All the world loves a lover. When the lovebird in question is a penguin, the world's sympathy knows no bounds. Controversy greeted the decision this week of Toronto Zoo to separate two male, pair-bonded penguins and mate them with females.
Apparently Buddy and Pedro, rare African Penguins bred in captivity, have enjoyed a close relationship for many years, exhibiting classic courtship behaviour and sleeping together every night. Now they are to be wrenched from each other's flippers, and forced to do their bit for the continuation of the species.
The "Aah factor" generated by this tale of thwarted, penguin passion was to be expected. The outrage expressed by activists for animal rights and gay rights in relation to the "Toronto Two" bears closer examination.
The animal welfare lobby is complicated and not easily dismissed. If you believe that animals have exactly similar rights to humans, then everything from the keeping of household pets to meat-eating appears monstrous. If, on the other hand, you subscribe to the more moderate notion of "responsible stewardship", the decision to maximise Pedro and Buddy's genetic potential seems entirely reasonable; there are only 60,000 African penguins left in the wild. On an ecological level, Buddy and Pedro are being asked to "take one for the team".
The issue of the penguins' "gay rights" is, on the other hand, preposterous. One online commentator described the (temporary) separation of Buddy and Pedro as "the most discriminating thing against gays I have seen", which suggests that he is very new to the world of anti-gay discrimination.
The argument, also much rehearsed this week, that the existence of homosexuality in the animal kingdom somehow argues for greater respect for gays and lesbians in society is equally unhelpful. If we haven't got it into our heads by now that it's the respect that matters, not the "cause", gay rights are dead in the water.
Let's, for a moment, indulge the flabby anthropomorphism at the heart of the whole debate. Who's to say Pedro and Buddy are not happy to bat for either side? Where does that leave the busybodies attempting to pigeonhole their sexuality? We will never know their complicated feelings on this or any other ideological matter. Because – for heaven's sake – they are penguins. Perspective is called for.
Battery hens are arguably facing a worse future than star-cross'd penguins. Global attention might be more usefully focused on the fact that in 41 out of 54 Commonwealth countries, homosexuality is illegal and cruelly punished, than arguing the toss about forced congress in the penguin pool. For me, Pedro and Buddy's Brokeback moment just doesn't cut the ice.
Tintin and the sinister forces
According to the Vatican's official newspaper, the curbing of sales in British bookshops of Tintin in the Congo is "politically correct lunacy".
In fact, thundered L'Osservatore Romano, the quiffed crusader is a "Catholic hero", on a mission "to save the innocent and conquer evil".
And this in a week when lawyers for the Catholic Church argued tooth and nail in the High Court against compensation for victims of proven sexual abuse by priests.
As the horrific scale of the abuse perpetrated at Ealing Abbey over the past 60 years is revealed, I'd say the innocent were put at risk by more sinister forces than political correctness. Tintin, where are you when you're needed?