Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: When it comes to gay issues, Jim Wells should leave the Jurassic era behind

Only a dinosaur would have a problem with same-sex couples on Strictly, says Fionola Meredith

Jim Wells gave people something to shout about as they woke up to Good Morning Britain
Jim Wells gave people something to shout about as they woke up to Good Morning Britain
Fionola Meredith

By Fionola Meredith

Oh Jim. Again? Really? Yes, I'm afraid it's true. While Westminster self-destructs amid the chaos of Brexit, and everyone else wonders what we talked about before the mind-numbing complexities of leaving the European Union became our sole obsession, Jim Wells made his debut on ITV's Good Morning Britain.

The DUP ex-minister, now semi-detached from the party since the whip was withdrawn, and thus free to fly his personal kites in public, was there to speak about the impact on cross-border trade in the event of no deal.

No, of course, he wasn't. He was there to talk, once more, about what seems to be his favourite subject: opposition to all things gay.

It's his forte, it's what he does. Little else appears to animate Mr Wells as much as taking a defiantly manly stand against the normalisation of homosexuality.

If there was an equivalent flag to the LGBT rainbow one, only celebrating the red-blooded hetero union, no doubt he would wave it enthusiastically. Maybe he'd even fly it from the roof of his house when he's in residence, like the Queen does at Buckingham Palace.

The big issue that had got Jim worked up this time was the inclusion of same-sex couples on Strictly Come Dancing.

I know, outrageous, right? It's a real problem, because it means that Jim can't watch any more, which he previously enjoyed doing, because it's no longer "family viewing".

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He explained: "You've had a busy week, you sit down with the family and you watch pure entertainment. The last thing you want is to be challenged or to be asked deep intellectual questions."

What, because a couple of men, or a couple of women, happen to be waltzing round a ballroom together, wearing spangles? There's nothing deeply intellectual about that. We're not talking Nietzsche and Schopenhauer here, though no doubt they'd have made a lovely couple.

If it's the children watching that Mr Wells is worried about, I bet most of them wouldn't bat an eyelid. The world has moved on. Thank God, gay people are not reviled and humiliated in the way that they customarily were when Jim was a young man starting out in politics. Discrimination is still a serious problem, of course, but routine, socially-sanctioned oppression is no longer the norm.

When my own children were young, I wanted them to know that people being gay - or in any other way different to the mainstream - was perfectly normal and natural. So we hired a young lesbian couple as their regular babysitters. There was no "challenge" about it, no "deep intellectual questions". It was just a simple, easy way to demonstrate that people come in an infinite variety and that it's all part of the rich diversity of living in the world.

What perplexes me is why Mr Wells chooses to vent his feelings in this highly public way. Of course, he's perfectly entitled to hold whatever opinions he wishes, and it seems that the DUP is so distracted by the Brexit rumpus that they're allowing him to rant away unchecked.

Perhaps they believe that he acts as a sort of lightning rod for the most conservative, unreconstructed elements of their voter base and thus - even at a remove - serves some kind of basic function.

But what drives Mr Wells to make such an exhibition of himself on national television?

He must have known that his arcane views would be challenged and treated with scorn. The set-up was obvious: he was there in the role of a genuine diehard homophobe, straight out of the prejudiced past, presenting his hoary Jurassic-epoch rump to be kicked, very hard.

And sure enough, that's exactly what happened. Piers Morgan told Wells that he was "an old bigoted dinosaur, and you feel challenged because you don't like the idea of scary gay people around you."

I suspect the reason Mr Wells went on GMB is because he fancies himself as some kind of latter-day Christian martyr, bravely appearing on daytime TV to suffer the slings and arrows of virtuous opinion. Possibly the act of standing up - and being lambasted - for his championship of "traditional values" gives him a bit of a thrill.

But by taking on the role of pantomime anti-gay bogeyman, he does himself, his party and his fellow Christians no favours. It's one thing to oppose same-sex marriage. But treating gay people as if they are some kind of immoral, transgressive aberration - an affront to God and man - is rightly regarded as indefensible, and those who continue to do so are rightly condemned.

The Jurassic era is over. Dinosaurs no longer roam the earth. Jim Wells and his like must update their calendars, and evolve.

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