Tim Farron has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, after gaining just three seats in last week’s snap election, citing the difficulties he has faced over the campaign due to focus on his religious beliefs and gay sex.
Farron spent a large amount of the campaign awkwardly dodging questions about whether he thought gay sex was a sin, before eventually stating that it is, in fact, not. But we’re left with numerous uncomfortable questions about what the exact responsibilities of an MP (or prospective PM, for that matter) are when it comes to LGBT+ people and what it means about the liberalism and tolerance which us Brits applaud ourselves for ritualistically.
It’s tempting to support the former leader’s argument: that his religious beliefs will not and have not prevented him from voting (repeatedly) in favour of LGBT+ rights, and that the election debate didn’t really have the time afforded to it to descend into a theological debate. As the leader of the Liberal Democrats, he was practising what the party stood for.
But, it’s clear to see where the discontent stemmed from regarding his response. There is something particularly unnerving about the head of a political party who (un-inspiringly) is campaigning (helplessly) for government not fully championing LGBT+ people. Voting in support of the community is important, appreciated and life-changing, but, if a miracle had come around, and Tim Farron were elected Prime Minister (…), it would be a relatively crap model of inspiration – as well as a total kick in the teeth – for young LGBT+ people across the country. But what is more, his resignation signals an uncomfortable decision to become more acquainted with one’s archaic, unjust slant than fighting for LGBT+ rights.
Farron should be applauded for historically supporting pro-LGBT+ legislation, particularly when hundreds of other MPs do not. But, in 2017, that doesn’t really cut it anymore. Politicians are paid public representatives and have a responsibility to speak up for the most vulnerable people they represent. If you’re coming into politics from a perspective of institutionalised power – such as, say, Christianity – you need to be prepared to stand right behind the people who that very power has historically marginalised.
But there’s more: letting any religious thoughts dissuade or influence your political ambition is a literal disservice to those you pledge to serve, particularly when the majority do not practice the same faith. Vote for our rights – please – but it’s also necessary that you culture positive narratives that have the power to do so much more. You can’t stand on a socially progressive platform, if you don’t stick around to fight for the many rights and protections yet to be granted to vulnerable communities. Logistics and political ideology aside, you can’t take a seat in the House of Commons if your moral conscience is not fit for the 21st century.
There is also volumes to be said for the responsibility of the UK as a whole to live up to it’s self-constructed liberal and tolerant identity. There isn’t room, when LGBT+ people continue to be marginalised, bullied, abused and killed across the world, for discussions such as this to be carried out on political platforms. Some responsibility falls at the media for near hounding Farron for an answer. Yet, there is zero room for the religious condemnation of vulnerable people at any point in politics, no matter how implicit or carefully avoided. Kids are growing up, already terrified of the inevitable difference of their human experience because of their sexuality or gender, and integrating religious perspectives, to any extent, into political discourse is even more damaging.
It’s not mandatory for every politician to be an LGBT+ enthusiast, for there are almost definitely homophobic and transphobic voters and they must, essentially, be represented if we want to have a valid democracy. But it does come down to the very liberal principle of equality of opportunity, which cannnot be realistically achieved solely by legislation. Legal developments, such as same-sex marriage, and the community itself need to be championed by those in power. They need to set an example, set the tone of conversation and empower those who are most vulnerable. To exercise a tired cliche, equality must be won in hearts and minds, not just in parliaments – and that is of equal responsibility to elected representatives as pro-LGBT+ votes, which, in all honesty, should be a given. MPs and the electorate alike must take note and elevate conversations about the very tolerance they, in any other circumstance, are oh so proud of.
All being said, Farron is not by any means the only or worst example of an ‘ally’ that the community currently has in government. I mean, you don’t have to look too far to spy your local vicar’s daughter being a slightly more problematic advocate than our hopelessly struggling Christian protagonist.
Words by Matt Bates