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Special? Cam off it; Cardinal error as the Prime Minister sweet-talks Obama.

Byline: Nigel Nelson

THE pen is mightier than the sword and, as comic Marty Feldman wryly noted, considerably easier to write with.

Just as we used to take care with our swords in case someone got hurt, so we should be careful with our words.

Which is why it was unwise for Barack Obama and David Cameron to bandy about the "special relationship" when the PM went to Washington.

A special relationship is what a dog has with its owner, so the phrase conjures up an image of Britain as America's poodle.

But perhaps that was the point - to put us in a collar and lead us on before being unmuzzled for another Mid-East war, this time with Iran.

The relationship between a married couple is also special, whether they are husband and wife, husband and husband or wife and wife.

There is a proper debate to be had about gay marriage but we can have it only if ministers at Whitehall and ministers of religion watch their language.

So it doesn't help for Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, to brand same-sex marriage as "madness" and "grotesque".

Cardinal Sin will find nothing in the Gospels for or against gay sex. If he's thinking of Leviticus then the bad tempered Old Testament prophet who wrote it would also have strung up kids for swearing at parents and stoned you to death for eating a prawn sandwich.

Neither should equalities minister Lynne Featherstone accuse those who are uncomfortable with gay marriage of being homophobic.

Some of the warmest welcomes gay couples receive are in the evangelical churches most opposed to them forming legal unions.

Reason What we seem to be losing is the art of rational debate.

When people disagree with something I write on this page or say on TV they are likely as not nowadays to tell me they are offended.

I don't doubt such feelings are genuine, and I always apologise for offence caused.

But it's as if the fact of taking offence becomes reason enough for an argument to be wrong, closing off any further discussion about the issue.

That's lazy thinking, and it makes it impossible to engage in sensible dialogue.

But I'll resist the temptation to swap my pen for that sword.
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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Mar 18, 2012
Words:382
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