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Monday, 31 March 2008

Bring on same-sex unions, say Irish

Most people in the Republic of Ireland want to see official recognition of same-sex partnerships. Around 84 per cent of those polled in a survey favoured either same-sex marriage or civil partnerships, such as exist in the UK.

The Irish government has ruled out gay marriage as such, though, claiming that it would require a potentially divisive referendum on a change to the constitution. However, proposals for civil partnerships are expected to be brought forward soon by the country’s Justice Minister, Brian Lenihan.

“It is understood that the Republic of Ireland will recognise same-sex marriages, civil unions and civil partnerships from other countries when it legalises same-sex unions,” says the Pink News online news outlet.

“The UK already recognises same-sex unions and marriages from nearly 20 countries, including Canada, the US and France.”

Sunday, 30 March 2008

CARE in the (Westminster) community

The Charity Commission and the House of Commons standards watchdog are reportedly investigating a right-wing Christian charity said to be funding interns in MPs' offices.

According to the Independent on Sunday, the evangelical charity Christian Action, Research and Education (CARE) is leading opposition to the new proposed laws on embryology research. The Independent story continues:

Twelve research assistants sponsored by Care are Commons pass-holders, allowing them unrestricted access to Westminster in the run-up to highly sensitive and potentially close votes on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill next month. At least two MPs face questions after they omitted to declare they have Care-sponsored staff.

While charities are allowed to carry out political campaigning, says the story, they "must not give support or funding to a political party, or to a candidate or politician", according to Charity Commission rules.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week said he would allow a free vote on some aspects of the legislation, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, after bleating from Catholic MPs who wanted a conscience vote (or should that be a vote according to how their church tells them to vote?).

"As research assistants, CARE's interns can go unaccompanied to nearly all areas of Parliament," says the Independent on Sunday story, "and are allowed free access to documents that are out of bounds to journalists. Their passes also allow them to interact with all MPs in Portcullis House, the main meeting area of Westminster."

CARE is said to receive donations of more than £2 million a year, and spends nearly £70,000 on its intern programme.

The Oxford University geneticist Professor Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying, "If only these restless busybodies would keep their prejudices to themselves, nobody would object. But they can't resist inflicting their ignorant opinions on others."

And the Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris (a National Secular Society honorary associate), who has led support for the Bill, tells the paper, "CARE pushes the boundaries of charitable status. It is a clever initiative [to place interns] because once they have parliamentary experience they have an advantage over others in the employment market to get powerful positions in other organisations. It is clear that patient and medical research charities will have to divert funds and resources into writing to MPs who are undecided [over] the Bill."

Saturday, 29 March 2008

The cardinal and the scientists: why do they need to speak?

The Catholic cardinal who has stirred up most of the controversy over the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (see earlier story), Keith O'Brien of Scotland, has now said he's willing to meet scientists to discuss the areas that bother him.

He'd been urged to do so by the MP for Livingston, Jim Devine, himself a Roman Catholic but a supporter of the Bill.

According to
this BBC story, O'Brien "has described legislation going through Westminster, which would allow the creation of animal–human embryos, as 'monstrous' ".

O'Brien is quoted in the story as saying, "I would be only too happy to agree to such a meeting and I am sure other Church representatives and leaders of other faiths would also agree. My only condition would be that the scientists were also willing to accept instruction from our Churches and peoples of faith on basic morality, on what human life really is, on the purpose of our life on earth and so on."

So there's a caveat. I'll talk to you if you "accept instruction" from the churches and "peoples of faith". Accept instruction? Why should any scientist worth his or her salt accept such a condition? What has a belief that a bundle of cells – no more sentient than an eyelash – is a human being with a soul got to do with humankind's efforts to further knowledge and, potentially, its ability to cure nasty illnesses?

How far down the road will we go towards appeasing the superstitious before we abandon science altogether? Is this the start of the proverbial slippery slope?

Professor Colin Blakemore (featured in that earlier story) is delighted, saying that he hopes the Church will accept that even scientists who don't have religious beliefs still have a moral code. But did Blakemore know about O'Brien's condition when he said that?

In his Easter sermon, O'Brien described the legislation as a "monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life", adding that it would allow experiments of "Frankenstein proportion". The worthy cardinal doesn't, it seems, stop to think about the monstrous attacks on the rights and dignities of actual, living, breathing, sentient, aware, conscious, thinking human beings when he supports his church's attack on condom use, for instance, and its antiabortion stance, even if an abortion could save a mother's life or prevent untold strife if an unwanted pregnancy – even one engendered by rape – were taken to its full term.

Then there is the attack on human dignity caused by an ever-increasing population, making huge demands on the environment, when populations could be to some extent managed sensibly with intelligent birth-control policies.

A date of 22 April has been pencilled in for a meeting. See the PTT's news release on the issue here.

Religious threats lead to self-censorship as Wilders film is dropped

London-based LiveLeak, which has been hosting the anti-Islam film Fitna, released this week by the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, has now dropped the movie, citing "threats to its staff", according to a story on CNN's website.

" said in a statement Friday that it decided to remove the film a day after it was posted 'following threats to our staff of a very serious nature'," says the story. See our earlier report here.

Instead of the video linked to in our earlier story, there are a series of captions forming LiveLeak's statement, in which it says it's a "sad day for freedom of speech".

Again, religious threats decide what we are allowed to watch. You'll be pleased to know that it's still available on YouTube – or just click the arrow below.

Fertility Bill: a leading scientist says it must become law

The government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill has found support in the unlikeliest of places, the latest issue of the Catholic newspaper The Tablet, published today. Professor Colin Blakemore, a leading neurobiologist, has been put head to head with Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who, as you would expect, defends the Catholic Church's objection to research that, it is said, could lead to cures for debilitating genetic diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Down's (which he does in a separate article).

"The image conjured up by some comments is of fully formed, half-human, half-animal monsters," Blakemore writes, adding:

Yet a major feature of the bill is that it forbids any attempt to make such things. A key technique acknowledged in the bill, already permitted under existing law, is the formation of "cytoplasmic hybrids", involving the insertion of the nucleus of a single human cell (for instance from a patient suffering from a genetic disease) into the empty egg of, say, a rabbit. The resulting cell, although it does not result from fertilisation and its genetic material is almost entirely derived from the adult donor, has the characteristics of an embryo. It divides and, most significantly, stem cells can be collected from it for research. The bill would prevent such "human admixed embryos" from being maintained for more than 14 days . . .

The Pink Triangle Trust issued a news release earlier this week. And you can see some of the pros and cons of the Bill in this Guardian report by Aida Edemariam.

Meanwhile, you may be interested in an article in Scotland's Daily Record on Wednesday saying that O'Brien is now emerging from the shadow of his homophobic predecessor, Cardinal Thomas Winning, the previous leader of Scotland's Catholics. Winning, says the paper, "became a high-profile backer of the campaign, promoted by Stagecoach millionaire Brian Souter, to keep Section 28 – the law which banned the discussion of homosexuality in schools".

Friday, 28 March 2008

Wilders film: the backlash begins

The Dutch politician Geert Wilders's film Fitna was finally published yesterday – and today the backlash begins.*

Both Iran and Indonesia have condemned the film (it also gets honourable mention in this Philosopedia article), which intersperses footage of 9/11, 7/7, Madrid and other atrocities attributed to Muslim extremists – as well as images of beheading and stoning – with pages from the Koran, the Islamic holy book. It also shows how Islam condemns homosexuals and treats women.

"The film urges Muslims to tear out 'hate-filled' verses from the Koran," says this Reuters story, "and starts and finishes with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb under his turban, originally published in Danish newspapers, accompanied by the sound of ticking." The story continues:

The image ignited violent protests around the world and a boycott of Danish products in 2006. Many Muslims regard any depiction of the Prophet as offensive.

Iran called the film heinous, blasphemous and anti-Islamic and called on European governments to block any further showing.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and a former Dutch colony, also condemned the film.

The cartoon of the turban bomb (the so-called "turbomb") was one of several cartoons that appeared in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, and Muslims have created havoc over them ever since, leading to a number of deaths. Flags have been burned, buildings set on fire and Muslims have marched in city streets calling for the death of infidels, as well as the cartoonists.

The turbomb was the one that has been the most controversial. It is used at the beginning and end of Wilders's film, and now its author, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, is threatening to sue Wilders, because he didn't seek his permission to use the image, and it's been taken out of context.

* The link above now takes you to a part of the LiveLeak site that explains that the film has been taken down. You can see the film by going to our later story, "
Religious threats lead to self-censorship as Wilders film is dropped".

Welcome to the blog

Pink Triangle is a new blog, set up in March 2008 by the Pink Triangle Trust. The PTT was launched as a charity (number 1015629) in the UK in 1992 with the aim of educating lesbian and gay people about aspects of Humanism, while alerting Humanists to those things that affect homosexuals. This blog is its new forum.

While all the views here may not necessarily reflect the policies of the PTT, and shouldn't be taken to do so, there will, we hope, be lively discussion concerning the issues raised above, and wider ones, too, concerning gays and lesbians and a life that doesn't have to include religion.

So we'll be posting news and comment concerning matters that affect the LGB community and humanists and secularists, with comment if appropriate, and hope you'll join in the discussion in the comments area.

You can find out more about the PTT on its website.

Welcome aboard, and we hope to hear more from you soon.