Scottish Catholic Media Office
5 St Vincent Place
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.
Patrick Harvie MSP