Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage


10:00 am - July 16th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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What convinced Labour leadership contender Ed Balls to support gay marriage?

A member of his team emailed us this explanation:

He had an uncle, the youngest of 7 kids, who eventually came out to the family, after many years, very difficult for him.

He was in a long term relationship, but died of cancer a few years ago, before civil partnerships were introduced. (The family is still in touch with his partner).

The uncle was a very religious man, a Christian, and Ed says it was really sad that he didn’t get to have a civil partnership but also, why should he have been denied the chance to have a proper marriage too, especially given his religious faith?

So it’s something he feels quite strongly about on a personal level.

He’s only told his story once before, when he was on Question Time and they were doing the warm-up Q, off camera. Tebbitt was up first and said some vile things about gays and Ed told this in response.

I thank him for sharing this story.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


I’m warming to Balls.

“The uncle was a very religious man, a Christian, and Ed says it was really sad that he didn’t get to have a civil partnership but also, why should he have been denied the chance to have a proper marriage too, especially given his religious faith?”

Uh, because religion hates homosexuality, masturbation, female sexuality – in fact it views the birth canal as a strictly one-way street!

The church dislikes homosexuals because the Bible says you should dislike homosexuals.

Religious homosexual is a wierd oxymoron. Hopefully anybody still suffering such dillusions will get better soon (by that I mean religion, not, as some monotheists might say, be “cured” of homosexuality).

#2 “The church dislikes homosexuals because the Bible says you should dislike homosexuals.”

Thanks for such an enlightened contribution.

I don’t deny there is rampant homophobia within the Church. But you’re not helping by pretending the debate is so clear-cut, and that there aren’t dissenting opinions to the “traditional” view, taken by people who treat the bible just as seriously as those willing to reinforce homophobia.

Your approach shows as little empathy with and sensitivity towards gay Christians as people who tell them they need to be “cured”.

As an angry atheist who thinks that religion is a crock and wishes it would all go away, why is it that comments like James’ never fail irritate me?

Answer: because atheists of all people should understand that religion is made up by people. So if the people of a certain religion decide that it’s ok to be gay, then according to that religion it’s ok to be gay. And that is that.

And whilst I wish all religion would piss off right now, I’m forced to admit that that doesn’t look it’s going to happen, and in the interim I’d rather have religions about which are gay-friendly than those which are not not. So I’d welcome any move that any religion makes in the direction of deciding that it’s ok to be gay, after all.

I find it totally incomprehensible when liberal atheists join in an inter-religious debate on ethics, taking the side of the Fred Phelps school of fundamentalist bigotry: “The church dislikes homosexuals because the Bible says you should dislike homosexuals.”

Why on earth would you want to advance that argument?

Re: 2

The church invented neither marriage nor faith, so what you said is irrelevant.

But yeah this sucks as I was quite happy to dislike Balls until now he goes and does something great like this.

@2

The church, you say? A bit of unfair generalisation going on there. May I point you towards the Quakers and the Methodists? They’ve been blessing gay partnerships for years.

7. Shatterface

Just because the state might someday – rightly – accept gay marriage doesn’t mean the church will. Changing the law wouldn’t have made *any* difference to Ball’s uncle being accepted. I don’t see many female Catholic priests around despite the Sex Discrimination Act.

‘Answer: because atheists of all people should understand that religion is made up by people. So if the people of a certain religion decide that it’s ok to be gay, then according to that religion it’s ok to be gay.’

And conversely if they decide it’s ‘okay’ to be homophobic – which, in practice, they do – it’s ‘okay’ to be homophobic.

Yes, religion is made up of people. Unfortunately most of those people are homophobic.

Just because the state might someday – rightly – accept gay marriage doesn’t mean the church will. Changing the law wouldn’t have made *any* difference to Ball’s uncle being accepted.

From the information given, we don’t know what denomination he was or whether his church accepted him or not. If he was Quaker or Methodist then he would have been accepted, but they still would not have been able to legally marry him even if they wanted to.

9. Shatterface

The State can – and should – place the same restraints on the *behaviour* of the religious as it should on any one else: it should prevent them from causing direct *harm* to others, and it should collect taxes for the services it alone can provide.

However the State has no dominion over the *beliefs* of the religious. Unless Balls is suggesting the State should now decide whether religious groups accept gay marriages his anecdote is meaningless.

10. Shatterface

‘From the information given, we don’t know what denomination he was or whether his church accepted him or not.’

Then isn’t it up to Balls to supply that information if he really wants to use his uncle’s story to illustrate his point? If his uncle was a Quaker or a Methodist Balls could have mentioned this up front and then said the only barrier to his uncle’s marriage would have been the State and not his faith.

“#2 “The church dislikes homosexuals because the Bible says you should dislike homosexuals.”

Thanks for such an enlightened contribution.”

Presumably then you will tell me that this is untrue – that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality??

It’s all very well saying “well, we don’t actually believe that anymore”, yet where do you suppose they are finding justification for the execution and persecution of homosexuals right across Africa at the current time?

“Answer: because atheists of all people should understand that religion is made up by people. So if the people of a certain religion decide that it’s ok to be gay, then according to that religion it’s ok to be gay. And that is that.”

So which monotheism says it’s ok to be gay then?

The idea that the monotheisms, even the supposed “liberal wings”, are becoming more tolerant towards homosexuals for any other reason than necessity is laughable – it’s a credibility issue. Most of the people who still have a problem with homosexuality do so precisely because they believe in a dictator in the sky who’s holy books are deeply homophobic.

Of course I would applaud any “tolerance” shown by the church. But the fact is that the church has absolutely no moral authority whatsoever on these issues, and we don’t need the church to tell us that homosexuality is ok thankyou very much.

Religion will never treat homosexuals as equals even if they put up a verbal pretence to do so. The idea of religion is that of unalterable morality – while their holy books contain condemnations of homosexuality the issue will keep reappearing.

spot on Larry @4.

Of course I would applaud any “tolerance” shown by the church.

Assuming that by “applaud” you mean “insult”, “undermine”, and “deny” (even the supposed “liberal wings”, are becoming more tolerant towards homosexuals for any other reason than necessity is laughable).

Here is a list of gay-friendly Christian denominations. Here are some gay friendly religious Jews, and here some gay Muslims. These people are fighting a crucial battle, and many of them are damn brave for doing so, and they deserve our support.

Yet for some reason you prefer to insult them (“Religious homosexual is a wierd oxymoron. Hopefully anybody still suffering such dillusions will get better soon”), and claim they’re only making their stand out of “necessity”, whatever that means, all the while parroting the biblical-literalism of their enemies.

14. Chaise Guevara

“all the while parroting the biblical-literalism of their enemies.”

Yeah. Atheists telling religious people what particular religious ideas they should adopt is truly weird. You’re not being intolerant and offensive enough, Rowan! Shame on you! Pander to my prejudices, dammit!

The only religious institution where gay marriage actually matters is the CofE, since they have the power to make a marriage happen without the extra secular bit that all the other religions have to go through (something to do with certificates, I read about it ages ago so it’s a fuzzy memory). And since the CofE are so compromised with respect to religious ‘purity’ anyway, another break with tradition towards supporting gay marriage shouldn’t hurt them too much.

I still think abolish marriages, give everyone civil partnerships instead, is the way forward, though.

Also – why does having a gay uncle who died and made you feel bad make you more worthy as leader of the labour party? Surely, if you can’t work out that equality (real equality, not ‘equal but different’ equality) is good from first principles, that’s something of a fail?

16. Matt Munro

@ 4 “As an angry atheist who thinks that religion is a crock and wishes it would all go away”

Fair enough but what do you imagine happens when religions “all go away ? History suggests you do not get a spontanous outbreak of peace and understanding but that into the “spiritual” (in it’s very loose sense) vacuum something worse might well fit. Religion is one “tribe”, but there are many others.

#11

In my view there is only one New Testament passage which, when translated properly, appears to suggest homosexuality is wrong. That passage (Romans 1) has a specific context (it was written from Corinth where temple prostitution & prostitution involving young boys was common) and some scholars believe Paul was referring specifically to abusive same-sex intercourse. Others think he was referring to all same-sex intercourse.

Let’s assume the most intolerant explanation for these purposes. For you, that doesn’t present any dilemma. You don’t care what’s written in the bible. But for a gay Christian – or even just a Christian who believes in & cares about equality, it does present a problem and one that isn’t easily overcome. So I have sympathy with Christians who are gay & I respect them enough to support them whatever they decide – whether they choose to be completely open about being in a same-sex relationship or abstain from sex completely (or choose another course of action). Although I believe scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, we all (including translators) bring our own prejudices, experiences etc in reading it. Dissent is good, disagreement about meaning is good. As a Baptist I believe in the priesthood of all believers, so I should respect another Christian’s reading of scripture – they have the Holy Spirit in them just as I do. At the same time as respecting different gay Christians’ different interpretations and different choices I argue for political equality including freedom for gay couples to be able to get married, to be able to get married in church, to adopt children etc.

Of course, that was probably all wasted on you as you don’t seem interested in other people & what they believe.

As for the fundamental question here, my basic position is that of Nick’s – disestablish the Church of England, abolish marriages in law, let people hold ceremonies in churches with the consent of the church & call them whatever they want. However, (and I suspect Nick might disagree here), I’d also like to force churches not to discriminate in who they offer marriage ceremonies to. (So if they offered services to people who were not members of their church they would have to offer them to heterosexual & homosexual couples alike.) And as disestablishment etc is probably not on the agenda, in the short-term I’m all in favour of gay marriage.

My Christian aunt had a religious civil partnership a month or so ago (and very nice it was too); I don’t understand why the other candidates (other than Abbot) aren’t putting their full support behind gay marriage.
And yeh, religious gays/lesbians make no sense to me but nothing about religion does.

19. Chaise Guevara

“Also – why does having a gay uncle who died and made you feel bad make you more worthy as leader of the labour party? Surely, if you can’t work out that equality (real equality, not ‘equal but different’ equality) is good from first principles, that’s something of a fail?”

Hold up. You’re putting words into the man’s mouth in a fairly unreasonable way. He didn’t say “make me the Labour leader because my uncle was gay”, he was asked what motivated him and responded. Why on earth are you attacking that?

And yes, I can see why you’re annoyed that he argued by anecdote. The correct response would probably be “because gays are no different from straights, you stupid fucking bigots, so let’s stop pandering to your bullshit and act like decent human beings for a change.” If that’s how you think, I am completely with you. But he’s a politician, and to make change happen he first has to gain authority, Right now, I think humanizing gays is a good tactic. I wish to God it didn’t have to be.

20. Chaise Guevara

“Religion is one “tribe”, but there are many others.”

Good point well made.

on the subject of marriage, it says in the bible, least 2 references in the Old Testament, that it is okay to have more than one wife. This is practiced in Uganda and the Catholic Church in Uganda encourages it too, You say they do not recgonise the Old Testament, they do when it suits them. I know this for a fact, because I dated a Ugandan lady for two years, and she is a devout catholic who has strong links with the Church in Uganda. She was the one who said its okay to have more than one wife, because it says in the bible, because the catholic priests preach bigamoy marriages…It Shows how two faced the Christian faith really is.

22. Chaise Guevara

“It Shows how two faced the Christian faith really is.”

Look, pick ‘n’ mix Christianity annoys me too, but only when someone is claiming that something is definitely true because it’s in the Bible. If someone wants to call themselves a Christian and pick the best bits of the book to guide their morality while not pushing it down everyone else’s throat, I really don’t see what the problem is.

19 – linguistic shortcut on my part there, sorry. He’s campaigning to be leader of the labour party on a platform including support for gay marriage, which people see as a feather in his bow, but his support for it is based on anecdote & personal experience, rather than any “liberal” basis – would this be part of his platform if he hadn’t had that uncle?

(I don’t actually know the answer to that last one, but to me it bears thinking about. Right action, wrong motivation, etc).

17 – reasonably well-put, and TBH I’m not sure if I disagree with you at the appointed place or not. Once you’ve removed the “public service” / civil contract aspect from the religious ceremony, I think that what remains can reasonably be reduced to the “gays in your B&B” question. But of course, we have greater respect for intolerance in religious organisations in this country, for some weird reason, so I can’t imagine that such a reduction would be accepted by many.

I’m with Larry.

Surely churches which now welcome homosexuals are pick and mixing from their holy books in the same way that they do not advocate stoning to death of adulterers, children who dis their parents, and those who insist on working on a Sunday.

Because some churches and some religions have antediluvian attitudes doesn’t mean that they all have, or that they all should have, and that anyone who professes to be religious should have these attitudes or else be an atheist.

Of course, they should be atheist because that’s just common sense. But if they believe then they should have just as much liberty to pick the bits out they want as anyone else. So say I.

25. Chaise Guevara

“He’s campaigning to be leader of the labour party on a platform including support for gay marriage, which people see as a feather in his bow, but his support for it is based on anecdote & personal experience, rather than any “liberal” basis – would this be part of his platform if he hadn’t had that uncle?

(I don’t actually know the answer to that last one, but to me it bears thinking about. Right action, wrong motivation, etc).”

Legitimate concerns. Ultimately we can’t know, but my guess is that he would still be supporting it. I suspect that, while some right-wing politicians (generally the religious ones) pretend to be more liberal about homosexuality than they truly are, the trend among left-wing politicians moves in the opposite direction. For example, I find it hard to believe that Bros Milliband are as anti-gay as they paint themselves to be (which isn’t much); I think they just want to cover all of their bases.

As such, and I know the above contains lots of assumptions, my guess is that Balls is a supporter of gay rights generally but feels he’ll get further with those on the fence by using a personal human interest story rather than engaging in a rational debate about the whys and wherefores. I’d also point out that he, perhaps more than anyone else, became something of a symbol rather than a person in the media during the run-up to the election, and that he’s therefore probably trying to re-establish the image of himself as a normal bloke that you’d like to have a pint with and so on.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage http://bit.ly/bD32iu

  2. earwicga

    RT @libcon Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage http://bit.ly/bEQH0O

  3. Soho Politico

    RT @libcon Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage http://bit.ly/bEQH0O

  4. Dave Weeden

    RT @libcon: Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage http://bit.ly/bD32iu

  5. newleader

    http://www.edballs.tk RT @daveweeden RT @libcon: Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage http://bit.ly/bD32iu

  6. Annie B

    RT @SohoPolitico: RT @libcon Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage http://bit.ly/bEQH0O < Interesting personal explanation

  7. GLBT World News

    Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/aSF4ep

  8. Sensual Seductions

    Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/bW889Q

  9. Md. Suja Uddin Mia

    Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage | Liberal Conspiracy: The uncle was a very religious man, a Christi… http://bit.ly/9TBFHm

  10. Norman Tebbit is more tolerant of homosexuals than Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, Diane Abbot or Andy Burhnam « Left Outside

    […] the other hand, Ed Balls has passionately defended gay marriage after revealing that his deeply religious Uncle could never […]

  11. Tom King

    Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/m7PpxRQv via @libcon

  12. Chris Bowden-Smith

    Ed Balls explains his support for gay marriage | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/m7PpxRQv via @libcon

  13. sunny hundal

    @_johnhall @JeromeTaylor in fact @edballsmp came out in favour of gay marriage over two years ago :) http://t.co/VeYoTJTV





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