This year was double the number of marchers then usual, singing loudly but tunelessly Onward Christian Soldiers, as they made their haphazard way along the High Street. I sat in the window of my flat’s sitting room and watched the marchers below. My flat, being above the laundrette, on the corner of the High Street, gave me a good view of the march and I could look out for my sister but I wouldn’t be seen.
It was their yearly tradition, their “March of Witness” on Easter Sunday morning. They would leave St. John’s Church, the local parish church, walk up the length of the High Street, around the traffic island at the north end, and then back along the High Street and into St. John’s Church. My sister had told me, they saw it as their “witness” to our local community. As if marching along the High Street, once a year, would turn us away from our wicked ways. This year they had changed their Witness March into a protest march.
The tiny congregation from St. John’s was joined by those of St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the Pentecostal church on the Fowler Estate. Many of them were carrying placards that proclaimed: “Equal Rights for Christians”, “We Will Not Give Up Our Beliefs” and “The World Needs God Not Human Rights”.
It was chilling to watch them, the anger and energy that had suddenly poured out of them. They were reacting to a persecution that to me was almost imaginary. None of those church goers were ever attacked and beaten up when they left church, the way my friend Joe was when he had left a gay bar in Brighton (he’d only just been discharged from hospital, two weeks after he was attacked).
“We’re the most persecuted minority in the country,” my sister had announced, the night before at my mother’s dinner party. I’d actually choked on a mouthful of wine when I heard this but it didn’t stop her continuing, “Our beliefs are always ignored for Political Correctness. We have no rights in this society. Homosexuals and immigrants have more rights than us. Only last week a Christian woman was threatened with the police when she refused to let a homosexual couple stay in her B&B. It was her home and she didn’t want her children exposed to all that sin,”
“Nonsense,” our mother snapped. “As a solicitor I’ve had a lot of enquiries about this. The law says that if you’re offering a service to the public you can’t pick and choose who you offer it to. You can’t turn someone away because they’re gay or they look gay.”
“Yes, but homosexuals get all these protections ahead of everyone else,” my sister complained. “We Christians don’t get the same protections. Anyone can be prejudiced towards us and get away with it. When we stand up for our beliefs we’re called bigots and snacked down,”
“You bloody little fool!” I could see the annoyance on my mother’s face. “The Equality Bill, the one you hate so much, extended protections to lesbians and gay men that were already enjoyed by Christians. It’s against the law to deny someone a public service because of their religion. Now it’s the same for sexuality...”
My sister didn’t reply, for once, she just pursed her lips and looked away.
Later that evening my sister cornered me in my mother’s kitchen and started her explanation without any promoting from me.
“We just want to stand up for our fundamental beliefs before they’re taken away from us. No one respects us anymore. They never listen to us and when we stand up for our beliefs they call us prejudiced. This March of Witness tomorrow is to show how much everyone needs us Christians and to stand up for our rights.”
“Tell it to someone who cares,” I replied.
“God still loves you and he can cure your homosexuality.”
I didn’t reply, I just pushed past her and walked back into the dining room.
Much later, as I was leaving for home, my mother kissed me on the check and quietly said:
“The trouble with your sister is she wants to save the world from its sins, the shame is that the world no longer needs saving.”
“I wish she’d stop trying to save me,” I replied.
Now, looking down on those marchers, part of me actually felt sorry for them. They had lost all their influence and power, the world no longer needed them, yet they couldn’t see that. They still wanted the deference that they had long ago lost. They were quite pathetic creatures, a joke to many, yet they couldn’t see it. They were so sad, out of touch with everything and they couldn’t make themselves relevant.
Then I saw it, the placard carried by a squat man in a suit too tight for him, it read: “The World Needs Salvation Not Sodomy.”
All my pity vanished. They were bloody bigots just trying to hang onto their age-old prejudices. The sooner they all died out and their churches closed the better.
I stood up and walked away from the window, those marchers could freeze to death in a blizzard for all I cared, and headed towards my kitchen. I had an Easter breakfast to prepare.
Since his discharge from hospital Joe had been staying with me, caring for him and looking after him was now far more important to me than those sad and bigoted people outside.
In 2010 Britain passed the Equality Act into law (See the first link below). This made it illegal to refused to provide goods or service to someone because of their gender, religion, race, physical ability or sexuality. Since then there have been many right-wing Christians who have demanded their “right” to discriminate against LGBT people and that equality has made them “second class citizens”. The hypocrisy still makes me angry (See the other two links below).