Wednesday, 1 July 2009

'Lots of gay and lesbian people don't actually want marriage'

Lots of black people don't actually want to vote. Lots of women don't actually want equal pay. Lots of wheelchair users don't want wheelchair accessible public transport.

No, no one was stupid enough to say the last three examples. But Ben Summerskill of Stonewall did say the following in this interview:

"Well, the issue on marriage is that again, there are a lot of vocal supporters, but the thing they've always focused on is actually the real rights and entitlements. As I said, we know there are quite a lot of gay and lesbian people who wouldn't want marriage, and some have explicitly said so. I think Antony Sher [the gay actor and playwright] gave an interview a while back where he said 'If it was marriage, I wouldn't want it. It recognises what's special about me and my partner.' And we know there are lots of lesbians who actually don't want marriage."

When questioned about those who do want gay marriage, Summerskill said: "Well, someone people do and they're perfectly entitled to express their views. We are one of many, many organisations but at the end of the day, in terms of our priorities, what we've always focused on, is absolutely practical hard outcomes which make a real difference to people's lives … The reality is half the population already call civil partnerships marriage anyway."

"It's one of Stonewall's ways of working. We're always more interested in things that make a real, practical difference to people's lives than perhaps just an intellectual and academic name. And my own view is that civil partnerships have been quite a remarkable piece of what used to be called in the old days 'political education'"

Stonewall. Self appointed defenders of equal rights for the so called LGB community (T's need not apply!). I thought of them once as benevolent folks doing their best to put on a decent front for the gay rights movement. But what they really are, what they are at the core of their organisation, is a front group for the conservative wing of the gay rights movement. They don't like it when people get a bit flamboyant in their protests. They don't like it when they do controversial things. They want us all to be bland, heterosexual clones who want to "fit in". I get the impression they might think those OTT gays out there are a bit embarrassing. They don't want equality, they just want us all to have a quiet, safe life. They have no higher mission to really change the outlook for us all, to bring our unique experiences into society and use them as a positive force for the betterment of all.

If you give money to Stonewall, stop! If your company does, tell them to stop (like I have and will again now citing this article as showing Stonewall to be against the companies equal rights policies). I might have been called an Uncle Tom recently because I believe in the gay rights movement moving on to full integration. But at least I believe in full integration and a little more, I believe we have a special perspective on life that might enhance the lives of others. Stonewall don't even support our right to live as equals with our heterosexual friends and family. That makes me sick.

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Ginx said...

Interesting, I had no idea.

Jason said...

I do think you may just have gone a little far in damning Stonewall completely, just like that.

They have, after all done some great work in fighting for equality on other matters than just gay marriage. There are thousands of people, whose lives have been changed for the better because of Stonewall.

To demand I stop giving them money, is unfair.

Jae said...

When a homophobe suggests that gay people don't deserve marriage, I get angry. A lot of these people are good Christians who give to charity and do all sorts of wonderful things. Does that we let them off the hook from the righteous anger I, and many others, will feel at their suggestion? No.

Stonewall may have done good things in the past, notably helping fighting for an equal age of consent and getting rid of Section 28. Does that mean we should now give them a blank cheque to say or do anything they wish?

This organisation have, rightly or wrongly and regardless of the organisations own desires, been given the place of "community leaders" by our Government. That gives them a reason to be careful with what they say. When Gordon Brown gives mixed messages by criticising California Prop 8 though we in this country can't marry, we don't have Ben Summerskill helping clarify things. Instead he muddies the waters with confusion. Why do we think no one in Government gives a damn about gay marriage when the people they look to for guidance are just as incoherent?

Sorry, but this issue gets me personally upset. I want to marry the man I love. But I can't in this country (and will probably have to go to Canada as at least they have the Queen... and Polar Bears). That is NOT acceptable. And I will not apologise for criticising those who hold views I don't just disagree with but find ABHORRENT. Sorry, but I just can't bring myself to do it.

Jason said...

Do you really want to get married in a church Jae? Is that what you are so wishing, with your gay marriage desire?

This anger and fight for gay marriage is great, by all means go to Canada and get married, with your Canadian boyfriend. Or have a civil over here, with more rights and more protections under law!

Jae said...

Marriage is not just a religious ceremony. I do not wish to get married in a church, I wish to be married in a registry office. Nothing fancy. My boyfriend isn't Canadian, I want to get married there because there it is an equal institution.

Civil partnerships are a separate but equal system. If I were a man married to a woman who had a male to female transistion I'd have to divorce that woman, go through all that jazz, then get civilly partnered to her. In the eyes of the law we would then be seen to be newly civilly partnered and any previous time married would not be taken into account for official purposes. Is that fair?? I'd still be the same person, but I wouldn't be treated the same.

Black people once had to sit at the back of the bus in America. They still got to sit down. Do you think that system was ok? I don't.

Jason said...

"Black people once had to sit at the back of the bus in America. They still got to sit down. Do you think that system was ok? I don't."

did you hear or see me say racism is ok? Nope, it's not ok

But then again, I made no mention of christians, and letting them off their views just because they may well have done charity work, but your assume that's my view, that's what I'm saying, "A lot of these people are good Christians who give to charity and do all sorts of wonderful things. Does that we let them off the hook from the righteous anger I, and many others, will feel at their suggestion? No."

But hey,if you feel outlandish suppositions of my views illistrates your point on this fairly then go ahead. I know what we have in the UK now is far better than we had 20 years ago! I'm not going to shoot all good work done before, just because I'd prefer a different name and a few different rules and laws to go with it.

There are many things I find ABHORRENT, this is not one of them.

Cant we be thankful for what we've got, when it's far better than most countries in the world?

Jae said...

Well I'm sorry if you think they are outlandish suppositions. I think they are realistic analogies, somewhat exaggerated I admit, of similar situations.

If we fight just to be better off than most then what is the point of fighting? We were better off than most back in the eighties. Why did people bother with civil partnerships?

I agree my blog entries can often be ranty, moany and prone to exaggeration of feeling but that's just how it is. It's read by about... nobody so it harms few. I'm sorry if the way I talk about Stonewall and Ben Summerskill offends you, and makes you uncomfortable. I apologise for that.

But I think on gay marriage, human rights and human equality we are about as far apart as can be and I think we should agree to disagree.

P.Brownsey said...


Suppose everyone follows your call and ceases to give to Stonewall. Stonewall folds. Who then is going to do the lobbying work Stonewall does? Anger on blogs isn't going to effect change.

Do what I did. Send a donation to Stonewall but intimate you trust they haven't given up on marriage equality as such, even though by and large the substance of it is obtained via civil partnerships.

Paul Brownsey

Jae said...

When Stonewall began GLBT organising was still in it's infancy. If Stonewall were to disappear now I don't think it's too hard to imagine a grassroots organisation taking it's place, if there was a place needed to be taken.

But I'm not stupid enough to 1) believe my anger on this blog would ever change anything. It's a place to rant, like screaming into a hat. 2) believe that Stonewall is going to disappear. The company I work for pays Stonewall for advice, and I'm even going to a Stonewall organised lunch meeting in just two weeks time to discuss the results of a recent Stonewall staff survey. So I hardly think a few individual donors disappearing is going to do anything at all.

You write them a letter, I write a blog post. The effect on their policy will be.... zero. I think it's great you are expressing your support of gay marriage, although I hope you didn't temper it with that end sentence. That I suspect will only encourage them. But anyway, I'm glad Stonewall members like you are taking positive steps to express a desire for equality. It's just a little sad you had to do so in the first place.

P.Brownsey said...

"When Stonewall began GLBT organising was still in it's infancy."

Hmmm...Doesn't that ignore the history of the previous decades? Think of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in England and its Scottish counterpart, the Scottish Homosexual Rights groups. These aspired to be national organizations, with local groups built into a structure with a national president, national committee, national conference, etc. Then there were GLF and other radical groups such as Gay Activists Alliance. And lots more. My own perception was that these had subsided into relative inactivity by the late 1980s and that Stonewall was an attempt to fill the gap.

...And to fill the gap in a different way, I think. Many of the earlier organizations had been (they hoped) mass-membership organizations, with policy controlled by the members via democratic meetings. My own experience of the Scottish Homosexual Rights group was that those whose task was actually to negotiate with the powers-that-be (and often this included things like trying to book council halls for gay discos and lobbying trade unions to support gay workplace rights) sometimes felt a bit hamstrung by the enthusiasms of the grass roots.

My impression was that Stonewall deliberately wanted to proceed in a different way, without mass-membership controlling policy. That way they could proceed 'sensibly'. (Scare quotes because I know what a lot there is to debate there...) My impression is that Stonewall has succeeded beyond any previous organization; though I can see that opinions might differ as to whether that was *because* they proceeded in a non-democratic way or whether that was *in spite of* proceeding in that way.

So far as concerns the demand for gay marriage, was there really a clamour for this *at the time* the civil partnership legislation went through? My impression is that such demands as there were weren't very loud or widely shared: perhaps most gays were simply glad to have some degree of legal recognition at last. Could it be that the demand in the UK for gay marriage reflects the demand in the US, and that it is mainly through hindsight that civil partnership seems a shabby second-rate thing?

Further, if the relevant legislation around 2004 had used the m-word rather than "civil partnership", would it have got through? Perhaps it would have, perhaps not. In any case, it was good to get the substance of marriage, even if not with the name, and to have held out for the name, too, might have jeopardised the chance of legal recognition for many older gays. (The people who booked to be the first CP in my local authority area were an elderly couple who had to cancel it after one of them had a stroke...)

When I first read the CP legislation I thought, "This is so close to marriage law that it is being deliberately set up so that, a few years down the line, a simple bill uniting marriage and CP legislation under the heading of "marriage" will be possible." Since in the USA much of the opposition, daft though it is, seems to be to the use of the m-word itself, then there could be a lot to be said for a strategy of first introducing gay marriage under a different name, let it bed in so that it becomes a part of the social landscape (as is happening here), and only then make the transition to the m-word. Such a strategy may help to root gay unions more deeply in the fabric of social life than going all-out for the m-word at the start.

Paul Brownsey

Jae said...

LOL. I was actually thinking of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality as being an example of one hugely important GLB(T ish) organisation that fell into nothing and was replaced. Just as Stonewall will one day (nothing lasts forever after all). But it's certainly an interesting historical point either way.

There was absolutely no clamour for gay marriage during or after the civil partnership legislation was introduced and passed that I noticed. The press were even calling it marriage before it arrived! (see my blog post from November 2005 here although that's yet another OTT rant. I'm not always ranting, honest!). Again it looks like we see things from a completely opposite viewpoint. You see civil partnerships as a welcome stepping stone to marriage equality. I see it as an end. The gay marriage debate is OVER in this country. People across most sensible political spectrums have accepted civil partnerships and that is it. Will anyone introduce a bill to legalise gay marriage any time soon? Probably not, especially when gay rights organisations like Stonewall are saying "We don't really want it anyway".

Certainly the benefits of civil partnerships are great, and it is not my place to criticise those who have gotten one. But we have jeopardised our children's future equality for our own speedy acquistions of almost equivalent rights.

Anyway, I'm sort of resigned to never getting married in this country and look forward to my snowy wedding in Canada very soon (as even though my other half may accept my views on civil partnerships he does want to get hitched before he starts claiming his pension). My opposition to civil partnerships is not faddy, and as you can see from that old blog post predates the first civil partnership ceremony. I truly hope those few others out there yearning for true equality are doing it for honest reasons as well rather than just to keep up with the Americans.