In 2011 David Cairns, the MP for Inverclyde, died of acute pancreatitis. He was 44. He didn’t die because he was gay. He died because he had the terrible misfortune to develop a fatal illness.
In 1995 my first partner died of AIDS. He was 37. He didn’t die because he was gay either. He died because he had the terrible misfortune to contract a deadly virus.
Both David and my late partner died tragically young when they still had much to contribute. So far, so obvious. But sadly not to the Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia.
I was born in 1961, adopted at six months and grew up in England. Adoption was a different story back then and growing up I knew little about my birth identity save two things; I was Scottish and Catholic.
Identity is a complicated thing but I’ve carried those things with me on and off for the last 50-odd years. And since I was in my late teens I’ve carried something else as part of my identity: I’m gay.
So this week’s events in Scotland were something of a roller coaster. Scotland looks set to be the first part of the UK to legislate for equal marriage; hurrah to that. But at almost the same moment, the Archbishop of Glasgow’s disgraceful comments about David Cairns’ death cast a long dark shadow over Scotland’s new burgeoning tolerance.
It’s pretty odd to be a gay Catholic. A lot of my friends certainly think so and the Archbishop’s comments have done nothing to confound their unease. To some of them, it’s downright contradictory. But faith and the way any of us chooses to express it is a very personal thing.
And I’m not about to retreat into the far reaches of that dark shadow because religious leaders like Tartaglia can’t resist making ignorant and deeply shameful remarks about a good man who is no longer here to answer back.
I’m proud to say that I’m Scottish, gay and Catholic. I look forward to the day when the church establishment in Scotland, Catholic and Protestant, catches up with the body politic in my country. And the day it not only desists from perpetuating bigotry but joins forces with the progressive voices who want to make homophobia a thing of the past.
That must be the Christian thing to do.
Lofty aspirations? Maybe. But a good starting point would be for Tartaglia to meet with David’s partner Dermot Kehoe as he’s requested and start to mend some of the appalling damage inflicted by his remarks.
First published on 28th July 2012