option is to pull the games entirely. That is unless of course Russia pulls a massive u-turn on this policy in the next seven months or so, which given the amount of pressure from the international community already ignored by Russia, seems unlikely.

The IOC has a reasonable amount of clout here, the Olympic games are a massive international event and boost the international profile of which ever country hosts them, kind of like Eurovision, but with less bickering about points twenty years down the line. If the IOC agreed to pull the games in 2014, it would strike a monumental blow to Russia’s international credibility, and perhaps make them think twice about what they are actually doing. I therefore sincerely hope that the IOC takes such a proposal into serious consideration.

So, as usual feel free to comment and keep the debate going, until my next post, thanks for reading.

Post Script: Stephen Fry’s Open Letter to The Rt. Hon. David Cameron, Lord Coe and M. Rogge of the IOC:
http://stephen-fry-me.tumblr.com/post/57612770175/open-letter-to-david-cameron-and-the-ioc

Ew! Keep Your Religion Away from Me!

Hello once more, friends and readers. So as I said earlier, I have been having fun with exams, yesterday was Mulitvariable Calculus and next week is Linear Algebra. However, in my ongoing quest to avoid looking at maths for too long, I have been ranting and getting angry about various things that are going on in the world, as you do. The thing that really got me going recently, and indeed has been doing so for quite some time, is the matter of religion becoming ever more present in some of the states around the world.

Now I am usually a fairly tolerant kind of guy, hell I’ve even been known to have friends who vote Conservative, but there is something about religious people that really gets to me. Don’t get me wrong, most religious people are fine and keep their personal beliefs to themselves, but there are those who don’t seem to understand just what personal beliefs actually are. These people are generally in a minority, but their outspoken nature and their positions of power, in some circumstances, make them a real threat to the lives of ordinary people.

The most notable form this takes is state endorsed religion, when religion essentially becomes part of the government, with religious doctrine being present in the legislative process. For some reason, even though we saw it as wrong and the number of states with a state religion was decreasing, recently we have seen a rise in influential countries around the world letting religion take a higher and higher stance in our governments.

The most notable example of late has been the Russian Federation, with the Russian Orthodox Church becoming more and more involved in Russian Politics. This doesn’t really come as a surprise anymore, with Russia simply exuding corruption on a scale not fathomed by mankind previously, however that does not make it right. Most recently the Orthodox church has pushed bills through the Russian Government that place greater and greater restrictions on the rights and liberties of LGBT individuals, I did an article about this earlier on.

However it is not only the restrictions on the freedoms of LGBT individuals and the demeaning of their relationships, but the fact that the state is not turning a blind eye to blatant crimes being committed against these people. Gangs of right-wing individuals have been luring gay men into traps, torturing and humiliating them whilst, in many circumstances, recording the whole thing on video. There have been numerous cases of attacks like these and so far no prosecutions. Why? Because they are doing the church’s work.

The simple fact is that the Orthodox Church is targeting a group of people for the sole reason that they don’t like them, the fact that they’re different confuses the church. This blatant disregard for human rights is not only being ignored by the government, but downright supported by it; the Church sticks its nose into government to gain more power, and who knows what sort of nonsense goes on in return. Baseless claims I know, but something stinks. And do you know what it stinks of? It stinks of fascism. The persecution of a group of people based on their beliefs and life style choices. Great Mother Russia, who is so proud of having rid the world of fascism, is now bowing to that way of thinking herself.

The thing about religion is that it is a personal belief, a personal choice, one which you have no rights to thrust upon other members of society. If your church or synagogue or mosque or what ever has multiple members with the same faith and beliefs as you, great, but do not go forcing them on others who think differently. If anything, it’s just common fucking courtesy. And on that note, it is completely unacceptable for an entire state to force its beliefs on the people. In this day and age, with so many different cultures around and mixing, religion has no place in government. You wouldn’t give the local Bridge Club a say in the affairs of government, so why the local church?

Anyway, I know this has been a bit of a rant, but I have been terribly busy. I’m away now to continue my linear algebra work, but I shall see you all soon. Thanks for reading.

Louisiana Police Arresting People for Being Gay?

Hello once again readers, it’s hot, it’s humid, there is no wind, no rain and it’s dashed unpleasant, but fortunately Wagner is currently taking my mind off of the uncomfortable meteorological conditions – it’s not quite the right music for writing, I do feel like I should be invading somewhere, but no matter. I was recently browsing my facebook newsfeed, as everyone knows that there is no better place to acquire information regarding current events than facebook, how else would I know that a friend I haven’t spoken to in years has just baked a cake? However, among the extraneous gumff, I stumbled upon a rather interesting, and equally alarming, article on the “Think Progress” website shared by one of my friends. For those interested, I shall include a link to the article at the end of the post.

New York Police Arresting a Gay Man c.1960 Image credit – Think Progress blog

Essentially the State of Louisiana never repealed its laws against sodomy, and has been able to arrest people who are looking for consensual gay sex. It should be noted that this is not a new case, and according to the article, there have been at least a dozen arrests since the beginning of 2011, despite the law being, in the words of Casey Rayborn Hicks, the Baton Rouge Sheriff Office’s Spokesperson, the law is “unenforceable”. In fact it’s more than that, the law’s across the U.S.A. regarding the illegality of sodomy were ruled unconstitutional in 2003 by the United States Supreme Court, following the Lawrence vs. Texas case.

Nonetheless, the law remains in place in Louisiana and is used to arrest men who consent to sex. Whilst none of the men arrested have been prosecuted, they have been held in police custody and fined for nothing more than agreeing to private, consensual sex. It should also be noted that in none of these cases has there been any transfer of money and all sexual activity was to take place in private accommodation.

However, the law has been defended by the Sheriff’s office on the grounds that invitations for sex took place in a public park, despite the activity taking place elsewhere and no laws being in place to prohibit the discussion of sexual activity in public places. Spokesperson Hicks said in a statement, “This is a law that is on our books and the Sheriff is charged with enforcing the laws passed by our Louisiana legislature.”

In the aftermath of the Lawrence vs. Texas case, former Attorney General for Louisiana Richard Ieyoub stated that the anti-sodomy laws could not be enforced except for cases of prostitution and bestiality. However the law remains in place and is continually attempted to be enforced by Louisiana sheriffs. A similar law is also still in place in Michigan and is just as unenforceable, yet it has still not been repealed.

It strikes me as quite unbelievable that a law, deemed both unconstitutional and unenforceable by the Supreme Court and by State Attorneys General respectively can still be kept in force and defended so fervently by state authorities. The U.S.A., the supposed land of the free, is once again demonstrating that it is anything but that. A nation so proud of its freedoms and democracy being so ready to deny people their basic civil liberties seems absurd, but some how, I am not surprised in the slightest.

The U.S.A. does have a bit of a track record on cases regarding the civil liberties of its people, but let’s not go into that, I’d be here all night, but the invasion of people’s sexual privacy in what is a constitutionally secular country just stinks. It sadly appears that the US is stepping backwards, and unless the Federal Legislature can step in, I fear that will become an invitation to strengthen such laws.

To have this following the downward spiral of the Russian Federation’s take on LGBT individuals’ rights really is a crippling knock to the international LGBT community and to civil rights as a whole. With Russia’s laws becoming even more crazy and homophobic, “Gay Immigration” has seen a huge increase, with individuals moving in their thousands to countries like the United States, yet how can they rest easy there knowing that some states will still arrest, humiliate and fine you, using archaic laws, for the exercising of the very civil liberties you moved there to retain?

It is a sad day, when the state, especially in this day and age, feels it has the right to peer into people’s private lives, their love lives and their bedrooms. It may sound sentimental, but a bedroom is a symbol of privacy and security; when one is upset or just wants to be alone, or even wants to be intimate with someone, they go to their room, because it is private. If our governments are snooping around our bedrooms, where else can we go?

The entire thing stinks, and there are likely a lot of reasons for it, however, I cannot help feeling that the overriding issue here is that of religion and its prevalence in the process of government, but that is a topic for another post I fear, so that will likely be coming soon. However, as usual please feel free to continue the debate in the comments, ask questions, etcetera, and I shall see you all again soon.

Thanks for reading.

 

Post Script- Link as promised http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2013/07/28/2366811/louisiana-sodomy-law-arrests/

 

The Right to an Education

If you come from Scotland, or indeed anywhere in the United Kingdom, as I do, you will be aware of the on going debate surrounding University tuition fees. If you come from somewhere else or were just not aware of that fact, then, yeah… that’s what’s happening. The reason this debate is going on, and has been going on is because of the polar-opposite approaches taken on either side of the border; in Scotland university tuition is free for all Scots studying their first degree. In England and Wales – still part of the same country – this is not the case, with universities being given the ability to set their own levels of tuition fees. Currently, these fees are capped by law at £9’000 pa, however, that still leaves students with a possible debt of £27’000 as soon as they leave university, and that’s not including extra loan amounts for living expenses. The fact that our young people have such a large debt looming at the end of their degree course, in an economic climate where getting a job upon leaving university is not guaranteed, even unlikely, is simply not acceptable and is causing more and more young people to drop any hopes of going to university on financial grounds.

The fact of the matter is, that university is once again becoming a class segregated affair, and I don’t mean teaching classes, I mean that university is becoming something only the middle classes can easily aspire to. With fees at their current level, and the government looking at plans to raise or even scrap the cap, we may begin to see a situation where prices simply spiral out of control leaving the students from the poorest backgrounds unable to partake in higher education. The argument given is generally that the economy cannot cope with the cost of introducing government funded tuition fees, however it still manages to support things such as MPs’ pay and expenses, the royal family and trident? It is simply not a valid argument. It has been estimated that scrapping tuition fees would cost the taxpayer around £4 billion, in comparison the cost of the U.K.’s ‘Trident’ nuclear deterrent is closer to £15 billion of taxpayers’ money, now I’m only a physicist, but I’m sure 15 is a lot bigger than 4.

The idea that young people should be priced out of education due to the economic climate is not a god enough answer; the NHS complains about a lack of doctors and nurses, school class sizes grow due to a lack of teachers, businesses collapse because of poor financial advice, British manufacturing and technology production slump due to a shortage in qualified persons. It’s almost as if there is a link between these cases and the rise in the number of young people not attending university. With fewer people holding degrees and advanced qualifications, of course our economy is going to suffer.

There is also the argument that young people need to know how to manage money, how to pay off debt and that if they start of with debt they will feel like they have to work harder to pay it off. Nonsense, in a country where even people with years of experience and multiple qualifications are struggling to get a job, what chance does the young graduate with little work experience have? And to start that with 27k and upwards already needing to pay off? It is simply not fair, nor is it feasible, to expect young people to cope with such a situation.

And what about the class situation? Why should that be fair? That only those who have come from a wealthy family should have the chance at an education? Again, unfair and completely unacceptable in modern society. Why is it then such an issue? People claim that it will demean degrees, or that people will go to university not wanting to go or simply doing a ‘Mickey-mouse’  degree. There seem to be so many reasons that people seem set against it, that it will somehow undermine everything British and that the economy will collapse and all of England will be sucking into a gaping hole in the Earth’s crust. But it is nonsense; we need only look at the situation in Scotland.

In Scotland, all Scottish young people who wish to go to university to study can do so, with their fees paid for by the Scottish government. What’s more is that it is sustainable, it works. Young Scots have the ability to study in higher education regardless of financial background, with the knowledge that when they come out the other side, the only debts they will have are those for living expenses. The degrees are not diminished either, there are not a flood of people with pretend degrees walking around. Why? Because the universities don’t offer silly degree titles and people tend to study at university because they want to do so; many people choose not to and just go into employment from school or go to colleges. But the simple truth is that it works.

The other truth is this; it is their right to receive an education, based on their ability, not on the size of daddy’s wallet. As much as the Tory led government would have us believe, not all poor people are idiots, and not all rich people are clever. I know plenty of people from less well of backgrounds who simply couldn’t have dreamed about going to university had tuition fees been in place, yet are excelling in their fields at university level. If people want to be educated, and have the ability to do well in their field, then they have every right to be educated.

I cannot abide by this idea that one should be excluded from such a basic right as education simply due to financial background. If we continue to impose tuition fees on our young people, we will suffer in the long run; with fewer doctors, teachers, politicians (not necessarily a bad thing), scientists, architects, etc. Tuition fees are not good for the economy, in fact they may well prove to be quite detrimental to our economy and to the country as a whole. Britain has had a fantastic record of world leading education, world renowned scholars, philosophers and scientists. Let’s keep that record up and scrap tuition fees.

 

I apologise for the rather rushed nature of this post and the absence of posts for a while, but I have been engaged in the nitty-gritty world of politics, I will explain in my next post. For now, however, thanks for reading and, as usual, feel free to leave comments and continue the debate in the comments section.

Giving Young People the Right to Vote

As you will likely be aware by now, I’m Scottish and hence following the buildup to the Independence Referendum quite closely. However, one issue that you could notice without needing to pay too much attention, is that of the voting age being lowered from 18 years of age, to 16 years of age. For the first time in British history, people under 18 will be given the power to vote in a referendum. However, this has attracted mixed reactions, many of these reactions have been positive, not least from the young people themselves, but from a large number of adults in Scotland. That said, there are various groups, namely in the Better Together campaign, who do not agree with the move; having said this, that doesn’t mean one side if for it and the other against, but the debate surrounding it has been going on for almost as long as the independence debate itself.

Personally, I’m for it. Now this isn’t because I am a 16 year old in school, I am of voting age, it’s much more than that; at sixteen one can join the armed forces, one can get married, obtain full time work and be required to pay taxes, yet at 16, one cannot vote. After nearly three hundred years, the old slogan of the American colonists, “No taxation without representation” seems to be quite valid here. Surely, if you can expect a 16 year-old to serve his country in the armed forces, it is only right that he should be able to have his say in who runs the country he defends. Surely the sixteen year old girl, planning her wedding and perhaps a family, has the right to decide who runs the country her children will live in.

But it is more than that still, it’s not simply about what they can do at 16, its about what they are to this country. Since the dawn of civilisation, young people were taught to ‘respect their elders’, which was basically posh speak for ‘can it, Daddy’s in charge.’ In one way or another, the younger generation have always been stifled in politics, and culture in general, with no real ability to put forward opinions or fight for change. In the modern day, this still exists, but it exists in a different light; young people are either portrayed as lazy and apathetic, or violent and degenerate criminals. The modern idea of ‘youths’ has created a new image, like all before it, of young people that should not have a say in society.

The simple fact of the matter is this; these young people are this country’s future. In an independent Scotland, they would be the first generation to live and raise families in that new country. We are not simply creating a better country for ourselves, but for out children and our children’s children and so on. It therefore stands to reason that these young people, this country’s future, should be given a say in the creation of that country. Not only this, but it is my firm belief that this voting age should be not simply put in place for the referendum, but for all referenda and elections henceforth. This would allow the young people of this country to have real representation and a real ability to hold the elected officials to account.

Now there are many arguments against this suggestion, many of them, unsurprisingly, originating from the ‘No’ camp. Some of these are genuine concerns, others are just plain silly and pathetic, but let’s crack on, nonetheless.

“Young People are not experienced enough to vote, nor will they be ready to vote.”

Firstly, this is a genuine concern that some people have, that young people are not informed enough to vote on this matter, that young people in fact do not have the experience to vote. I can see where people are coming from when they mention this, but I should mention a couple of things here: Firstly, to say that young people are not informed enough is simply not entirely true; young people have been listening to the radio, watching the television and reading all the same articles as anyone else has. As a demographic, they are no less informed than any other age group, what’s more, most of these young people are interested in the debate. Young people across Scotland are very much interested by the debate on Independence as it is one that, they know, affects their future quite directly. It should also be mentioned, that any age group will have its share of uninformed or inexperienced voter; there are first time voters in all age groups along with plenty of people who know less about what’s going on than some young people do. To say that they don’t have experience or the right information to vote is simply not true, or perhaps the better together campaign want to exclude voting once more to men over 30 with large estates?

Secondly, this idea that they won’t be ready to vote, is nonsense too. Much like I said above, all age groups have first time voters, we must also remember that voting in this country is voluntary, if people don’t feel ready to vote, then they simply don’t vote. It’s like that for every age group, we are not talking about forcing people to vote. But the idea that young people especially won’t be ready is also ludicrous in itself. Whilst political rights for young people are still far from perfect, there are institutions up and down the country that allow young people to get involved; namely the U.K. Youth Parliament and the Scottish Youth Parliament, both of which allow members to be elected from their local areas to represent the views of young people in a parliamentary setting. Quite often these groups have sat in the chambers of their senior mirrors, the House of Commons and the Chamber of Holyrood respectively, to debate issues affecting young people.

The organisations communicate with young people and with government and provide a link between the two and even petition the government on issues affecting the young people in their areas or in the whole country. This does mean that, to an extent, young people are already involved in politics and have already taken part in various types of elections. Hence, to say that these young people are not ready to vote, is a gross insult to the whole demographic. These young people are as ready to vote as any other older citizen of this country.

“The young people are too apathetic, they cannot be bothered to vote.”

Now this, in my view at least, is not really an appropriate argument against allowing them the vote, for the simple reason that it’s not really true. The fact is, that whilst there is political apathy in Scotland, and Britain as a whole, the idea that this exists solely in our 16 and 17 year old citizens is insane. Political apathy is a problem right across the board, with people of all age groups deciding that they can’t be bothered. As a matter of fact, with rising youth unemployment and youngsters coming out of school finding it harder and harder to find a job or a university place, the interest taken in politics by our 16 and 17 year old citizens is growing.

As I said above the two sections of the Youth Parliament in this country exist as a testament to that, combine that with their growing presence in recent years, and it becomes quite apparent that young people are indeed not as politically apathetic as some would lead us to believe. Most young people face real issues everyday, whether they come from elders telling them what to do, not being able to find a job, being unable to secure a place at university, whatever, young people face issues everyday and more than ever need to be given a voice. What’s more is that these young people also realise this, they realise that they need a voice and they are willing to fight for it. Giving young people the vote would give them this voice, and I put it to you, that they would use that voice.

I am aware that there are other concerns, but I am also aware that this post is becoming very long. So I will say this, in my view, there is no real reason why the vote should not be extended to 16 and 17 year old members of society. But, as usual, if you have an idea, a question, or indeed a point you’d like to challenge me on, please feel free to open up the debate in the comments section.

For now, however, thanks for reading.

Russian Duma Deals Another Crippling Blow to the Gay Community

This week saw the Russian Duma vote overwhelmingly in favour of new measures that would be brought into force to prevent the spreading of ‘Gay Propaganda’ to those under 18 years of age, the banning of any activities promoting ‘non-traditional relationships’ and any activity promoting the idea of equality between ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ relationships. The act, if passed by the upper house of the Russian Government would see individuals face fines of £100 for breaking this law with organisations being liable to fines of up to £20’000 for breaking the law. President Vladimir Putin has already voiced his support for the bill.

During a protest outside the Russian government buildings, members of the LGBT community were harassed by members of the Russian Orthodox Christian community, who threw eggs, nettles and urine at them as they attempted to stage a ‘kissing protest’. Russian law has been becoming recently more vehemently anti-gay as laws aimed at tackling ‘Gay Propaganda’ have been coming into effect. Gay Pride parades and gay rallies have also been banned by Moscow as policy, with Russian ministers quoted as saying; “Gay rallies are a place for Satanists.”

The recent legislation has been responsible for a growth in anti-gay activity in Russia and neighbouring states, with many members of the gay communities being subjected to violent attacks. This desperate set of affairs has seen many Russians leaving their home country already for fear of persecution, this number can only be expected to increase when this new legislation is brought into place. However, much of this legislation has also been in place in regions of Russia for some time, this national legislation is not necessarily a new idea.#

Being openly gay in Russia has become harder and harder over the recent years, with many Russians, in a recent survey, feeling that gay people should be “treated for their illness”, recently a Russian TV presenter was fired for publicly announcing his homosexuality and there are increasingly few openly gay people holding public offices. President Putin has affirmed that Russian laws do not discriminate homosexuals in anyway, however with this new law coming in, it will be illegal to even suggest that a same sex relationship is equal to that of a heterosexual relationship.

As new laws like this are brought in, complying with the religious guidelines of the Orthodox Church, it becomes increasingly difficult for any kind of group advocating social equality in Russia to operate. There are many things that can be said about the Soviet Union, but at least in the USSR, religion played no part in law, the state was completely secularised, there was no discrimination on base of sexuality written into law, in short, all human beings were equal in the eyes of the law. As the Orthodox church begins to play a bigger and bigger role in the Russian state, so many decades of hard work for social and religious equality and freedom are being eroded by a select few at the top, who dictate what can be believed, what constitutes correct behaviour and what constitutes an ‘acceptable’ relationship.

The new law, dubbed as ‘wrong’ by many Russians is a sign of the truly corrupt and authoritarian rule of the Putin government over the Russian people. The Russian people are beginning to feel ever more detached from the government in Moscow, seemingly controlled by the wills of a very select few people, in the hands of Putin and the Church. The growing presence of the church is another concern, as the Church plays a larger and larger role in policy making, it is likely that more and more policies discriminating against more groups are on the horizon.

As Russia’s policy becomes more Church and ‘traditionalist’ orientated, it is likely we will see Russia being alienated further from the Western states in Europe. Russia, once a European power, will begin to see itself further sidelined on the European stage, amid the secularised Western democracies, becoming another corrupted religious dictatorship to be viewed with suspicion by the rest of Europe. Russia, the state with the second largest party being the Communist Party, is throwing away decades of work for social justice.

I cannot say what more is to come, but the future for Russia does look bleak. It almost seems as though they are going backwards; while European states are passing laws legalising the  marriage of same sex couples, Russia is outlawing its so-called ‘gay propaganda’ and demeaning the relationships of gay couples as ‘not normal’. It’s a truly sad event, but just one more blow in a long line of attacks against the gay community by the Russian government.

 

I’m sorry, this was somewhat rushed and not a full post, I just saw the article on facebook and thought it deserved some attention.

Thanks for reading, and, as usual, if you have any questions or points, please carry on the discussion in the comments section.