Are we entering a post-modern 1930s?—a few dark reflections following an evening talking about Equal Marriage and why it matters

A rainbow over the Memorial (Unitarian) Church
Yesterday evening we were pleased to welcome to the church Derek McAuley, the Chief Officer of the GA of U&FC Churches, to speak to students as part of our new Student Ministry project.

His subject was, “Equal Marriage — Why it matters”. As many of you will know Derek played a major part in the national campaign to bring about this change in legislation along with his colleagues in the Quakers and Liberal Judaism. 

In a nutshell he said he thought it matters in three key ways; it matters to the couples involved; it matters to the society in which we live; and it matters to us as a liberal, free-religious community. I could say something about each of these themes but it was the second of these that particularly concerned me and which has prompted this brief post.

In liberal circles we might be tempted to think that, because the legislation was passed and has now gone into law, that equal marriage is now somehow simply an uncontested fact of life, part forever of our society’s new, more liberal and tolerant reality.

But is this the case? There are ever increasing indications that it is not. Figures from the Home Office suggest there has been a significant rise in homophobic attacks following the Brexit vote. A report in the “The Independent” on 28th July examining the scale of “post-referendum racism” also found signs that some racists seemed intent on extending their attacks to the LGBT community. Incidents reported in that article include a crowd walking down Drury Lane, London, two days after the referendum result was announced, chanting: “First we’ll get the Poles out, then the gays!” The actress Juliet Stevenson also reported a Romanian lesbian being attacked in Oxford and suggested the incident showed “Strains of 1930s Germany”.  See also this article, again in The Independent.

Mindful of these events Derek wondered whether Equal Marriage may well turn out to be the “high-water” mark of the LGBT+ campaign and that from now on in we will need to be defending this gain from significant forces that want to see these kinds of liberalisations and openness rolled back. It was a comment with which I could not but concur.

As if to reinforce my own gloomy feelings on this matter, when most people had gone and only a few of us were left tidying up and preparing to close the church, a man came into the church and stood in the vestibule. As I always do when this happens I went over to him to say hello and to find out what he wanted and whether I could help. It quickly became apparent that he was very drunk and claiming to be homeless. He may well have been but we didn’t have much chance to talk through anything constructive around this because he quickly started blaming "fucking Syrian refugees" for his situation. I demurred because I don't think such claims can be left unchallenged by anyone and I said that his dreadful situation wasn’t the fault of refugees (Syrian or otherwise) but of more complex, home-grown poor, political decisions that were forcing both him and refugees into similar, distressing and degrading situations. His reaction to this was to move right up into my face and tell me he was a British working man and that I was fucking this and fucking that, a fucking Corbyn supporter (I never mentioned Corbyn and, I should add, although a leftist, I'm not a member of the Labour Party) and that he wanted me to step outside the church for a fight to settle this. I did not, of course, go outside and, over the next quarter of an hour, I was able quietly to persuade him to leave the church without him getting violent.

This kind of response is, alas, becoming less and less unusual and, to pile woe upon woe, when I got home and glanced at the headlines I saw the report of the Polish woman who was "booed" by the Question Time audience in Hartlepool last night after saying she no longer feels welcome in the UK following the Brexit vote. She added that she had lived in Britain for 23 years and had “never been discriminated until Brexit came about.”

When I got round to watching the whole programme this morning on YouTube I have to say that the general tenor of this edition of Question Time put the fear of god into me because it gave a frightening indication of the deepening mess we are entering into. Thank heavens Yanis Varoufakis was there to put forwards a coherent, leftist, intelligent, dissenting voice. But it has to be said that his voice came across as of one "crying in the wilderness."

But my basic point here for those who read this blog — and who I imagine are mostly of liberal inclination — is that this nationalistic racism and hate is truly now out in the mainstream and its presence and slow but seemingly uncontrollable spread is unimaginably dangerous to us all. I cannot but feel Varoufakis is right when he suggests elsewhere, that we are moving into “a post-modern 1930s” and I’m not at all convinced that we, on the liberal end of the political or religious spectrum, have yet properly woken up to the seriousness of our situation.