Monday, 5 April 2010

Gay Marriage: The Dream That'll Never Be?

WARNING THIS IS A RANT. As always, take it with a pinch of salt.

One thing that has irked me greatly, during the whole Chris Grayling/B&B story, is the smugness of Labour supporters (especially GLBT ones). They've wallowed in this scandal eagerly, lambasting Tories left, right and centre and shouting about how "liberal" their party is.

Well I won't argue that the Labour party hasn't tried when it comes to gay rights. They started off so well. But where they went wrong was that they focussed on basically illiberal, from a certain point of view as Obi-Wan would say, equality legislation.

Instead of fighting for the one thing that would make us fully equal citizens of this country, marriage equality, Labour did something well-meaning but ultimately destructive; they introduced apartheid like conditions upon us with "Civil Partnerships". This one single thing has probably done more damage to the cause of GLBT freedom in this country than any regressive legislation the Tories ever dreamt up in the 1980s.

I've had discussions with GLBT members of both Labour and the Conservatives. In both cases they offered sympathy for my position (marriage equality is non-negotiable, and a matter of human rights AND religious freedom) and professed belief, based on absolutely no evidence, that not only will their parties change their positions (which, in both cases, is against gay marriage) but, even more unbelievably, gay marriage is merely a matter of a "few more years" away.

This is too much for me. What evidence do they have for this? None. They are deluding themselves to make themselves feel better for their general political positions. Instead of saying "Yeah, we don't support gay marriage. Sorry, but there are more important things for me to worry about" (a position I would have some understanding of) they pretend things will somehow magically change (when there is no movement for it to do so, even Stonewall isn't asking Labour to introduce gay marriage!) .

I think it is wrong that members of these parties are spouting false hope to GLBT people, offering soothing words to make them feel better whilst on the other hand continuing to fight for a party who will not deliver on their promises.

I've said it before: civil partnerships are not a stepping stone to gay marriage. They are a dead end. We are now stuck there. We either accept our second class status, or we break out.

I don't believe in supporting/not supporting a party on single issues. But I do believe self-delusion is wrong. Either accept that the Tories will never deliver gay marriage and that New Labour might do but not in this decade or realise we cannot achieve our freedom through them.

I have little faith that gay marriage will be legalised in this country before I'm 40. I have little faith I'll be able to join with my boyfriend in a publicly recognised equal union before he is in his 50s! That makes me angry, and very sad, and I cannot tolerate the lies that the two main parties supporters delude themselves with.

If you want true equality VOTE FOR IT. There are parties out there who truly believe that GLBT people should just be treated as equal members of society. Those parties are not the Tories nor Labour.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist


Skylar Baker-Jordan said...

Jae, I'm sorry, but you're wrong. Polling suggests the British electorate is there on gay marriage, and eventually the Conservatives and Labour will be forced to come around. That day truly is sooner than you realise.

I think comparing civil partnerships to apartheid is a stretch. I agree that they're not fully equal, and only equality in marriage can achieve equality in society. However, civil partnerships are hardly the insult you make them out to be. I know plenty of LGBT Americans who would gladly accept a British-style civil partnership law as we continue to push for marriage equality this side of the Atlantic.

In the end, though, it may well come down to a ruling from Strasbourg, which if I'm not mistaken, has already been talked about (at least in theory). And I'm fairly certain by the end of the teens, you'll be able to marry your partner. I don't say this in some sort of delusional hope--I say this based on the evidence, polling, and my faith in the British people.

Jae said...

Yes, well as you said in your Tweets to me... American GLBT folks are just grateful for whatever they can get!

I think Civil Partnerships are so deeply ingrained in our society now, that there simply is not the will to change even among the GLBT community. There may be support for it, absolutely, and that is great. But support does not translate into action. Unless we can FORCE the parties to change by action (which just doesn't seem forthcoming internally) I see no likelihood of them taking up the cause.

A ruling from Strasbourg would be wonderful, but if that's the way we have to enact change for the better in this country then it's pretty damning of the will of the two main parties for gay rights. Labour, after all, only allowed "gays in the military" after a European ruling.

Plus, can you imagine the Tory reaction to a ruling from Strasbourg? *ouch*

Jae said...

And he's not my partner! We are not in business together. We're in love. He is my boyfriend and, dependent on the laws changing, one day he'll be my fiance and maybe, if I'm really lucky, he'll be my husband.

the likely lad. said...

Jae, I didn't mean to offend you by my use of the term "partner." I actually prefer "partner" because it's less gendered and more egalitarian. My apologies for any offense, though.

A Populus poll commissioned by the Times last year showed that an overwhelming majority of the British electorate supports gay marriage. ( Eventually, gay campaigners are going to realise they have a mandate to press MPs on this issue. It's going to take dedicated folks like yourself who aren't afraid to speak on the issue, but by the next general election (by next I clearly don't mean 2010) this can be a legitimate and topical debate. Right now the country is still reeling from the Great Recession, two wars, and the slew of new legislation under New Labour.

The Tories won't like it if a ruling comes from Strasbourg, you're probably right. But there has always been a level of respect for ECHR which the EU doesn't have, so it won't be totally unpalatable. ECHR has its place, as you have pointed out. ;]

Jae said...

So far, it's just me and Peter Tatchell even thinking about this. I will do my damnedest to make it an issue but if even HE can't I don't think there's much chance for change!

Paul Brownsey said...

Five thoughts.

First, when the CP legislation was announced I was struck by how close it was to civil marriage in all but a very few things. (Among those things is, I understand, that the CP legislation avoids any specification of consummation.) Like the Scottish Roman Catholic bishops, but not disapprovingly, I thought, "This is marriage under another name." I thought, naively or not, "This is being set up in such a way that, a few years down the line, it will be a simple matter to fuse civil marriage as such and CP."

Second, press and public are increasingly using "marriage,"
"weds" and other marriage terminology when speaking of CPs. This will in time make it easier to fuse the two.

Third, I am inclined to think that starting with CP, allowing the idea to settle into public consciousness, and then fusing CP with civil marriage is more likely to lead to a *permanent* establishment of gay marriage in this country. If Labour had kicked off by extending marriage to gays it would have been so controversial as to be liable to repeal by a Tory government.

Fourth, how vociferous for marriage were gays at the time the CP legislation was introduced? Personally, I always shrank from the idea of gay marriage as such (while being strongly for legal recognition of unions) because it conjured up for me some grisly parody of a traditional marriage in which (if it were two men) one wore a wedding dress along with a five-days' growth of beard. It's only *since* the introduction of CPs that I've come round to wanting, without qualification, gay marriage. I suspect something similar is true of a lot of gays. Okay, maybe we were unimaginative and/or too timid, but that's how a lot of us were.

Finally, I think the task under a Tory government would be to try to maintain legal parity of marriage and CP. There are already distressing Grayling-type signs that beneath the surface there are movements among the Tories to chip away at that parity. Mark Nolan, my local Tory candidate (East Dunbartonshire), told me, in response to an e-mail from me,that he was in favour of tax concessions for marriage that would not be extended to CP. When I reminded him of pledges by Cameron that any such concessions would be extended to CP, he did an unconvincing back-track, claiming he hadn't meant to disagree with Cameron.


Jae said...

Well Paul, it does seem your position is changing even since the last time we had this same discussion. I'm pleased you are coming round to the idea even more than you were.

As I understand it CPs were set up not as a stepping stone but as a compromise to keep religious lobby groups satisfied (as much as possible) and give GLBT people recognised partnership rights. That is why we have this mess, not because of a carefully planned process towards marriage equality.

I find the use of the terms wedding, marriage etc. in the media and in everyday language to be a sign Civil Partnerships are here to stay. The more convinced people are that GLBT people can already marry the less demanding they will be for it. Which is a shame as the current situation is pretty much intolerable for transgendered people (who if already married must DIVORCE their wife/husband [a godawful, costly process] and then get a civil partnership with that same person if they undergo sexual reassignment but wish to stay with the one they love!).

I can tell you one thing, demand for gay marriage was almost non-existent back during the introduction of CPs. I know because I was moaning about that fact on my old blog at the time!

Oh well... I will be stepping up my efforts this year to investigate ways we can move forward, even under the Tories. This silly, unnecessary situation finally needs to be changed. Straight people should be allowed CPs if they want, GLBT people marriages. It's all about choice.

Obviously if the Tories are in charge I hold little hope, unlike Skylar!

Alan said...

I don't think Labour's focus on 'equality legislation' was wrong. You haven't elaborated on what your bug bear is with it besides it being allegedly 'illiberal' for unspecified reasons. So it would seem you're suggesting homophobia doesn't matter so long as it adheres to the parameters of some vague liberal dogma. Nice bubble to live in, but what about those suffering at the hands of homophobia in schools and workplaces?

In the UK we now have just about the most progressive gay rights legislation in the world. There are countries and territories where same-sex marriage is legal and the couples partaking in them did not, for a time, or do not currently have as many rights as UK civil partners.

Even if gay marriage were legalised tomorrow it is crazy to suggest it's some kind of panacea heralding an era of 'full equality'. To further suggest that the introduction of civil partnerships is worse than Section 28, and the continued criminalisation of homosexuality, into the 1980s in Scotland, is just preposterous.

I am not a supporter of any party, however I find it unfair for you to say that Lab and Tory supporters have no evidence that their parties will eventually support gay marriage.

1. neither Labour or the Tories are officially against gay marriage. Brown publicly opposed Prop 8 in California. Cameron is the only party leader, I know of, who has referred to CP's as marriage, & in a high profile conference speech.

2. George Osbourne only a couple of weeks ago said the Conservatives would be open to considering a change in the law to recognise gay marriage. Harriet Harman made similar remarks about there being more to do on gay equality & gay marriage.

3. there are many Tory and Labour party members and activists supportive of the change who just haven't got off their bums & pushed it forward, as Scottish Lib Dems and Greens (across the UK) have. The federal Lib Dem party has yet to adopt a policy in favour of gay marriage, despite Nick Clegg's open endorsement of it. I hope they're not one of the parties you're suggesting supports full equality. It's not in their manifesto.

Alan said...

All of my points above represent a marked culture shift and a foundation there to build on, and while you may find the pace of change frustrating (I do too), the odds of the policy change you desire are not nearly as bleak as you propose. The odds are perhaps bleaker that we will achieve a truly meaningful state of gay equality in the near future, as measured in the absence of homophobia generally.

If you want true equality you have to be in for a penny, in for a pound. I happen to agree we should have been bolder on gay marriage from the get-go. I've always supported that, and been baffled and annoyed by the timidity on the issue within and outwith the gay community. However, we are where we are, and we're failing to secure this change because of a lack of campaigning coherence. The two petitions to the Scottish Parliament as well intentioned as they were, were too bitty, poorly organised, presented and promoted. You can't start a Facebook group, stick up a website, spam a few MPs and call it a movement. There's got to be a multi-faceted strategy and a continued presence. Both the campaigns I just mentioned barely got off the ground, achieved little, before they withered and died.

I really have to take you to task on the idea of CP's being a dead end instead of a stepping-stone? Where is the evidence for this, to the standard you're demanding of everyone else? Many of the countries and territories that have legalised same-sex marriage started out with something akin to, but usually inferior to, British civil partnerships. The transition from civil unions to marriage equality is taking around a decade in some areas. There is simply no reason to assume that Britain is not on a similar trajectory.

The last Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2006, registered 56% answering yes to the question "should same sex couples be allowed to marry?" What's the betting it's even higher now? The momentum for a win on this issue is there to be provoked.

Alan said...

Paul, I have to concur with your first and second points. Your third point I have to query. A minority Liberal administration introduced gay marriage in Canada. Zapatero gave us gay marriage in Spain, which we were all invited to believe was too Catholic for such a change. I find it a stretch to propose a liberal(ish) British PM with a whacking majority could not have introduced gay marriage.

As for the stepping-stone vrs religious compromise debate, with Jae, I don't think it's possible to comment definitively on that without wading into Hansard, and inspecting all the media coverage from the time of the civil partnerships debate. Either way I don't think it matters terribly in terms of where we go from here.

I agree perusing parity for civil partnership is vital in the meantime. I understand there is some provision in the CP Act that demands parity, however I don't know the details of it or how far reaching it is. Perhaps it's time for a thorough audit to establish any remaining differences or differences that could occur in the future between the two frameworks. I see that as leading ultimately to the fusion you suggest.

Whatever happens I don't see wanting to call someone your fiancé or husband as being a convincing gripe (@ Jae). There is no bar to using that language already. I frankly cringe at the thought of ever using those words, except sardonically, to refer to a partner of mine.

Jae said...

Firstly,let's start at the end:

"Whatever happens I don't see wanting to call someone your fiancé or husband as being a convincing gripe (@ Jae). There is no bar to using that language already. I frankly cringe at the thought of ever using those words, except sardonically, to refer to a partner of mine."

That's a personal consideration, I wasn't suggesting that's why I support marriage equality. I don't like my relationship being referred to as a "partnership". You might. That's life, everyone is different.

1) Right, I'm not against "equality legislation". I understand it is required. However Labour have focussed on it too much, lost sight of the goals of actually giving LGBT people the free they require. I think that is more important.

2) I'm not saying the introduction of CPs was worse than Section 28. I understand it was down with good intentions. However the damage to the future of LGBT rights is pretty extensive. You might have optimism that marriage equality will come about some time soon. I don't. Labour missed a trick.

3) Yes, the Tories have announced some changes to their position since this article was written and I even wrote a new article "giving them their dues". Still... they also said they wouldn't raise VAT in '79 and we all know how that campaign promise went.

4) "The federal Lib Dem party has yet to adopt a policy in favour of gay marriage, despite Nick Clegg's open endorsement of it." That's because it's not been put up for a vote, which should happen next conference (fingers crossed, I sent them a moany letter two weeks ago about this)

5) "I really have to take you to task on the idea of CP's being a dead end instead of a stepping-stone? Where is the evidence for this, to the standard you're demanding of everyone else?" - Most people, including some of the LGBT folk who've taken part in them, beleive CPs to be marriage. Quite simply I don't see that there will be the pressure on the politicians to change the legislation. That's why I see them as a dead end. Also there are a few quotes from Labour ministers, especially Jack Straw, where they say this EXPLICITLY. Straw even once, before CPs, used the phrase "marriage is between a man and a woman". *sigh*

Anyway I hope you're right and I'm wrong. I would love to live in a world with such an optimistic outlook on our rights. Maybe I'm just a cynic. But as the Tories move closer to office, I fear we shall be stuck with CPs for sometime to come.