In Greek mythology, funnily enough, Iris was the Goddess of the rainbow. That thought occurred to me as I watched Iris Robinson’s stunning fall from grace this week. Our modern day Iris has demonstrated that she loathes rainbows, if they’re rainbow flags with gay pride attached, that is.
The fall of the house of Robinson, which has riveted the whole of Ireland, and has fateful consequences for the peace process, has all the dimensions of a classic Greek tragedy. There’s power, hypocrisy, pride and the improper lust of a much older woman for a handsome young man who may have betrayed her. No wonder we can’t take our eyes off it.
Although Iris doesn’t have much enthusiasm for the theatre she loves to quote the bible. A committed Christian, in both senses of the word now, throughout 2009 Robinson spent much of her free time quoting it at her fellow gay and lesbian citizens in Northern Ireland. I doubt if she imagined they’d have an opportunity to repay the compliment.
Some people still wonder why she started attacking gay people at all. I don’t. A common tactic of the Christian right worldwide is to use dramatic language to dehumanize gay people, because it’s the quickest way to marginalize them and prevent them from winning legal rights. They’ve learned not to wait until there’s some new issue to be addressed, instead they come out fighting before the subject of gay rights has even been raised.
That’s the kind of thinking that led Iris, a member of the Light ‘n’ Life Free Methodist Tabernacle on the outskirts of Belfast, to clear her throat in Parliament in London last year and announce that homosexuality is “viler” than child sex abuse. She did this in the House of Commons in front of Policing and Justice Minister Paul Goggins and a committee of U.K. MP’s (it was during a debate on the assessment and management of sex offenders, nice timing).
What made her comments significant is that she’s the first minister of Northern Ireland’s wife, not the postman’s. It was also significant that she decided to talk about gay people at this particular moment, when there was, as they say, no call.
Afterwards DUP supporters and members of her own party lamented that she had made herself a target. But that’s incorrect; she made other people her target. This was a fight the gay and lesbian community in Northern Ireland did not pick, and experience shows it almost never is.
Thieves, murderers and homosexuals can all be reformed, Iris added, smiling serenely. Just say the worst words you can think of to strip gay people of their humanity, then stand back and look startled that they take mortal offence. What’s wrong with gay people, she asked, having successfully baited them in the press for weeks, don’t they know she was only speaking out for their own good? Clarifying her comments, Iris added that she meant what she said lovingly. “Anything I say is out of love. I am not hate mongering. I cannot leave my Christian values hanging at the door when I go into politics.”
This raises an important point. When you vote for DUP you may be voting for what some people consider a theocratic political party, one of the few left in Europe. That’s because for decades their political objectives have been influenced or bluntly shaped by their religious ones. It’s amazing, when you think about it, that a party that has conflated its political and religious objectives to the point that they’re often indistinguishable has the kind of popular support it does, but Northern Ireland is on a very reluctant path toward secularism.
The victim of Robinson's erratic behavior over the past two years isn’t just her husband or her own party, it’s also her fellow gay and lesbian citizens, whom she was elected to represent, not vilify. It’s a question for her and her constituency why she felt the need to menace and mark sizable portions of her own neighbors and colleagues the way she did. It behooves those attacked by her to stand up for themselves.
Here, after all, was a 60-year-old serial adulterer who denounced others for their immorality while having affairs with multiple men, including a 19-year-old she had known since he was 9. While she was condemning gays she was also calling, emailing and texting a 19-year-old in search of more sex. Forbidden fruit, she discovered, often tastes sweeter.
The final irony is that while she was stating that gay people had deeply damaged psyches, her own life and marriage were unraveling at the seams. The lesson for the rest of us is plain, look very closely at the men and women who viciously condemn gay people at every opportunity, it’s a fairly safe bet there’s something startling just waiting to come out of their own closets too.