A week of scandal and controversy ended in a spectacularly messy fashion with this Thursday’s debate at the Oxford Union.
On the proposition side, Crawford Jamieson of Trinity College argued that gay parents are in a sense better qualified than their straight counterparts, having fought their way through the lengthy and bureaucratic process of adoption. He related his own experience of coming out as a gay man, and urged the audience to send out a message of support to himself and countless others like him.
In response, Anthony McCarthy, a pro-life activist from the Society for the Protection of the Un-Born Child, appealed to the timeless, universal “common sense” that tells us that children need a mother and a father. He brought forth numerous papers, authors, professors and percentages to rationally prove that gay parents “do exactly what is bad for their children”. With a firm and unwavering smile, he announced that “the point of being gay is not being very committed”, at which point the audience became particularly restless and vocal. In spite of his claim to have “many gay friends”, one can safely assume there were none present at the debate.
Undeterred by McCarthy’s criticism, proposition speaker Benjamin Cohen, a technology correspondent for Channel 4 news and founder of the website Pink News, looked forward to a future in which the word ‘gay’ has regained the innocent, carefree meaning ascribed to it in Enid Blyton novels. As a gay man, he hopes to eventually get married in an ordinary wedding, not one labeled as a gay wedding, and to be eventually known as a dad, not a gay dad. He pointed out that people would hardly choose to be gay when it means becoming the subject of such a “ludicrous” debate.
Peter D. Williams, a spokesperson for Catholic voices and member of the pro-life campaign group Right to Life, based his rebuttal on the clear absence of evidence. Although he conceded that two parents would always be preferable to one or none, he maintained that straight parents outranked gay parents, since there was no scientific proof to say otherwise. On the other hand, it was scientifically proven as well as manifestly obvious that fathers and mothers brought different qualities to families, with fathers recklessly and boisterously throwing their children up into the air and mothers providing soothing love and comfort. He asked the audience which of their parents they felt they could exchange with someone of the opposite sex, leaving them to contemplate the terrifying prospect of their mothers and fathers having sex change operations. Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, a campaigner for black LGBT communities and co-founder of Black Pride UK, met Williams’ arguments with a stirring display of passion and defiance. Her resounding call for love, understanding and respect raised cheers from the audience, but her assertion that human rights need no scientific evidence had the opposition speakers leaping out of their seats to object.
Reverend George Hargreaves, a religious minister and leader of the Christian Party, brought love, understanding and respect over to the opposition side when he walked over to Crawford Jamieson and proclaimed “the reverend loves this man!” As he later clarified, “Jesus loves you, but what you’re doing is wrong.” Growing serious, he expressed his concern, as a Pentecostal, evangelical minister, that the links between children and their biological parents were being severed. He condemned gay couples’ practice of adoption, surrogacy and in vitro fertilization on the basis of the famous biblical quote ‘Honor Thy [biological] Father and Mother’. Next Richard Fairbrass, lead guitarist of the band ‘Right Said Fred’, concluded the proposition’s case with a speech much more sober and serious than his 1991 chart-topping single ‘I’m too sexy’ might lead the audience to expect. In response to McCarthy’s assertion that “the point of being gay is not being very committed”, he described his thirty year commitment to an HIV-positive partner.
The final speaker, journalist, social commentator and family rights activist Lynette Burrows, declared her staunch opposition to both sides of the debate. She called the proposition “frivolous and sentimental” but criticized her fellow opposition speakers for their emphasis on research and evidence, preferring to stick to the “blindingly obvious” truths that “you don’t have to be an academic” to grasp. Repeating the words “it’s natural, it’s nature”, she poured scorn over the “pretend fathers” of gay families, comparing them to the ancient Roman emperor who experimentally took children away from their parents and kept them in a sealed chamber. A member of the audience ventured to point out that she appeared to be suffering from a well-documented condition called ‘naturalistic fallacy’, in which things that are natural are assumed to be good. She responded with a cry of “All sodomites are evil! Damn them! Imprison them!” and asked the audience, “Would you do without your mother, even if she was a slut?”
The audience reacted with mortified laughter, as though confronted with an intoxicated elderly relative at a family gathering. Speakers from both sides remained in stunned silence as her speech ran its course. The Union managed to open up a Pandora’s Box of prejudice from a bygone age, against which no rational arguments could prevail. If its intention was to mark another milestone in the ongoing fight for gay rights, its approach could not have been more misguided. The only winners in this week’s debate may very well have been the gay rights protesters outside; perhaps, after all, certain subjects are not debatable.
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