Belfast Telegraph

Diversity can enrich each of us

By Brian McClinton

Jim Allister's piece on the Beulah Print case (News, March 7) is a depressingly flat cocktail of fundamentalist Christianity and obsolete politics.

Not content with attacking the "aggressive and intolerant" gay rights lobby, he also takes a predictable swipe at Sinn Fein's 'Trojan Horse' equality agenda.

But equality is a basic human right, which transcends his blinkered and uncompromising vision.

The real act of intolerance is the company's refusal to print invitations for a civil partnership ceremony.

Neither Beulah nor Ashers Baking were being asked to participate in an action of which they disapproved.

They were merely asked to supply a product which supported a view about that action.

Tolerance doesn't mean that we have to agree with what we don't like. As Voltaire reportedly put it: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

In Jim Allister's twisted view of tolerance, this should be rewritten as: "I disapprove of what you say and I will do my damnedest to prevent you from saying it and if you don't like that, you are being intolerant."

Tolerance, or forbearance, is practised in all walks of life.

Lawyers may have to defend people they think are guilty, teachers may have to teach students with different opinions from their own, doctors may have to treat patients whose lifestyles they deplore, and so on.

This give-and-take is not only a consequence of living together in a pluralist liberal democracy, but it can also be a celebration of diversity which enriches us all.

This applies to sexuality as much as it does to race and gender. If we seek to prohibit the opinions of gay people, because they offend us, then we are treating them as means to our ends and not according them equality of respect.

It is not an anti-Christian agenda to argue that we are all entitled to equal access to life's opportunities, regardless of how nature has made us.

After all, isn't the moral heart of the Christian message that we should all live together in a bond of fraternity and love?

  • Brian McClinton is director of the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland

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