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Grace Dent: I’m not sure how these people can avoid being called ‘bigots’. And the more ‘civilised’, the worse they are

2013 has been an extremely tough year for people like Sir Gerald Howarth

Whatever one’s views are on David Cameron, I have respect for his firmness during the gay marriage debate in standing up to party bigots. Because that’s what you are – by my definition of bigot –  if you oppose gay marriage because you happen to think that a large swathe of British society is not quite equal to you. Or maybe as holy as you. Please self-identify as a bigot.

Gosh, that word stings, doesn’t it? Below-the-line, comment-box bigots screaming about “poofs waving it in their face” wear their bigot badge with honour because it means they got a reaction. By contrast, a civilised, educated, powerful bigot hates being called a bigot so much that Cameron had to smooth things over on the Today programme this morning by rebranding his own party’s bigots as great thinkers. “I don’t think in any way that to oppose gay marriage is to be wrong-headed or bigoted,” he said. “This is a different point of view but we should respect each other.”

So when Sir Gerald Howarth says of gay marriage that “there are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this as but a stepping stone to something even further”, instead of my shouting, “Oh, be off with you, Howarth, you plutonium-grade bigot. Enough of painting gay people as volatile miscreants strong-arming some mad law through so they can, inevitably, marry a dog, register the marriage for tax-evasion purposes and then have sex with Fido publicly at Glyndebourne – y’know, that dream that all gays dream – you’re a bigot…” Instead of this, Cameron would like respect and understanding for men like Sir Gerald.

But I do understand Sir Gerald. It’s a bloody tough time in 2013 for people like him. It used to be so simple. People like him just had carte blanche. When he says “aggressive homosexuals”, what I guess he’s actually alluding to are “people in this day and age, gay and straight, who after decades, nay centuries of listening to homophobic rot won’t stand for another moment of it”.

Once upon a time, a bigot could say things like: “Oh, I’m not a homophobe. I just think a man marrying a woman is God’s will.” Then they’d retreat, quietly secure that their very holiness would shut down the line of questioning. Nowadays, they may find these pesky aggressive homosexuals answering back, shouting things like: “OK, so was God having an anti-marriage moment when he blasted a tornado through Oklahoma killing many wives and husbands?” Or: “OK, so you believe wholeheartedly that the Bible is 100 per cent God’s truth about things, and, at one point pre-Jesus, God drowned everyone aside from a man in a boat with a mobile floating zoo? Or is it just the ‘God hates gays’ that your faith extends to?” How annoying, how aggressive.

Or a gay person might shout: “And while we’re at it, didn’t Henry VIII pretty much perceive God’s will on marriage however he wanted to – flip-flopping from Catholicism to Protestantism and exploiting loopholes. Where do you stand on this, person of faith? Does this mean that the current House of Windsor isn’t the true bloodline? Or what you mean by ‘faith’ is really, ‘God I find men having sex with men disgusting’.” 

This week’s “I’m not a bigot” smokescreen – “What I worry about with gay marriage is people exploiting it for tax avoidance issues” – is quite wonderful in its irony. If gay people react to this news aggressively, furiously, like swivel-eyed loons even, I wholly forgive them. In the week that the British unit of Amazon revealed that it paid £3m tax on 2012 sales of £4bn, members and supporters of the Conservative Party are worried that gay marriage is the real tax-avoidance matter at hand. The fact that, yes, the CEOs of several big businesses would probably, if they could, marry a Great Dane called Snuggles to avoid driving tax back into a country in dire need of hospitals, schools and education is not, I wager, a gay-marriage problem, it’s a greed problem.

What this has to do with Jack and Ryan in Kidderminster on £30k a year combined, who own a flat, work 9-5 five days a week, pay full tax, having the perfect right to blow £10k employing local industry (florists, hotels, car drivers, suit-makers) to have a lovely party where all their friends can dance and drink and celebrate marriage, love and lifetime commitment is, well, nothing. No one objects to gay marriage on tax-avoidance issues, they object because they are a bigot. I’d respect bigots more if they owned the label they’ve earned.

A taste of things to come

As a restaurant critic, I’m very tempted to get along to the Poundcafé in Kirkby to try their highly popular new £1 breakfast. Skint Britain is in full swing. More people than ever are finding feeding themselves a luxury. It’s no coincidence that people are flocking to the café, not questioning too closely the contents of the sausage to find a hot meal for a quid.

It was a bakery chain that identified the need for people to have access to a cheap hot meal. I’m sure many will mock it or cite concerns over the “Great British fry-up” but on the first day 300 people paid for egg, bacon, sausage, hash brown and baked beans or tomatoes. I can’t help thinking that this is the shape of things to come. First foodbanks, then budget cafés, then finally taking charge of our starving school children. The growling stomach of Britain’s hidden hungry can’t be ignored any more.