Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Misunderstanding Labour's Position On Marriage Equality

Last night there was a lot of confusion over Labour's position on marriage equality caused by a recent article by Peter Tatchell entitled "Why has Labour failed to vote for marriage equality?" 

This caused many on Twitter to assume Labour had voted against marriage equality. Now, as much as I dislike Labour and fear their conservative instincts on many issues, I can't see how anyone could imagine a situation where they would vote against such an obviously progressive measure. 

Of course they've been against marriage equality in the very recent past. Gordon Brown answered a question on this here:

In response to Downing St online petitions to introduce same-sex marriage, it was stated that the "government has no plans to introduce same-sex marriage", because it has to "balance the right to live free from prejudice and discrimination with the right to freedom of speech and religion". In what ways does same-sex marriage affect freedom of speech and religion? Andrew Archer
"At the moment there’s a distinction drawn between civil and religious unions, and when civil partnerships were being introduced they took the same form as a civil union which a heterosexual couple would have. We later made it illegal to discriminate on partnership status – so it is illegal to treat someone in a civil partnership different to a married person. That makes no practical difference in terms of rights and responsibilities, but does recognise that religious groups have the right to a certain degree of self-organisation on questions that are theologically important to them, including on the question of religiously-sanctioned marriage. So the provision of ‘marriage’ as opposed to the provision of same-sex or heterosexual civil unions, is intimately bound up with questions of religious freedom."
And Chris Bryant made his opinions on this very plain during the civil partnership debates

I do not want same-sex relationships to ape marriage in any sense—several people have used the offensive phrase—because they are different. Although the two share similar elements, they do not have to be identical, so the legal provisions should be distinct.
So there is a reason to be cautious over their approach but since the rather slow progress we made with Labour during the leadership elections last year it's become far more common to hear Labour politicians supporting marriage equality (well civil marriage at least). At last night's Stonewall fringe event at the Labour conference, Yvette Cooper also reiterated her support for marriage equality.

Given how undemocratic Labour's internal workings are, this is probably as close to policy as we're likely to get this side of an election manifesto. And we should be pleased Labour has managed to make this progress.

So no... Labour no longer vote against marriage equality. My only concern is remarks such as Cooper made last night suggesting she'd always fought for marriage equality, a statement I've yet to see backed up by any evidence whatsoever. It's great you're supporting it now, but please do not attempt to rewrite history just to cover-up Labour's complete lack of leadership on this subject.

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Sunday, 25 September 2011

I'm Just Waiting For The Anti-Miliband Protests

Last year in the run up to his election for Labour leader Ed Miliband said:

I’ve been interested to see that the government is giving serious thought to introducing a Graduate Tax, rather than raising Tuition Fees.

The issue is coming to a head as Lord Browne is due to report on University funding in the autumn — and it’s possible that he could recommend that fees rise to £7,000 or even £10,000.

But the Graduate Tax is a fairer alternative, and one I’ve been arguing for for some time.

This is an important matter of principle. The supremacy of the market has extended too far into areas that should not be defined by commodity and exchange. But it is also a practical question. As fees rise further, less well-off as well as part-time students will be even less likely to apply to more expensive universities and so damage their opportunities. That does not fit in with the values of this party or this country.

An important matter of principle, huh? One so important that yesterday evening Ed Miliband did a complete about turn and instead chose to support, in principle, higher tuition fees! In fact the Government, though setting the higher end tuition fees to £9000, had hoped universities would charge around the £6000 figure Ed Miliband now supports a cap at! 

I, of course, can't wait to see the far left and students groups marching through the streets of Liverpool protesting this "betrayal" and demanding Miliband's head (perhaps with some offensive execution placards and props) like they did over Nick Clegg's and the Lib Dems "betrayal" (note Lib Dems did not say they'd introduce raising fees if they'd gotten a majority in Parliament, unlike Miliband who is now saying exactly that). I suspect I may find myself disappointed. I'm sure those tuition fee Lib Dem defectors to the Labour party will be extremely happy to have made the move. 

Miliband's suggestion is, in fact, of little help to those in most need and of most help to those who don't need assistance. Sara Bedford lists the issues his ill-thought out policy throws up

Let's face it, this policy has been suggested as a headline grabber that doesn't do what it's implied to do (help the most needy) and instead hopes to hoodwink the desperate, the young and the disillusioned into supporting a party that is completely devoid of principled and different policies. It's same old New Labour spin, and doesn't bode well for the seemingly never ending Labour policy review's findings. I doubt progressives, liberals or lefties will find much to celebrate when more new policies are announced. 

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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

What The #LDConf Did, A View From Afar.

This post might be better known as "things that interested me at the Lib Dem conference". 

A Review Of Drug Laws

An excellent, sensible proposal was put to conference suggesting that a panel be formed to review our current drug laws and propose new ways forward. This might mean the liberalisation of drug laws among other things. As someone who doesn't do drugs and who, as a child, lived through the experience of a drugs raid, you'd think I wouldn't be sympathetic towards liberalisation. But I believe, based on my feelings and on the evidence I've seen, that the current way of dealing with drugs is causing more problems than it's solving and if we are to deal with drug addiction as a society there are far better and more civilised ways of doing it than just a blanket ban. 

I was extremely please to see conference pass this. 

The Infamous "Ban" On Page 3 Girls

I think Andrew Emmerson said it best in his post stating clearly that yesterdays F26 motion doesn't ban Page 3 girls. As someone who reads more sensible libertarian publications such as Reason Magazine, I did find the knee-jerk horror of the libertarians on Twitter hilarious. Calm down dears, it's only a conference motion. 

However... I have major issues with the fuzzy, ill-thought out way the particular part of the motion in question was written:

“Tackling the projection of women as sex objects to children and adolescents by restricting sexualised images in newspapers and general circulation magazines to the same rules that apply to pre-watershed broadcast media.” 

1) Can only women be "sex objects"? Would this motion deal with sexualised imagery of men?
2) Restricting? How? Complete ban? Moving to the top shelf? Doing the same as what WH Smith did to gay mags recently? Totally unclear, which means it's open to the "Lib Dems Would Ban Page 3 Girls" accusations people have already been making! 
3) "same rules that apply to pre-watershed broadcast media" WHAT?? We are talking about very different media formats here and I cannot fathom what this might mean. The Sun can only be sold after 9pm? 

I've always found it bemusing that lads mags have, until recently, always been on one of the higher shelves in a magazine store whilst The Sun, the Daily Star and worse the Daily Sport were all on the floor where anyone could see them. I've found that inconsistent and you know how I dislike that. But I really don't see what this motion was trying to achieve. Pointless and should never have been passed. 

Science Not Stigma; Overturning The Blood Ban

Since I last wrote about the Government's stance on the blood ban, they have changed their mind and now brought their position to the point of only banning gay men who have had sex in the last 12 months. As you can imagine I find that just as ridiculous as the originally suggested 10 year ban! 

Thankfully today the Lib Dem conference voted to make overturning the blood ban for men who have sex with men completely. Despite the half-way house approach to LGBT rights that this Coalition Government appears to be taking (doing as little as they can get away with whilst still being considered better than Labour), the Liberal Democrats continue to move ahead of the pack when it comes to LGBT freedom. Good move conference. Good move!

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Monday, 19 September 2011

On Marriage Equality, Labour Is Still Following Rather Than Leading

After failing to even discuss marriage equality during their 13 years of power (and then playing catch up during last year's summer of marriage equality movement), Labour still don't appear to have learnt their lesson

Yvette Cooper says "“We have called for and support same-sex marriage and we welcome this shift in government policy." 

Hmm... when has Labour (as a party) called for it Yvette? It's still not even party policy. You may support the Government's recent announcement but did you really call for it?  

Yvette Cooper's, and thus I assume Labour's, issue with the announcement is not the fundamental flaws. Instead they just moan about how unreliable the Government is. Given the rather rapid progress we've made on issues such as LGBT asylum seekers and relaxing the blood donation ban under the Coalition, what nerve she has to cast doubt on this Government's commitment. 

My issue has never been the Governments commitment but instead with just what it is committed to. Labour have once again failed to grasp the opportunity to wound (or woe) the LGBT rights supporters in the Coalition by pointing out the flaws and declaring their support for a more sensible expansive reform of marriage law. 

Instead they just appear to be political point-scoring. And not even managing that particularly well. Who is advising Yvette Cooper on LGBT issues? Labour doesn't lead on LGBT issues any more, nor do they even seek to compare themselves to more "progressive" parties such as the Lib Dems or the Greens but instead they ape whatever half-baked compromise the Coalition proposes! 

Come on Labour. Even LGBT Labour's press release is a damp squib. Where's your vision? Your leadership? Are you really just going to moan from the sidelines as always? 

I've been deeply disappointed with Labour's LGBT record ever since they settled for civil partnerships and they aren't doing anything to make me feel confident they would do any better if we gave them another chance.

Thankfully we have our own champions leading on this, our ever present defender Peter Tatchell. At least he sees the real issues. 

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

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Being The Marriage Equality Party-Pooper Is Never Popular

I hate feeling like the Cassandra (whether my prophesies come true or not!) of the marriage equality fight. With each positive step forward made, I'm there to piss off everyone else by saying "Well this simply isn't good enough". 

I suppose it stems from what happened when civil partnerships were introduced. I was simply horrified at the implications of such a separate but equal institution whilst everyone I knew was busy celebrating and moving on. The insults and abuse (and I'm not over-egging that, four letter words and all) I got from the pro-civil partnership side for daring to question why we didn't have marriage equality was intense.

Ultimately I feel (rather self-consciously) vindicated by the direction the debate has taken in the last two years. But now I can't let go of the fact that true marriage equality is within our grasp, and yet it constantly seems to be slipping away. 

Yesterday's announcement of a consultation regarding the legislation of civil marriage was a marvellous step forward (said through gritted teeth as always, sorry!), especially considering this is coming from a Government dominated by Tories. On blogs and Twitter there was plenty of a criticism from people who aren't me, which means at least I'm not alone in my opinions, and plenty of criticism of them for being such miserable bastards. I can understand the cries of "can't you just be happy?", I really can. There are practical suggestions as well such as this over the continuing ban on same sex religious marriage from Lib Dem Voice's comments feed: 

It is a realistic solution. Be imaginative. If the Unitarians want to marry gay couples then every few weeks they can designate their church to not be a religious venue for a few hours. Whatever. But fundamentally I don’t care about arguments between the religions about what should and shouldn’t be allowed in their respective temples. We have proper problems that we should be spending our time fixing, not that.
A work around! It makes so much sense, and then we don't need to bother with our silly little worries about equality, etc. 

The failure of this consultation is two-fold in my view and whilst there are always work arounds (hell, we could get a blessing and civil partnership now and then why bother with any further legislation?!), I think the failure is important enough for people to at least acknowledge it's short comings. 

1) the lack of scope to consider the future of civil partnerships (something last year's consultation on civil partnerships failed to fully do) leaves the transgendered communities concerns over legal continuation of partnerships after transition only half solved. The similar lack of scope on allowing religious communities to carry out marriage is almost criminal. This lack of scope does not feel me with confidence that this will be actual marriage equality but instead will be "gay marriage" under separate legislation as is the case in South Africa (where at least they have a tradition of different legal types of marriage to make them seem almost acceptable). 

2) the presentation of the announcement suggests to me this is where the line is now being drawn, just as with civil partnerships back in 2004 and that there's no planned further push in the Government's mind. Which leaves the question hanging for another few years at least. 

I think Lynne Featherstone summed up how "finalised" this all is in her speech yesterday when she, without sign of sarcasm announced:

I will be raising the issue with Governments all over the world and will continue to push everyone, from allies to adversaries, to recognise what we know is true:
That Gay Rights are Human Rights.
No excuses, no exceptions, no compromises.

Before announcing civil marriage for same sex couples in the very next breath which is quite obviously a compromise, an exception and I suspect the excuse will be "There are more important things to worry about" or "We're in a Coalition Government, we can't get everything we want". But she didn't even voice the concerns that there might be any issues. 

I know she listened to concerns at last nights LGBT+ AGM at the Lib Dem conference and said all the right things, which leaves me to think this was an omission she made purposefully rather than through sheer misunderstanding of the issue. I.e. playing politics with LGBT rights and selling us out for the sake of a barnstorming speech. 

I can be happy that some people's concerns are being addressed. But I have to be the party-pooper, I'm compelled to continue fighting for what I've always fought for. Because I truly believe in "No excuses, no exceptions, no compromises". And if I must bring upon myself the ire of my Lib Dem friends who just want me to shut up, be happy and get with the programme, then that I will happily accept. I might be miserable, I might be boring, I might be a broken record. But I think I'm in the right... and thus tomorrow I'll be drafting a letter to the Equalities department raising my concerns for consideration in this consultation (not that that's ever done any good before, even Lynne Featherstone's acknowledged my concerns and then moved on without addressing them). 

I persevere. 

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

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Gay Marriage To Be Legal: No I'm Not Happy!

I'm being forced to become a walking stereotype thanks to the Coalition. One of the "crimes" LGBT people are accused of by political homophobes is that we are never satisfied, that when we make one advance we always want more. The Government plan to legalise same-sex marriage, after yet another consultation, and yet I'm still not happy. I'm not pressing for more than I've ever demanded before, I'm just being consistent.

 A Home Office spokesman said that the consultation on reforming the marriage laws would only cover civil marriage for same sex couples and not religious marriage. Ministers have ruled out making it compulsory for churches or other faith groups to host gay or lesbian marriages. 

 The Home Office also made clear that one option that will not be included in the formal consultation on reforming the marriage laws is giving heterosexual couples reciprocal rights to civil partnership ceremonies
I used to say I don't know anyone who wants to force a non-cooperative church to carry out same-sex marriages but thanks to Mike Weatherley, a misguided Tory MP, I can no longer say this. It's certainly not something I've ever wanted to do.  However, I believe it's an important principle of religious freedom to allow religious organisations, who wish to marry same-sex couples, to do so.

I also think that given the mess made by the Labour Government over civil partnerships, it's important to open those up to heterosexuals just as we open marriage up to same-sex couples. 

The proposals by the Coalition Goverment are another step in the right direction. I'm sick and tired of steps in the right direction. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I try to be reasonable. But just how many steps in the right direction must we all endure before there is one marriage law for all in this country? 

This does not solve the problems faced by transgendered people and allow a legally continuous partnerships should they transition from one gender to another. It forces religious LGB people who want to marry their same sex partner to instead civilly partner them. It is simply a compromise too far. 

Lynne Featherstone and the Liberal Democrats will crow over this "advance" as it "goes well beyond the Coalition agreement". They may crow over abandoning equality before the law as a principle, I shall hang my head in shame instead. 

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