Homosexuality - you don't have to like it, all you have to do is live with it
I don't believe that being gay is something you can "pray away". Let's just get that clear at the start. Alright? I am spelling this out so that all the people who read what they want to read in an opinion piece, rather than what is actually written there, have no excuse for getting themselves in a wild-eyed tizzy. (It often happens).
So here we go: being gay is not a disease, or an illness, which implies that homosexuality is something that you can "recover" from. Neither is it a result of some kind of psychological shock, or lack in your early, impressionable years.
It's absurd to say that Olympic diver Tom Daley is in a relationship with a man, as Andrea Minichiello Williams from Christian Concern suggested last month, because of the loss of a paternal figure that he experienced when his father died. Such cod-psychoanalytical insinuations are as bogus and baseless as they are distasteful.
That's why attempting to 'cure' unhappy gay people, or even to diminish their unwanted feeling of same-sex attraction, through so-called gay conversion, or reparative therapy, is justifiably considered unethical. It's wrong to permit therapists to try and there is no evidence that it works. Indeed, it may do incalculable harm.
Those desperately repressed impulses are almost certain to bust out again sooner or later, even if they are not acted upon. Look at poor old Alan Chambers, former president of the world's biggest ex-gay organisation, Exodus (now defunct), and a frequent visitor to these evangelical-friendly shores. He finally acknowledged the "shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn't change".
I can see why many gay people hate all this ex-gay talk. It must seem insulting and diminishing, like being told you're sick, or wayward, or sinful, when you know you're not.
And I understand the concerns which motivate the protests at conferences like Setting Love In Order, organised by Core Issues Trust and hosted by Ballynahinch Baptist Church last weekend, which called for the right to receive psychotherapy for unwanted same-sex attraction. A group of about 50 protesters waved placards and made their outraged feelings known to delegates inside.
But one placard in particular caught my eye. It said, "We're not confused, you're just ignorant". And that did bring me up short.
Why? Because it's one thing to oppose reparative therapy, which is currently unregulated in the UK, leaving many vulnerable and unhappy people open to potential harm. (Though perhaps not for much longer: a Bill aimed at banning gay conversion therapy has its second reading in the House of Commons today). But it's quite another to dismiss and condemn people as ignorant bigots simply for considering themselves ex-gay.
That's nobody's business but their own. They want to pray? Let them pray. I may not believe it will work, but that's just my view. It's their choice, their decision.
If they are not harming anyone else – and that is vital – it is a private matter of individual autonomy. No one should be excoriated for that. Fundamental freedoms are at stake here, the implications of which go far beyond the question of whether being gay is something you can, or should, change. In today's moral climate of selective tolerance, certain claims and causes are considered self-evidently legitimate and worthy, others repudiated to the point of censorship.
Take the protracted row over Core Issues Trust's attempt to place advertisements on London buses. In response to an advert by gay rights organisation Stonewall, which said 'Some people are gay, get over it!', Core tried to run an ad saying 'Not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud. Get over it!'.
The Core adverts were banned, but the Stonewall adverts continued to run. This sets a dangerous precedent, where Government bodies determine which sentiments are publicly sayable, and which are to be despised and repressed. Why not run both and let people make up our own minds?
It seems that we have forgotten the true meaning of tolerance. It's easy to tolerate the things that don't really challenge us, the take-it-or-leave-it stuff that we're pretty indifferent about. What's difficult is to tolerate the views that we struggle with, disagree with and actively dislike.
But it's precisely this willingness to accept the existence of ideas, or causes, that we personally find objectionable that gives tolerance its value.
If you believe in freedom of expression and freedom of conscience, it comes down to this: you don't have to like it, but you do have to live with it. Anything else is just old-fashioned prejudice.