As February marks both LGBT History Month and the celebration of Valentine’s Day, our latest blog explores whether we are universally embracing the notion of public expressions of love?

It’s that time of year again: florists are rushed off their feet; restaurants cater only for parties of two; heart shaped merchandise leaps out from every possible retail outlet. Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day.

Originally an early Christian celebration, Saint Valentine’s Day became associated with love and gift giving in the Middle Ages. Love it or hate it, the tradition continues in full force with UK shoppers gearing up to spend an estimated £1.6 billion on treats for the occasion this year (‘Modern Love,’ The Telegraph 09/02/16).

But are we universally embracing the notion of public expressions of love? Is this truly a day of celebration for everyone in love?

The LGBT Foundation, a national charity delivering a wide range of services to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities, may argue not. February is a big month for them, not least because it marks the 11th annual LGBT history month, a community outreach programme aimed at building the LGBT community and making it safe and visible in all its diversity.

This year’s theme for the LGBT History month is Religion, Belief and Philosophy, specifically exploring the relationship between sexual identity and religious belief. The idea is to promote the concept that a person can be Catholic and bi-sexual or a transgender Hindu; the two parts are not mutually exclusive. The campaign seeks to educate prejudice, to break down barriers from both sides of the equation, recognising that religion is sometimes used to justify bigotry and prejudice, whilst at the same time, many in the LGBT community are prejudiced towards people of faith due to a history of antagonism, for example, the very public debate over the introduction of same sex marriage. Religion should be about universal love, not judgement, says the LGBT foundation and it’s a simple sentiment that is hard to argue with.

Legislation has been a key driver in promoting gay rights. Let’s not forget that being homosexual is still illegal in over 70 countries and carries the death penalty in five of those; it’s been legal since the sixties in England. That said, it is only recently that the law formally recognised gay partnerships with The Civil Partnership Act in 2004 and the introduction of same sex marriage in 2014, less than two years ago.

And although the law may have changed, this does not automatically initiate a shift in mind-set for the general population. Take for example, some of the high profile legal cases that have come about since the introduction of legislation to legalise same sex marriage and civil partnerships. The famous gay cake case (Lee V. Ashers Baking Co. Ltd) is a well-known case from Northern Ireland involving a bakery’s refusal to make a cake depicting a pro-gay marriage slogan due to the religious beliefs of the bakers themselves. The seemingly trivial matter of a cake has opened up far reaching debate; is it religious discrimination to force the bakers to make the cake? Does discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation trump religious discrimination? Little wonder the case is ongoing with an appeal scheduled for May 2016.

This isn’t the only example of the clash between religious rights and those of the LGBT community. Registrars have sued following their dismissal for refusing to perform civil partnerships due to their own religious beliefs (Ladel v. London Borough of Islington) and hotels have been taken to court after turning down patronage from gay couples (Bull + another v. Hall + another).

It seems that with their choice of focus, the LGBT have really hit on something: the prevailing clash between religion and sexuality. Legislative changes have positioned the LGBT community on an equal footing with the heterosexual community, in theory at least. But legislation can only do so much. Public attitude and deep seated personal views will take longer to evolve and will only do so through education, tolerance and an open-minded approach to change.

Ultimately, the message here is that we need to stop defining people by their sexuality alone, or their religious beliefs for that matter, and look to the person as a whole entity, a sum of all their parts. True and enduring love is after all about cherishing the whole person, the unique combination of qualities and traits that make up an individual. It’s not about picking one element to love and ignoring the rest.

As for Valentine’s Day, if you can see past the commercialism to the meaning behind it all, perhaps one day a year dedicated to celebrating love isn’t such a bad idea after all?

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