An open letter to Peter Kearney of the Catholic Media Office

Posted on July 27, 2012

Peter Kearney
Scottish Catholic Media Office
5 St Vincent Place
G1 2DH

27th July 2012

[cc Bishop Philip Targtaglia, President, National Communications Commission, Bishops’ Conference of Scotland]

Dear Mr Kearney,

I am writing following your comments on the Scotland Tonight programme on Wednesday 25th July which discussed the issue of same sex marriage. We are both very aware of the clear disagreement between us on the principle of same sex marriage, and while this debate will of course continue I don’t intend to rehearse it here. My purpose in writing to you is to try to ensure that the debate takes place in a context of accurate information.

During the programme, you made several comments about the health of people who have same sex relationships. Having worked in the field of gay and bisexual men’s health before being elected to Parliament, this naturally remains an issue of interest and concern to me. It is important to me, and I believe it should be important to all of us, that public debate on this issue should be well informed and not subject to misleading arguments.

During the programme you stated that there exists a “vast array of medical evidence … to suggest that same-sex behaviour is hazardous, is harmful, and is dangerous.” You went on to make a direct comparison between same-sex relationships and smoking, alcohol, overeating and drug addiction.

You claimed that there is “an overwhelming body of medical evidence” to suggest a link between same-sex sexual activity and early death. You also claimed that one study has shown that “the life expectancy of a practising homosexual man will be reduced by something between 12 and 20 years”.

Whether this line of argument has any bearing on the same sex marriage debate is unclear; I am sure you were not implying that poor health should be a legal barrier to marriage or civil partnership for anyone, regardless of their sexuality. However it is important that those of us in the privileged and powerful position of speaking on these issues in the national media don’t confuse proper scientific evidence with some of the distortions which circulate online or in the wilder imaginations of some campaigners in the very polarised debate in the US.

I am sure that you will be aware of some of the studies which have been misused in this way. The work of the avowedly anti-gay campaigner Paul Cameron for example, has been thoroughly discredited by the American and Canadian Psychological Associations and by the American Sociological Association and although it is based merely on a sampling of obituaries in gay newspapers it continues to be cited by some campaigners as though it is based on robust science.

Similarly, research by Hogg et al published in the International Journal of Epidemiology (which was designed to make an assessment from limited available data about the impact of HIV in urban Vancouver in the days prior to modern antiretroviral therapy) has been misused to such an extent that the authors have had to issue a statement to clarify the actual meaning of their work and to oppose “the use of our research in a manner that restricts the political or human rights of gay and bisexual men or any other group”.

I very much hope that you have not mistaken such distortions of science for the real thing, or worse still decided to repeat the deliberate distortions and untruths being peddled by certain campaigners in the US. I would therefore like to offer you the opportunity to clarify your comments from the programme, and to give clear references to the “vast array”, or “overwhelming body of medical evidence” to which you referred.

From the confidence with which you made those comments, I would assume that you can provide clear references to published research which is relevant, recent, of high quality, and which has been subject to peer review.

Toward the end of the interview, you said “We only need to imagine the complex infections, diseases and illnesses that are caused.” I hope that on reflection you can see the problem with this statement. The last thing we need is an approach based on our imagination, or on assumptions. We need an approach which is based on robust data if we’re going to accurately discuss issues of public health, whether in relation to sexuality or any other issue.

I look forward to your reply and the opportunity to scrutinise whatever data you are able to share. Please note that I will publish this letter and any reply I receive from you on my website.

Yours sincerely,

Patrick Harvie MSP


  1. Perfect reply… Couldn’t agree more. Well done.

    Comment by Mark Young — July 27, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

  2. Dead right Patrick. Disgraceful stuff from the Church pandering to absolutely the worst forms of prejudice.

    Comment by Bill Scott — July 27, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

  3. A very interesting and detailed response to a weak argument to begin with. It is only a shame that the initial statements were broadcast unchallenged. I sincerely hope that there is a formal response to your letter, and that it is picked up by the media at large.

    Comment by B.E. Newton Wylie-Black — July 27, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

  4. Excellent. I also look forward to scrutinizing the evidence to which he is referring.

    Comment by Greig — July 27, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

  5. Fantastic letter Patrick; here’s hoping the response is as articulate and intelligent!

    Comment by Garry McLaughlin — July 27, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

  6. Excellent and succint response to someone who can clearly be defined as out of touch, bigoted and lacking in sheer common sense. Look forward to his response, and probably some sort of retraction or apology similar to that of the new Archbishop of Glasgow elect….

    Comment by Callum Houston — July 27, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

  7. A well set out letter Patrick.
    What disappointed me about his appearance onScotland Tonight
    was that the presenter was unable to challenge him on the statements he made.

    Comment by Stuart Burgess — July 27, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

  8. Well said, Pats! Hardly expect a swift response but certainly sense some back pedalling in the scramble to find ANY legitimate ‘proof’ for his statements. Keep on putting the pressure on.

    Comment by Michelle Drayton-Harrold — July 27, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

  9. Well said, Mr. Harvie! After my jaw hit the floor while watching the interview I wanted to ask of him the same questions you have. I look forward to the response.

    I also wonder if he’s basing his statements on same sex male sexual activity, would he be willing to concede that his ‘concerns’ shouldn’t be a barrier to lesbians getting married?

    Comment by Jeff Zimmer — July 27, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

  10. What concerns me is this man’s views being aired nationally and the wider public being exposed to his opinion, based on no robust evidence whatsoever, going completely unchallenged. One can only hope your concise, intelligent and well structured critique of his untrue statements, based on your clear understanding of the standards of peer reviewed published medical literature we would value are as widely distributed.

    Comment by Stuart Falconer — July 27, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

  11. Excellent response. As a catholic, I abhor my church’s extreme and distasteful stance on this issue.

    Comment by Stephen haggarty — July 27, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

  12. A very good and rational response to an entirely offensive and irrational comment, well done Patrick. Can’t wait to see the response (if any).

    Comment by Jennie Marshall — July 27, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

  13. An excellent response to a judgemental interview. I am not “gay” or same sex, but I object to people being judged on this choice or on any choice of their own making through the free will granted by GOD by a church or any “body” of religion who once again sweep their own issues of abuse and power under their carpets!!!

    Comment by June Moore — July 27, 2012 @ 4:21 pm

  14. Nice response, it seems you’re following the old lawyer adage of only asking a question to which you already know the answer, but as far as I know there’s no evidence to produce to support his statements on STV.

    The only reasonably well-designed study to look at same-sex partnering and mortality (as far as I’m aware – be interested if you know others) is Frisch’s Danish cohort study from 2009. (pdf). You probably know it already, but it’s worth looking at for anybody else interested in the issue that’s looking for some serious (as opposed to flaky and agenda-driven) research on the topic.

    Even it has quite a lot of limitations, but it shows that any genuine mortality risk to people in modern (i.e. since widespread adoption of HAART) same sex partnerships is likely to be much smaller than the wacky Cameron figures. Will be very interesting to see what they come up with in response.

    Comment by Rory Morrison — July 27, 2012 @ 4:26 pm

  15. Great letter.

    Comment by David Mackenzie — July 27, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

  16. Nicely judged and well-informed response, Patrick, but it has been my (long) experience that trading scientific arguments, particularly those based on the quality of research, with someone whose predjudices are informed by faith or religious doctrine, is pretty futile. I wish you luck.

    Comment by Bob Duncan — July 27, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

  17. Great response to a collection of sweeping and ill-founded statements. Especially love the controlled tone – keeping the heid in the face of provocation!

    Comment by Chris — July 27, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

  18. Spot on. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Jem Taylor — July 27, 2012 @ 5:56 pm

  19. Why are the Catholic Church allowed to get away with such horrible attacks on Gay people?

    They are encouraging Homophobia and ultimately hate crimes.

    Why do these religious bodies have so much power in our little country?

    If WE say anything about them, we are “bigots”.

    You wouldn’t think Homosexuality had been legal for over 40 years here now. Disgusting.

    The Government MUST do something about these outrageous and constant Homophobic attacks spoken by public figures.

    Thank You.

    Comment by Greig S — July 27, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

  20. Firstly, may I congratulate you on such a succinct and generous response to Mr Kearney. As someone with a background in biology in which the pathology of infectious diseases and the immune system is of particular interest to me, I would be most interested in this “vast array” of evidence that I have never come across is all of my years of study. I look forward to reviewing such material should it ever be provided by Peter Kearney.

    Comment by Howard Dickson — July 27, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

  21. Congratulations – that is a superb response to those peddling bigotry.

    I hope your fellow MSPs give you the support you deserve.

    Comment by Patrick — July 27, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

  22. Think you’re pissing into the wind here Patrick, these people haven’t grasped the theory of evolution yet

    Comment by euan ramsay — July 27, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

  23. Excellent letter. Being a healthy young (mainly) heterosexual chap, I abandoned the RC church in my mid-teens due to their obsession with trying to label masturbation as a sin; subsequent scientific research has shown that regular male masturbation ancourages new healthy sperm and ultimately increases the chance of successful reproduction. The RC church position on this issue is therefore not Pro-Life, it is actually Anti-Life

    Comment by Scally — July 27, 2012 @ 8:51 pm

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  25. Dear Patrick
    Thank you for challenging so robustly the ignorant, bigoted, prejudiced and misinformed nonsense peddled in public forums by Mr Kearney and his like.
    He and others like him would probably get away with their ludicrous and hateful propaganda if it weren’t for people like you constantly challenging them to produce factual evidence – in the end they never seem to be able to do so!
    I admire and support your work and the position you have taken on equal sex marriage – keep it up!

    Comment by Bruce Maher — July 27, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

  26. The incidence of septicemia resulting from anal intercourse is very considerable. Harvie will have this explained to him–as if he didn’t know already.

    Comment by Alan Clayton — July 27, 2012 @ 10:46 pm

  27. Additional

    Peter Kearney CV

    In 1994 Peter Kearney,his wife Andrea and myself campaigned our hearts out in the Monklands by election.In 2000 Peter stood for the SNP Deputy Leadership on a joint ticket with Alex Neil.

    He was PPC in Airdrie and Coatbridge in 2003,but had to resign from Party politics shortly afterwards to take on his current full time job with the Church. In May 2008 Andrea died of cancer several months after the birth of their fifth child.A number of prominent nationalists attended the requiem mass in Barrhead, which was celebrated by the Bishop of Paisley,Philip Tartaglia.

    Peter is bringing up the five children on his own. The memory of Andrea is so precious and sacred he will not remarry.He is a man of quite outstanding honesty and integrity.

    Comment by Alan Clayton — July 27, 2012 @ 11:56 pm

  28. Non-condylomatous, perianal disease in homosexual men.

    Comment by Alan Clayton — July 28, 2012 @ 12:11 am

  29. Perhaps you don’t know that straight couples have anal sex too.

    Comment by Patrick — July 28, 2012 @ 9:03 am

  30. What a shame then that he wants to go to such lengths to deny the equal worth of other peoples’ loving relationships.

    Comment by Patrick — July 28, 2012 @ 9:04 am

  31. alan, I can’t believe you are using Andrea’s death as a fig leaf of an excuse for an indefensible position. Peter’s representation of the RC church is reprehensible if not misguided. Factually inaccurate which brings the public relations profession into disrepute. As both you and Peter tried in vain to stop the SNP’s support for repeal of Section 2a in March 2000 at National Council, your homophobic positions are well known to the party and as you well know, partly led to your expulsion recently over ill-informed insinuations about a young man’s unfortunate death. I really wish you could find more constructive things to do in your retirement such as fighting against poverty, something I thought a good Christian would put top of his agenda.

    Comment by Grant Thoms — July 28, 2012 @ 10:35 am

  32. Hi Alan, as he’s a man of outstanding honesty and integrity, I expect we can look forward to him withdrawing the relevant comments (which are unsupported by the best epidemiological research in this area) and in the future he might refrain from passing comment on things outside his expertise.

    You might want to consider the same, if – as it appears – you think a 23 year old study that used a convenience sample of only 34 gay men is appropriate for supporting the claim that life expectancy can be reduced by up to 20 years.

    Comment by Rory Morrison — July 28, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

  33. Grant–it seems absolutely legitimate to defend the personal integrity of a man who is being attacked like this.He is bringing up five children on his own in a way that I just could not do.A great friend, who like me would much rather fight for independence and nothing else till me ge it.

    Comment by Alan Clayton — July 28, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

  34. Who’s attacking? All I’m doing is asking the man questions about the extraordinary claims he has made on television. Who knows, perhaps he is secretly a great expert on public health and can provide the evidence to back up his claim. Time will tell.

    Comment by Patrick — July 28, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

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  36. Grant–I totally reject the accusation that I am homophobic.In a very long life I have had many gay friends. As a student in Edinburgh in 1960 I shared a flat with a gay guy,although I don’t think that adjective in that context was around then. In those days homosexual activity, even between consenting adults in private was a criminal offence.Your past influences your present to a considerable extent.One of the reasons I am so against war for example is a memory of cold nights in a Glasgow air raid shelter with booms and bangs all around.In short I will continue to fight for traditional marriage with every fibre in my albeit ageing body.

    Comment by Alan Clayton — July 29, 2012 @ 11:21 am

  37. I love it when people so assertively reject accusations of homophobia, racism, misogyny etc, before going on to defend inequality. It does make me chuckle, because I know you’re losing the argument.

    Comment by Patrick — July 29, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

  38. Patrick–sorry–but codswallop.

    Comment by Alan Clayton — July 29, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

  39. Wonderful letter – a shame it won’t be responded to by the likes of Kearney.

    I wonder how he would have reacted to someone suggesting that his wife’s tragic early death was somehow related to her sexual proclivities. It would be an insupportable filthy suggestion that would offend any right thinking person. Much like the similar suggestion Kearney made.

    Incidentally, I’m a physician. I have NEVER seen a patient or heard of a patient with septicaemia from anal sex, male or female. And for any practising Catholic to pretend any concern for the health risks of sexually transmitted infection such as genital warts in gay or straight adults is utter hypocrisy. Condoms boys and girls, remember your condoms.

    Comment by Rachel — July 29, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

  40. An excellent, academic and civilised letter. I imagine you won’t get a reply as your words are way too intelligent and rational for these dangerous preachers.

    Comment by John Bacigalupo — July 29, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

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  42. Alan: “Patrick–sorry–but codswallop.”

    Is that really the closest you can get to a clinching argument?

    You’ve made it clear that you want the law to keep gay people excluded from the institution of marriage, but you think you’re not being homophobic. There simply isn’t a rational argument that can resolve this position.

    Comment by Patrick — July 30, 2012 @ 10:59 am

  43. Disease and anal sex;,,20188708,00.html

    Comment by Alan Clayton — July 30, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

  44. Alan, you really do have a thing about anal sex don’t you? The first paragraph of the magazine article you’ve just linked to says that the risk is “regardless of whether it is practiced by straight or gay couples”. I agree, and I suggest that it’s also regardless of whether or not those couples, gay or straight, are married.

    Comment by Patrick — July 30, 2012 @ 8:22 pm

  45. Alan, I fail to see how Peter Kearney’s poltical and personal history have any relevance to whether or not he can provide supporting evidence for his claims. Sincereity is not a guarantor of truth. He has previously been reminded that such evidence is not as he puts “overwhelming’. He knowingly repeats the statements that are not credible except for the utterly disingenuous figleaf that ‘early death’ can be taken to mean months as well as years.

    That’s not good enough and that’s not Christian.

    Comment by Paul McMichael — July 30, 2012 @ 8:32 pm

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  47. Dear Patrick, whilst I hope you don’t think I have a ‘thing about anal sex’ could you comment on this advice which states “About 35 in every 100,000 MSM (men who have sex with men) develop anal cancer, compared to less than one in every 100,000 heterosexual men”

    Whilst I agree that the risk is “regardless of whether it is practiced by straight or gay couples” and “regardless of whether or not those couples, gay or straight, are married” it appears the incidence of anal cancer is higher amongst MSM. Surely this cannot be ignored.

    The interest in anal sex (if there is one) arises I believe from a need to understand how consummation will take place and the relative risks attached to each type of act across opposite sex and same sex couples. Under proposals to redefine marriage will consummation be required? If not, will the requirement be removed from Scottish or UK law? If the requirements for consummation remains, what forms of intercourse will be considered legally (and biologically) equal to penis/vagina intercourse?

    Kindest regards.

    Comment by Ian — July 30, 2012 @ 9:58 pm

  48. Ian, are you actually being serious here? I find it hard to believe that anyone still holds such an eccentric and antique view about sexuality. What kind of sex people have is entirely up to them, and has nothing to do with whether they are married or not.
    As for your quoted statistic, this again would only be a comparison relevent to sexuality if it compared gay men who have anal sex with straight women who have anal sex. It also has nothing to with same sex relationships between women, which Kearney and his like also wish to keep discriminating against.

    Comment by Patrick — July 30, 2012 @ 11:59 pm

  49. Ian I’m afraid your comments re: anal cancers simply show a shocking lack of comprehension of medical statistics and epidemiology.
    The (slight) relative risk increase in anal cancers is related to HPV, and so the more correct population to compare it to is women contracting HPV related cervical cancers as a result of vaginal sex. Also, the number you have quoted is a lifetime risk.
    The equivalent numbers for cervical cancer (1 in 134 or 746 per 100,000) dwarf the figures you have used, making heterosexual sex a far greater health risk. And yet you seem to think that’s ok…

    Comment by Rachel — July 31, 2012 @ 10:15 am

  50. @49, Rachel, I don’t believe I said anything about incidence of cervical cancer amongst women being okay. Besides surely the incidence of cervical cancer is also related to the number of sexual partners? Perhaps you could clarify that for me.

    Comment by Ian — July 31, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

  51. @48, Patrick, apologies if you think I hold “such an eccentric and antique view about sexuality”, but you did not answer my question – as I understand it there is a legal requirement to consummate a marriage. So how will this be legislated for under proposals to redefine marriage?

    Comment by Ian — July 31, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

  52. I have no idea, as the bill hasn’t been published yet. But it strikes me as the most trivial kind of technical point. The only way this could matter at all is if you think there is one “right” way to have sex, and that it’s the law’s business to say so.

    Comment by Patrick — July 31, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

  53. @52 Patrick – Thank you, but I hardly think the definition of consummation is a trivial technical point. To help me make my point can you tell me how you would define marriage, and how it should be legislated for? You must have given this some thought.

    Comment by Ian — July 31, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

  54. I can’t produce a draft bill for you – this is the Government’s job and it’s why they employ teams of lawyers. They will produce the detail later this year, but I don’t expect the actual meaning of marriage to change at all. That’s just a baseless fear whipped up by the anti-equality campaigners. This is just about letting same sex couples get married.
    If there is still some legal hangover implying that only people who have penetrative sex can be married, I expect it would be a simple matter to get rid of it.

    Comment by Patrick — August 1, 2012 @ 11:18 am

  55. @54, Patrick, I can understand you might not be able to provide me with a draft bill, but I had hoped your research in supporting the redefinition of marriage might include an assessment of which legislation, processes and systems would have to change. Such research would also help to control the budget for implementation.

    With respect to your thoughts on ‘anti-equality campaigners’, this collection of organisations appears to be only ones who have stated what they consider the definition and purpose of marriage to be.

    No ‘equality campaigners’ as far as I can tell have provided any such definition. They say, as you do, “This is just about letting same sex couples get married”. As such, it is hard to know whether these ‘anti-equality campaigners’ are whipping up base-less fears. Please remember, I did ask you to provide a definition of marriage too.

    Comment by Ian — August 1, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

  56. It’s defined in the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977, as amended by the Marriage (Scotland) Act 2002, as 30 seconds with Google would have shown you.
    You are certainly aware that the only change which has been proposed in the recent consultation is to allow same sex couples to marry and to allow religious registration of civil partnership. I also want to see mixed sex civil partnership for those who want it, and to allow transgender people to keep their relationship status instead of being forced into divorce or dissolution as currently happens.

    Comment by Patrick — August 1, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

  57. Thanks Patrick. I was certainly aware of the legislation describing marriage, but what it lacks is a description of the purpose of marriage, indeed if you read the legislation is does lack a definition.

    So let’s cut to the chase, you need to ask yourself “Why is a Government, any Government, interested in marriage?” If a Government is prepared to legislate for a thing, that thing must have a purpose that it important to the Government.

    With respect to marriage, ask yourself “What is the essential public purpose of marriage?” The answer, as things stand today in Scotland (and the rest of the UK), is that marriage attaches a child to its mother and father and to each other. In marriage, the State recognises what is owed to a child, namely that it has a vested interest for its own well-being in an attachment to and of its parents. This exists with out any State interference, and only in the most exceptional circumstances does the State intervene. If a child was able to fend for itself from birth marriage would not exist in any culture and in any time.

    Whether you know it or not the State’s interest in marriage is child-centric, not adult centric. Redefining marriage will reverse this.

    Redefining marriage to include couples of the same sex will remove the gender requirement, either remove or amend the degree of relation as this no longer applicable to couples of the same sex because they cannot both be biological parents to a child, either remove or amend the consummation requirement since consummation relates implicitly to sexual intercourse (that is penis/vagina intercourse – all other forms are known as outercourse), remove the presumption of paternity, and redefine parentage as gender neutral.

    Under such legislation it is possible for two roommates to present themselves for marriage.

    To ensure true equality in this matter legislation will need to apply equally to both opposite sex couples and same sex couples. To do otherwise will be to allow same sex couples to call themselves married in everything but purpose.

    But what concerns me the most about this exchange is that you do not seem to realise this – if you did not know about the requirement for consummation, what else do you not know?

    Comment by Ian — August 2, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

  58. This really is getting ever odder. Parenthood, whether biological or otherwise, is not a precondition to marriage. Nor is marriage imposed on a couple because they have had a child. It is absolutely an arrangement between two adults. As to the purposes of marriage, that’s a subjective question for the people involved. Religious people for example might answer it very differently than most.
    But all of this is getting a long way from the point of this letter. Mr Kearney has been talking rubbish about sexuality and health, and will I hope respond in due course. There will be plenty of time to debate the technical aspects of the equal marriage legislation when it is published.

    Comment by Patrick — August 2, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

  59. Ian, same sex marriage pertains in many jurisdictions around in the world including some where it has been the law for many years.

    It is not beyond the wit of man or woman to do the same in the UK. Stonewall published a short draft Bill which could be the basis for Scottish legislation. No doubt amendments would be needed as the right committees examine the legal requirements. The last place it should be settled is a message board.

    Like Patrick, you seem to have a strange obsession with consumation. I advise a period of mental abstinence.

    Comment by Paul Mc — August 6, 2012 @ 11:49 am