Belfast Telegraph

Stormont in Dark Ages over homosexuality

By Eamonn McCann

Scurrying around London earlier in the week, seeking shelter from the sun, I took refuge in the British Museum and spent a cool couple of hours contemplating homosexuality.

It was a good day for it – both for lingering in the British Museum and languid dalliance with the gay side of life.

Just down the road at Westminster, the gay marriage act was completing its passage through the Lords.

The act received Royal assent yesterday. The first same-sex weddings in the UK will likely take place next year.

At least one peer dressed for the occasion in a white sports coat and a pink carnation.

Most who had opposed the bill accepted the result in good spirit. The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, said that, in spite of his Church's concerns, "most of us do welcome the social and legal recognition of same-sex partnerships and believe our society is a better and healthier one for such recognition".

Former Tory MP Lord Cormack said: "I hope that all those who enter in to marriage under the new definition will, indeed, live happily ever after.

"But the sincerity of that wish in no way prevents my saying to them... please have a thought for those who have a different view... Remember the great Churchillian motto: magnanimity in victory."

The bill applies only to England and Wales. It is widely assumed that Holyrood will soon extend it to Scotland.

But, as things stand, the chances of Stormont endorsing any such development are close to zero. (After all, it was in order to win veto power over reform of gay rights and abortion law that the DUP performed its 2007 U-turn and agreed to the formation of the Executive.)

I wonder would the fact that the museum is British entice DUP MPs to venture up the road from Westminster and, while there, take the tour of the museum's sumptuous collection of gay artifacts from civilisations across the globe and down the ages.

They'd learn that the first recorded chat-up line in human history was "neferwi-pehwi-ki", from a poem dated 1,800BC, in which one male Egyptian god compliments another: "Nice ass."

Also from Egypt, the famous Funerary Papyrus of Henuttaway, found in the burial chamber of the high priestess of the same name, portrays a number of men performing acts of remarkable suppleness, supposedly for Henuttaway's eternal delight.

There's a pottery lamp from first-century Turkey, showing female lovers having sex (the museum's Richard Parkinson says that it's impossible to tell whether the purpose of the piece was to delight women, or titillate men.)

Then there's an example of the hundreds of sculptures of the radiantly beautiful Antonius found scattered from Asia Minor to Northumberland, many depicting him naked and revealing a fine figure of a man, erected by his lover, the Emperor Hadrian (AD 76-138), after he'd died while bathing in the Nile.

Still lamenting the loss of his love a year later, Hadrian declared Antonius a God. Five years after than, broken heart unmended, Hadrian spiralled into depression and died.

The intimate female eroticism of the poetry of Sappho (630-570 BC), who headed a community of unmarried women and girls on the island of Lesbos, was so highly regarded that coins were struck bearing her likeness.

The institution's most expensive-ever acquisition, the Warren Cup, a wine-cup from the reign of Augustus (27 BC-14 AD) is decorated with scenes of shapely men making love.

The museum turned it down in the 1950s, when it was available for next to nothing, then paid £1.8m for it in 1999.

The museum trail takes us from ancient Greece to the Han dynasty in China, to pre-Columbian societies throughout the Americas, to Tamil Nadu in India, medieval Japan, renaissance Italy, Babylon, Persia, Mali, Tahiti, New Zealand in the epoch of the Maoris, all the way back to the hunter-gatherer societies of a dozen millennia ago, who have left us exquisite stone figures of phallic entanglement.

There is no need to mention the tender love of David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20). On the law of averages, there must have been couples called Adam and Steve.

I complained on the way out that there was little representation of either the Celts, or the Ulster Scots. The young woman at the desk pondered for a moment, then explained: "Well, they've always been a bit odd over there, haven't they?"

There was no answer to that.

Belfast Telegraph

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