Lindy McDowell: Iris should meet a few gay people
The DUP — party slogan 'Getting it Right' — has seen the launch of the reign of new First Minister, Peter Robinson almost entirely over-shadowed by the comments made by his wife Iris on her views re homosexuality.
Never mind the shocking language — "vile, nauseating and an abomination" — bad timing or what?
Of course, when we're on the subject of bad timing the fact that Iris's comments were made after a young gay man had been savagely beaten up will strike many people as a sight more pertinent than any damage to her party's (and her husband's) political standing. The old war time slogan about how careless talk costs lives has a particular relevance here. Initially it was aimed at stopping people gobbing off during the war about matters which could endanger national security. A generation or two later however, and it takes on an entirely different resonance.
In Northern Ireland of all places we recognise — and you'd assume that public representatives above all should recognise — the importance of careful talk. The importance, in other words, of avoiding language that feeds and provides justification for the perverted savagery of vicious thugs.
And there are plenty of them out there. Young gay people, both male and female, but especially male, have been regularly targeted in recent years. And not just in savage assaults. Some have been murdered.
If fundamentalist Christians were being attacked on the same scale there would — quite rightly — be public outcry. Which immediately raises the issue of what this says about our society as a whole. Never mind Iris and her fellow phobes, shouldn't the rest of us be standing up for and speaking out on behalf of gay people just a bit more?
You don't have to be "the nice psychiatrist", who Iris maintains can "cure" gayness, to see that in the wider picture the abomination, the vile and the truly nauseating are those who brutalise others purely on account of their sexual orientation. Having said all this we come back to the inevitable question of whether Iris has a right to express her obviously deeply held views at all. Should she and others like her (and let's not try to kid ourselves they're all in the DUP) have a right to freedom of speech?
I'm assuming it's not a website she'll regularly log on to, but one of the most interesting debates on this aspect can currently be found on the Pink News site.
In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, there have been calls from local gay groups for Iris to come along and meet some of their members. Her "love the sinner, but hate the sin" mantra doesn't make a whole lot of sense if she doesn't actually know any of these perceived sinners.
Electric Six: I want to take you to a gay bar
Will she do it, though?
It would be the right move on a number of counts. Not least because it should lead to an open exchange of views away from the hyped up atmosphere of a phone-in chat show which often seems aimed at provoking maximum controversy. (That line about careless talk has some relevance here too.)
It would also provide Iris with some valuable insight into the all-too-often shocking experience of gay people in Northern Ireland.
For, and I have to say this, she is not a monster. I don't know her well but I do know she is a representative who has battled passionately for her constituents — particularly for the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Iris doubtless has a right to her religious views — and a right to express them. It's how she expresses those views that is the real issue.
On a purely political point she has not done her party or her party leader any favours this week.
And for all the fundamentalists in its ranks, there will be not a few DUP members and supporters also recoiling at her comments.
Careless talk costs lives? In language that a politician might better relate to — careless talk also costs votes.