Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Differences Between #EqualMarriage And What The Coalition Are Proposing

This month the Westminster Government announced its proposals for marriage equality in England and Wales. I was pleased to see them expand their plans beyond just civil marriages to include religious marriages. However there remain some issues with the proposals that need to be addressed before legislation is introduced.

1. Equal Civil Partnerships

I'm no fan of civil partnerships (I'd hope, by now, you'd be more than aware of this!) but they do exist. And they shall continue to exist under the current Government proposals. However there are no plans to open them up to mixed-sex couples. I suspect the reasoning behind this remains the same as when civil partnerships were first discussed; the Government worries that religious and conservative people will feel that giving mixed-sex couples a choice might undermine marriage. I.e. people might prefer them to getting married. It is a real concern, however in not giving a choice to mixed-sex couples the Government not only discriminates against mixed-sex couples but also allows opponents of equal marriage to claim LGBT folk have special rights.

Even more concerningly it'll mean that civil partners where one half of the couple gets a GRC will have their civil partnership turned into a marriage. Hardly respecting their right to choose!

For the sake of fairness, and consistency, it is only right civil partnerships be open to couples regardless of gender.

2. Equal Pension Rights

One of those annoying differences between civil partnerships and marriage, and it is not fixed by the Government's plans. Same-sex married couples will still need to take pension providers to court under the Equality Act in order to get what mixed-sex couples get without question.

3. Dissolved Marriages Not Restored 

Here's something Cllr. Sarah Brown was talking about well before these proposals were announced. Read the linked article. Not resolved by the Government's plans.

4. Adultery And Consummation

Just to cheer us gay guys up, the Government is clear that married men who have sex with men will not be committing adultery. Oh sure, you can still use it as an excuse to divorce but its not real adultery. Just putting that out there (my number is available upon request).

Of course I jest (about the number, you've probably got it already ;) ), but seriously Scotland manages to do without the legal concept of consummation and the Catholic church hasn't exploded. And why is it so difficult to make adultery into the concept of having sex with someone who you aren't married to?

Rather than use the opportunity to make marriage laws modern, or at least clear them up a little, the Government appears to be making two different kinds of marriage. Which is absolutely not what any one was asking for...

The Coalition need to think carefully about why they are making these changes, because right now it would appear to be paying a lot of lip service to the idea but not quite grasping the concept. Let us hope some amendments can come from within the Lib Dem contingent in the Commons (as Labour appear hellbent on defending the already protected churches rather than LGBT people).

As I've alluded to in my last few posts, I'm moving on from this topic. I just thought I'd put my issues with the current proposals out there clearly before I head off in search of angry pastures new. I wish you a very Happy New Year, Dear Constant Reader and I'll see you back here for something completely different next week...

So What Did You Read On My Blog This Year?

So here are my top 6 most read blog posts of the year, in reverse order...

6. My Disappointment With Tim Farron Grows

I really do think Tim Farron is a nice guy who regularly engages with ordinary members of the party through Twitter and other mediums. But I just think we are, politically and religiously, on such different pages as to render me unable to support him still.

5. A New Danger From Civil Partnerships

Queensland, Australia showed us that whilst we are "separate but equal" we are far more at risk of having our rights removed at the whim of those who think we are not worthy of equality.

4. Will Religious Organisations Be Forced To Perform Same-Sex Marriages? No. 

Quite a popular little post this one, and one I'm rather proud of. It was certainly educating to research the various legal opinions and no one has yet come back with a response to it. Obviously it was written before the Government announcement in December 2012 of the protections given to religious organisations and the craziness that followed.

3. Dear Anti-Marriage Equality Activists: Thank You!

I think the polls are showing that I was right to thank our opponents! The more they sound hateful, the more support equal marriage gets. Thank you once again!

2. The Church of England, Equal Marriage and the Truth

Written only two weeks ago it is already sitting at no. 4 of my all time most read blog posts (on this blog at least). My response to the craziness that followed the Government's equal marriage announcement within liberal and Anglican circles.

1. The Differences Between Civil Partnerships and Marriage

This year's update to my all-time most read post on this blog has, inevitably, been pretty popular as a one stop shop to show there are differences between the two different partnership institutions.

I think I've said most of what I've wanted to say about marriage equality, and I'll always have these, and other, posts to link back to should I need them. I know many of you, Dear Constant Readers, have found some of these very useful this year in your debates with colleagues, friends and random people on the internet! I hope to write about more diverse topics in 2013 although, before I move on, there will be one more post to come: The Differences Between Equal Marriage And What The Coalition Are Proposing. Just to end on an honest, if slightly negative, note!

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Saturday, 29 December 2012

2012: The Year I Had Been Waiting For

2004 marked an important moment in my personal life; it was the year I met and fell in love with Jim. It was also the year the then Labour Government introduced civil partnership legislation. It was then, at the very moment I found the man of my dreams, I started to feel annoyed at the lack of marriage equality.

8 years I've moaned and screamed here, and in other places, about this unfairness. Even as recently as 2010 I was pessimistic of the chances of equal marriage becoming reality any time soon. But things change and, as is often the case, it looks like I was quite wrong.

2012 not only saw a consultation from the Westminster Government on civil marriage equality, but the announcement of full(ish) marriage equality legislation being introduced for England and Wales and the same from the Scottish Government too. And we now have many organisations and campaigns, run by far cleverer and more political savvy people than me, pushing forward to see this legislation put on to the law books.

I feel like we have reached the point where my shouting and screaming no longer has a place in the fight. This pleases me greatly. 2013 shall, I have decided, be the year I leave the fight to my betters. There are still things to fight for (such as equal pension rights, equality for mixed-sex civil partnerships and restitution of marriages dissolved in the past) and against (the haters) but I'm pretty confident that these things are in hand. My grumpy and honest approach has been described as negative before, and I feel is probably not best-suited to win over the more politically minded people that marriage equality needs now.

So goodbye good ol' 2012, the year I never thought would come, and hello to 2013, the year that shall bring us ever greater freedom.

Happy New Year, Dear Constant Reader. Now what shall I find to moan about next....

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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Muslim Council of Britain: What Do They Want? Government Control!

Farooq Murad made some remarks overnight that left me feeling rather angry this morning. I found them to be so misleading that I just couldn't believe a man who is secretary-general of an organisation as the Muslim Council of Britain could have man them. But make them he did:

Muslim leaders have demanded the same legal exemptions as the Church of England in legislation to introduce gay marriages. 
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), with more than 500 affiliated mosques, charities and schools, said it was "appalled" by "utterly discriminatory" legislation on same-sex marriage set out by the government. 
The proposals would allow faith groups to conduct gay marriages but would ban the CofE and the Church in Wales from doing so.  
The MCB secretary-general, Farooq Murad, said his organisation had strongly opposed gay marriage alongside other religions and was seeking an urgent meeting with culture secretary, Maria Miller, to express the concerns of many Muslims over the proposals. "No one in their right mind should accept such a discriminatory law," he said. "It should be amended to give exactly the same exemption to all the religions." 
The Guardian itself is still a tad confused over the proposals (which really aren't that difficult to understand) and it's suggestion that the Church of England and the Church in Wales are "banned" is a little misleading in itself. Maria Miller explained how it would really work in this DCMS blog.

But if we ignore that, I can barely understand what Murad is trying to say. He appears not to understand the unique relationship the Church of England has with the state nor the responsibilities it carries out for the state. It is an established church and this press release from the Church of England explains why it isn't getting "special privileges" but just sensible protection.

This call of "discrimination" seems bizarre. No religion will be forced to perform same-sex marriages. All religions will be able to opt-in to doing so if they want (yes, even the Church of England). What exactly does Murad means when he says "It should be amended to give exactly the same exemption to all the religions."? Does he mean all religions, whether they like it or not, should be banned from perform same-sex marriages? Does he not understand the triple lock which protects mosques from having to do anything that they don't want to do?

What he is asking for is for the Government to take the choice away from the mosques (and everyone else!). Not only does he claim to speak as the religious leader of Islam (which, quite plainly, he isn't) but he seeks to speak for every religious organisation. How very presumptuous  It was at that point I realised he probably hadn't a clue what the Government was proposing. That was when my anger disappeared and was replaced by glee.

I was gleeful because there are two scenarios here:

1) Either he hasn't got a clue. Which would be amusing and make me more confident that we can easily defeat people who don't know what they are talking about


2) He knows very well what the proposals mean and is trying to add fuel to the flames of "Church in Walesgate" with some hijinx. If this is the case, I think it shows our opponents have so exhausted their supply of arguments that they are down to silly political machinations to try and derail marriage equality.

So I take heart that we can win against such people as this. And that cheered me up after a week of silliness.

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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Am I Becoming An Apologist For The Government On #EqualMarriage?

You, Dear Constant Reader, know just how eager I am to get marriage equality into the United Kingdom (yes, even in Northern Ireland). Am I, however, so eager to get it into law that I'm failing to see the wood for the trees?

I think it hit me this week just how different my views on marriage equality are to most of those who support it. When the Church in Wales, and then the Church of England, announced their "shock" at the Government's plans for a "quadruple lock" my first thought was not "What was the Government thinking?" but "What are the churches on about?"

I would argue that this had more to do with the fact that I'd read the Church of England and Church in Wales's submissions to the marriage equality consultation (and the Church of England's was pretty heavy-handed and quite clear it needed special treatment above and beyond other churches) and that this coloured my response.

Whilst others were aghast at what the Government had "done" (these are proposals folks, not even a bill!), I was a little put out by their own reaction.

Upon reflection, I could have been a little more understanding. The Church in Wales shouldn't have reacted in the way it did, given what it had said in its consultation, but the Archbishop of Cardiff does have a point. The Government should certainly reconsider if the Church in Wales truly doesn't mind only having a "triple lock".

The Church of England's situation is more complicated. Beyond a positive press release, we have yet to hear an official response from the church. Right now what we have instead is political powerplays by the liberal section of the church. I'd rather wait and see what the church actually says than rely on them (and I truly wish Yvette Cooper had had the good sense to do the same before allowing herself to be quoted as calling marriage equality a mess!).

Here is the problem: the Church of England remains divided (as was clearly seen during the women bishops debacle a few weeks ago). Marriage equality is another one of those issues that can be used as a battleground between the liberals and the traditionalists. What saddens me is that, whereas women bishops was more of an internal battle with limited affect upon non-members, this battle will have consequences for people who aren't members. It is already detrimentally dominating the debate on marriage equality.

And that is why I'm mad. I'm not really mad because they are attacking the Government, I'm mad because not only is this silliness a possible cause for delay or derailment of marriage equality but it is overshadowing far more important problems.

What the Government have released is, again upon reflection in the cold light of day, simply a renaming of civil partnerships. It solves the superficial issues regarding the semantic difference, it solves some of the problems for trans people and it resolves our concerns on international recognition. But if does not resolve the status of civil partnerships as it is not offering mixed-sex civil partnerships (which means that trans people in a civil partnership will be forced into a marriage if one of couple transitions), it does not resolve the outstanding pension problems and it does not make any move to reinstate the marriages people were forced to dissolve when they transitioned in the past.

Yes it'd be lovely if the Church of England was to start holding same-sex marriages but that is an issue for them to deal with internally. It is not something that should concern the rest of us. The Anglican vicars threatening to bless same-sex marriages need to think about the bigger picture (and perhaps reconsider their membership of the church!) rather than selfishly use our prospective marriages as fodder for their civil war.

So no I'm not an apologist for the Government, I'd rather like to be a thorn in their side. I'd love to stop having to defend them against ridiculous attacks from other marriage equality campaigners and instead join forces with like-minded folk to get this marriage equality done properly. Who is with me?

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Saturday, 15 December 2012

Church In Wales: Didn't They Get What They Asked For On #Equalmarriage?

The Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, seemed rightly concerned when he complained after the equal marriage proposals of their implications for the Church in Wales.

How could it be just that a church that was disestablished nearly 100 years ago be banned from choosing whether to marry same-sex couples of not? Isn't it only fair they be allowed to choose, even if they currently are unlikely to choose to do so?

It seemed like yet another omnishambles. They didn't consult the Church in Wales and just went and treated them just like the established church in England. Disgusting. Except...

During the original consultation on marriage equality the Church in Wales gave an official response. The Ministry of Truth quickly found something interesting:

We note that at no point in the consultation document is the Church in Wales mentioned: paragraph 2.10, for example, refers exclusively to the Church of England. The Church in Wales is in an almost identical position to the Church of England with regard to the solemnisation of marriages. The Church in Wales’ concerns about the legal implications are therefore the same as those of the Church of England. We have taken note of these, and would seek assurances that the Government would specifically include the Church in Wales in any provisions for the Church of England under the proposed legislation.
So, without wanting to discuss their needs in too much detail, they just requested that whatever was good for the Church of England was good for them too.

The Ministry of Truth goes on to say:

So, in fact, Dr Morgan is now in the rather curious position of complaining publicly about the government giving his church exactly what it asked for, the exact same provisions in law that are to be applied to the Church of England should the bill pass without any amendments to these statutory locks. One has to wonder, therefore, whether the Church in Wales simply didn’t understand exactly what it was asking for or what the ramifications of its request would be given the unique constitutional position of the Church of England as an established church, or whether Dr Morgan is perhaps being just a little bit disingenuous and opportunistic in his newly discovered opposition to a statutory bar on same-sex marriages within his own church.  
What is true here is that, unless the Church in Wales has a legal duty to marry all-comers similar to that which applies to the Church of England then there is no obvious reason why it cannot be left out of the explicit statutory provisions that are intended to apply to the Church of England, but it did, nevertheless, get exactly what it asked for and should at least have the courage to admit to that fact before it goes on to argue against the fourth lock.
So is this another Government mistake, or is this (just like with the Church of England) a case of a church not really thinking through the implications of what it was asking for in the original consultation?

I think we need more honesty from the churches and a lot less spinning!

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Labour's Dangerously Close To Screwing Up Their #EqualMarriage Policy

Marriage equality is, I think, first and foremost being brought in for those LGBT people who wish to get married. I know that sounds completely obvious but I think that, after the last week of debate, that needs to be clarified.

Let us also be clear that the current marriage equality proposals are flawed (as I stated in my response to them). We still don't get equal pensions rights, there remains some outstanding trans issues that have been completely by-passed and mixed-sex civil partnerships are completely off the agenda whilst leaving same-sex ones allowed. There is a lot Labour could be doing to argue the case for more, especially on the pension rights and trans rights fronts.

Instead of putting into action its much mentioned strength on LGBT issues, Labour has decided to join with the churches and attack the Government's plans. Instead of trying to fix their past mistakes (forcing trans people to divorce and denying civil partners equal pensions rights) they are tilting at windmills along with the Church of England. I pointed out yesterday how ridiculous the Church of England was being and Anya pointed it out even more clearly. Yet Yvette Cooper had this to say on Government plans:

"Ministers have made a real mess of this," said Cooper. "Why are they making it expressly illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to hold same sex marriages, when even senior figures in both churches are questioning it?  
"The government should rethink this before they publish the legislation. Religious freedom should be protected in the legislation. But that goes both ways. Churches that want to hold same-sex marriages should be able to do so."
It is not the Government's plans that are a mess, it is the Church of England's response (and the Church in Wales shouldn't escape blame, their consultation request was to be treated exactly the same as the Church of England! They got their wish...) that is a mess. The Church of England even explained why what the Government had done was correct just the other day. Doesn't Labour know this? Are they so credulous that they listen to opponents of marriage equality (even on the civil level!) and believe what they have to say without even checking a few days old statement?

Rather than using this issue to attack the Government, helping to build an "omnishambles" impression, perhaps Labour might instead stand up for LGBT people and demand the necessary changes for us? When even LGBT Labour MPs like Ben Bradshaw would rather fawn over the religious than protect LGBT couples and families, then you know Labour has gone wrong somewhere.

Stop fighting ghosts and starting fighting for us! You are meant to be the opposition, not the pawns of anti-equality activists! Right now you are playing right into their hands and you're moving ever closer to undermining marriage equality itself.

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Friday, 14 December 2012

Gordon Birtwistle, Lib Dem MP; Opposed To #Equalmarriage?

Statistically out of 50 odd people (even specially selected by party allegiance) there has got to be one who opposes marriage equality. Even among the Lib Dems in the House of Commons.

And it looks like This Is Lancashire has found that person.
Burnley Liberal Democrat Gordon Birtwistle is strongly opposed.
Oh dear. And they even have a quote. And it is not even thoughtful.

Mr Birtwistle said: “I will vote against gay marriage. Civil partnerships are fine. Gay marriage is just not on.”
I'll tell you one thing that is just not on: Gordon Birtwistle's opposition to marriage equality!!

Lib Dem fail. :(

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The Church of England, #equalmarriage And The Truth

The media narrative: The Government has, without consulting the Church of England, unnecessarily banned them from performing same-sex marriages. The Church of England is outraged at being told they will be banned. Omnishambles all round. 

The truth is a little more complex. Let us follow the chain of events (ignoring the Church in Wales stuff, I feel that needs its own blog post which I'll do later).

Between March and June 2012, the Government began a consultation regarding how to implement civil equal marriage. They received many responses, including a thoughtful one from the Church of England with a rather detailed legal opinion as well.

Sadly, for the Church of England, the Government did listen to them. They complained that the Government was only focussing on civil marriage and this was legally dubious. So the Government has included religious marriages in the proposals issued this week. They ignored the Church of England's absolutely clear opposition to any marriage equality for anyone, and decided to focus on protecting the Church of England from the legal attacks it was so worried about. I feel that is a compromise worth making to protect religious freedom and individual liberty.

The Government intends to introduce a "Quadruple Lock" to protect religions who don't want to perform same-sex marriages. A triple lock for most, and the "Quadruple Lock" for the Church of England and the Church in Wales:

• Ensure that no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.
• Provide an opt-in system for religious organisation who wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples.
• Amend the Equality Act 2010 to reflect that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.
• Ensure that legislation will not affect the canon law of the Church of England or the Church in Wales. As a result, if either church wanted to conduct a same-sex marriage, it would require a change to primary legislation at a later date and a change to canon law.
So only consenting representatives of a consenting religious organisation will be able to perform same-sex marriages which seems quite reasonable to me. Thus Catholic priests are just as unable to perform these marriages as are Church of England clergy.

The Church of England was quick to explain that the Government was not giving them any extra protections but respecting their right to opt-in constitutionally if they so wished. Their press release is here (it is their second version. The first was entitled "Equal Marriage and the Church of England". Obviously that couldn't stand, so it has been changed to "Same-sex Marriage and the Church of England. Note the "Same Same Marriage" reference in the left hand sidebar which I like to think suggests someone at the press office wasn't happy with the need to change the title! *EDIT* They have changed it again now to "Same-sex marriage". Sneaky.). An excellent explanation of the Quadruple Lock and the Church of England's position can be found here. But let us quote from the press release.

For Parliament to give the Church of England an opt-in to conduct same sex marriages that it hasn't sought would be unnecessary, of doubtful constitutional propriety and introduce wholly avoidable confusion.
The Church of England, on the 11th, was extremely clear they didn't want an opt-in as they already had one.

There was a great deal of confusion over all of this which I discussed in my blog post here.

Sadly it would appear that some within the media, in the opposition to the current Government and within the Church of England have decided to use the issue of marriage equality to further their own agenda rather than debate the facts.

This Guardian article is an example of all three groups meeting together and spinning things into an omnishambles.

Now the main issue the Church of England representatives have is that they were not consulted on the details of the proposals. Given their initial press release afterwards (where they expressed satisfaction with what the Government was proposing in terms of legal protections) I find this very disingenuous. Do these representatives want marriage equality in the church? The Bishop of Leicester, quoted in the story, certainly doesn't.

Let us be clear: the Government is not "banning" the Church of England from conducting same-sex weddings. It is simply putting the ball firmly in their court. If they want it, then (just as with women bishops) they will need to internally vote for it and put it into Canon Law and send this to Parliament for rubber stamping. 

Ben Bradshaw, no friend of this blog or equal marriage, then decides to put the boot into the Government.

The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who was at the Lords meeting, said Stevens' revelation that the church had not been informed had drawn "audible gasps" from members of all parties.  
"It's absolutely extraordinary," he said. "The government gave the clear impression that this had been done at the request of the Church of England … but the bishop of Leicester said: 'We didn't ask for it' … and was very upset about it because it gave the impression that the Church of England were unfriendly towards gays."  
Asked why the government had chosen to propose the "quadruple-lock" guarantee, Bradshaw said: "The only explanation I can think of was that they thought it would help placate some of their homophobic backbenchers. But it seems to have backfired massively because the rightwing homophobes were out in force anyway and the Church of England now appears to be extremely upset that not only was it not asked, but it's added to [the] general misery over women bishops and now this. It makes the Church of England look much more reactionary and unreasonable than it actually is," he said.
It really isn't hard to make a church that is opposing an issue of equality look reactionary. And even less hard to make them seem unreasonable when you give them what they want and then members of the church still moan.

Ben Bradshaw's comments seem almost gleeful at the prospect of the Government screwing up equal marriage and, I'll admit, left me even more angry with him than I was earlier this year!

Rather than allowing the Church of England's civil war between liberals and traditionalists to destroy the prospects of marriage equality, perhaps we can get some clarification from the Church of England. Do they want the protections or do they not? What would they prefer? I can't lambast the Government for destroying their religious liberty if officially the church says they agree and unofficially they moan about it.

I have to think the Church of England is just trying to undermine marriage equality by making the Government look bad! Heaven forbid.

Right now it is not the Government's proposals that are an omnishambles but the Church of England's response!

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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

My Response To The Coalition's #EqualMarriage Consultation Response

Just as summer follows spring and Catholics follow the Pope, it is inevitable that upon the release of any Government proposals on marriage equality there will be a grumpy blog post from Jae. It is a tradition I refuse to break with but, you'll be pleased to know, part of my grumpiness is directed at those attacking the Government for once.

The Government's response to their consultation can be found here.

Before I moan about the problems I have with the proposals, I must firstly get something off my chest. These proposals, to allow religious as well as civil marriage equality, are far more than I was expecting. I must say I am extremely pleased with how far the Government has come since it initially set out its plans for civil marriage equality. David Cameron, Maria Miller and the other Tories championing this policy deserve special praise for being so brave! And of course I have no doubt that wise words came from the Lib Dems involved (such as Lynne Featherstone) which helped push them in the right direction! Thank you to all those who have worked hard on this consultation response.

Now, there are a few things I hope we can persuade them to consider further...

1) I've made it clear before that one of my major issues with the civil partnership/marriage divide was its impact on transgendered people and their significant others. Whilst it is good to see that those in marriages will no longer need to divorce to get a GRC, and those in a civil partnership can "convert" to a marriage, there is the problem that those who have had to divorce in the past get no restitution under these proposals. This is a significant slap in the face to those mistreated for so many years. Zoe blogs on this is a little more detail.

2) My number 2 problem with the current situation was with the pensions disparity explained so simply in this video:

Sadly it does not appear that these proposals will fix this either.
Policy on public service pension scheme in the UK is reserved to the UK Government. Those schemes where policy is reserved will treat same-sex married couples as civil partners. This means, that for the majority of schemes, survivor benefits for same-sex married couples will apply from 6 April 1988
Thanks to Mark Collyer for keeping an eye on this one.

3. Mixed-sex civil partnerships are still off the agenda. This has some affect on transgender rights and, quite frankly, also seems bizarre. Why allow same-sex civil partnerships AND equal marriage but no civil partnerships for mixed-sex couples? It gives same-sex couples a greater choice than mixed couples!! That is discrimination, and I hope it is challenged in court.

4. Consummation and adultery as legal concepts remain completely unchanged. Same-sex married couples will not be the same as mixed-sex married couples.

So whilst we have marriage equality in name, I feel what we are getting is just civil partnerships renamed as marriage. It is hardly radical and certainly not something our opponents should be at all worried about. Why they are is beyond me... oh wait no it isn't. They are mostly stupid.

Yes, there is plenty I feel the Government should change and I hope greater minds than mine are currently working on proposing suitable amendments to do just that during the Parliamentary process.

In other grumpy news...

The Government has made it quite clear that they wish to defend religious liberty. They have called these protections a "quadruple lock".

Key protections  
we will make it explicitly clear in the legislation that no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit their premises to be used for this purpose  
we will devise an 'opt-in' system where same-sex couples can only marry according to religious rites on religious premises where the governing religious body has expressly consented; and the legislation will make it clear that no law requires any religious organisations to opt in to that system  
we will also amend the Equality Act 2010 so that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose  
the legislation will not apply to the Church of England (or Church in Wales) so that they will not be able in law to marry same-sex couples and will not be able to opt in to do so without further changes to primary legislation. Therefore, there will be no interference with the Church of England's Canon law
This has done little to appease the bug-eyed loons on the opposing side, which is understandable given that they won't be appeased until LGBT folk are kept away from the "normal" folk. But it has caused a small Twitterstorm from people on the supportive side too.

Much has been said about the Government's plan to make Church of England same-sex marriages illegal. Many have complained this flies in the face of religious liberty. I have sympathy for that position however in practical terms I just don't see how it matters. Even without it the other protections would forbid any Anglican priest marrying a same-sex couple on Anglican property without the Church of England expressly endorsing the practice. I feel it is more important to focus on disestablishing the church rather than attempting to defend their religious freedom on the micro level. True religious freedom is for those who aren't in an established church.

On the Church in Wales front, that seems more complicated and needs some thought as they are disestablished but are they seriously going to be allowed same-sex marriages any time soon?

Other myths that appear to be developing on Twitter include:

  • A ban on marriages in the Church of England is a ban on all religious marriage equality. That is just not true at all. 
  • A ban on marriages in the Church of England means the Government is not allowing marriage equality at all. This is one I've seen particularly stupid opponents stating. This appears to flow from them making the mistake above at the same time as believing civil marriages and civil partnerships are the same thing. Dumb. 
  • That those angry at Church of England ban are trying to force equal marriage upon the Church of England. I've seen some UKIPpers and people like Guido Fawkes try this one. Mostly these angry people are defending the Church of England's right to choose. That is about religious freedom, and UKIP and Guido Fawkes are supposed to be concerned about that sort of thing. Alas, only when it is politically expedient it would seem. 
More concerning than these myths are the few people I've noticed declaring that churches, especially the Church of England, should be forced to marry same-sex couples. This is completely against the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights and I would urge those proposing such authoritarian things to think very careful about that sort of move. We are meant to be better than that. 

So... yes I am of course delighted that we have reached the point where legislation on marriage equality is going to be debated in the House of Commons. However I have some serious concerns about what is missing, about what some well-meaning "allies" are saying and on what effect some of the nastier opponents publicly views (such as that parents don't want their gay children) will have on LGBT young people.

I know, I know. I'm never satisfied! 

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Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Government Has No Mandate For Gay Marriage!

Even people like Peter Bone MP engage in this particular argument against equal marriage. That certainly doesn't make it any more right.

1) Considering marriage equality was in a Conservative manifesto at the time of the 2010 General Election! The Conservatives went on to win the largest number of votes.

2) We live in a representative democracy. Our politicians are not bound to only enact things in their manifesto. If we stuck to that rule, then the Commons would need to be dissolved and an election held every time an issue presented itself that hadn't been in anyone's manifesto!

3) Polling shows, despite what some might have you believe, extremely consistent support for equal marriage in the United Kingdom.

4) Best case scenario for proponents of this argument: Parliament is dissolved. There is a General Election. The Tories may win. In which case there will be a mandate for equal marriage. Or Labour might win. In which case there will be a mandate for equal marriage. Unless UKIP somehow manages to squeak to victory , this argument really has no legs.

I'm sure those who make this argument don't mean it to be, but it is extremely disingenuous.

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Why Does The Government Want To Force Churches To Marry Gay People?

This question arises quite a lot. It is based on a very loose understanding of what the Government is proposing.

1) Marriage is not just a religious thing. In the United Kingdom civil marriages can be performed in registry offices and other properly registered venues. So when the Government talks about equal marriage it is not just talking about marriages in churches.

2) The Government does not plan to force any church to carry out same-sex marriages. David Cameron made that pretty clear:
See also "Why Do Gay People Want To Get Married By A Church That Hates Them?" and "Will Religious Organisations Be Forced To Perform Same-Sex Marriages?"

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Why Do Gay People Want To Get Married By A Church That Hates Them?

The quick answer to this is: they don't. This oft asked question has a couple of faulty presumptions behind it.

1) Marriage is not just a religious thing. In the United Kingdom civil marriages can be performed in registry offices and other properly registered venues. I suspect most LGBT people would want to be married in one of those.

2) There is more than one church. I cannot count how many conversations I've had with people who have little knowledge of religion beyond the Church of England, Catholicism and a vague understanding of Islam. Christianity is a very diverse faith, with many denominations. Off the top of my head I can think of a few churches who wish to perform same-sex weddings: the Quakers, the Unitarians, the Metropolitan Community church. Plus Liberal Judaism is also campaigning for marriage equality. Not all churches hate LGBT people and thus some will eventually get married in a church that loves them.

So no, gay people don't want to get married in a church that hates them.

See also: Differences between civil partnerships and marriage and "Why does the Government want to force churches to marry same-sex couples?"

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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

California's Ban On Ex-Gay Therapy For Teenagers

In September, California's Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 1172 which banned ex-gay therapy for minors within the state. A laudable goal indeed. Regardless of ones views on the success, legitimacy or rights to exist of reparative therapy, there is just something rather disturbing about parents sending their kids to such therapists just because of who their children find attractive.

Whilst I will happily support the rights (on libertarian grounds) of LGBT people who freely seek to "change" or "control" their sexuality, I am personally deeply opposed to parents sending their children to such programmes or pressuring their kids into "volunteering" for them. These places have a history of sexual abuse against clients and a very low "success" rate (I'd argue nearly zero but that is just based on my own bias).

However I find attempts to legislate against it bizarre, simply because of the inconsistency. There are plenty of other forms of "therapy" that aren't just useless but harmful. Homeopathy, for example, has zero effect beyond a placebo and can cause real treatment to be delayed. Of course this only manifests itself on the public stage in those truly severe cases where a child actually dies, but I'm sure that parents who use homoepathy on their children are extending (if not worsening) suffering for minor ailments quite unnecessarily.

Or take "sex addiction" therapy. Is sending your heterosexual son off to "sex addiction" therapy because he likes to look at porn, jerk off or some other minor teenage transgression really "effective"? I doubt it. But I suspect plenty of Christian parents do send their children off to such, often Christian led, therapy or prayer sessions.

Why are LGBT kids more worthy of protection from heartless (and often stupid) parents than any other? The inconsistency is not lost on ex-gay proponents. Joshua Johanson, poster child for the Mormon ex-gay community, makes the point on "sex addiction" in this podcast. By banning ex-gay therapy for minors but ignoring other harmful therapies, we end up making such people look like martyrs.

Now I'm sure many who have fought for this ban are also opposed to the other forms of "therapy" highlighted above (along with many others!). They'd probably happily agree this is only a partial success. But sadly it may also be an illusionary one. A court is currently considering a legal challenge to the ban and has temporarily overturned it for those "therapists" leading the challenge. It will be remarkably easy for them to fight this ban as there still hasn't been sufficient academic study highlighting the harms of this therapy and this LGBT only approach allows them to claim religious persecution.

The lesson here may be pursue a broader protection for kids from their parent's stupid healthcare decisions (a tricky subject all round of course!) and creating a stronger body of evidence showing exactly how harmful these therapies can be. I must make it clear, I really am opposed to ex-gay therapy for kids. I just do not see how legislating for it alone helps protect them from it forever.

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Saturday, 1 December 2012

World AIDS Day 2012

I, thankfully, have never experienced HIV/AIDS on a personal level. Yes, I've been tested but no one I know personally has been affected by this issue. However when I came out I did get to chat to several men who had been out on the scene in the 1980s and who lost many friends to this awful illness. We must all work together to try and defeat this virus so that no one needs lose any more friends.

World AIDS Day is about remembering what is important: AIDS awareness (take a quiz here to learn things you probably didn't know!), knowing your status (find your nearest HIV testing centre), and trying to make this a HIV/AIDS free world. Eradication is NOT impossible. We can end this. We need to educate people in how to prevent it and help those who have it.

Ultimately this all comes down to money. And that is something we can all help with. Please donate to the National AIDS Trust and/or the Terrence Higgins Trust.

AIDS is not a "gay disease" but in the UK gay men are still the most likely group to get it. 3000 gay men were diagnosed with HIV in 2011. That is the highest number ever recorded. It is vital we spread the message about safe sex and getting tested regularly.

We must never forget what HIV/AIDS did to our community. The following documentary and movie are extremely good at showing how devastating this illness was (and is). We must fight it, with all our might.

After Stonewall:

And The Band Played On:

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Friday, 30 November 2012

Will Religious Organisations Be Forced To Perform Same-Sex Marriages? No.

Below I address several similar questions regarding whether churches and other religious organisations will be forced to carry out same-sex marriages against their conscience.

Will the ECHR force religious bodies to conduct same-sex marriages?

During the recent Government consultation on introducing civil equal marriage the Church of England and the campaigning group Liberty gave responses. Given one was against and one was for, I thought it'd be interesting to look at what the legal opinions they relied upon in their decision actually said about the ECHR. Let us start with the Church of England, whose response and legal opinion can be found in full here.

If the proposal to redefine marriage were to be implemented, it must be very doubtful whether limiting same-sex couples to non-religious forms and ceremonies could withstand a challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights. Page 10
I feel this paragraph is the cause of a great deal of confusion. It is clarified in depth on the link above. The Church has quite a problem, and I very much share their concerns, with the Government proposing to create two-tiers of marriage in separating the legal concept of religious and civil marriages. Their concern shown above relates to this problem and what they are suggesting is that IF the Government only legislates on civil marriage equality they will leave that law open to challenge (the success of the challenge remains questionable).

If opposite-sex couples were able to enter into the (newly-defined) legal institution of marriage in accordance with either religious or civil forms and ceremonies but same-sex couples were able to enter into that institution only in accordance with civil forms and ceremonies that, of itself, would be unlikely to amount to a breach of article 12 because such an arrangement would not deprive same-sex couples of the substance of the right to marry.   
But there would be a serious prospect of a successful challenge to that arrangement under article 14 taken in conjunction with article 12, on the basis that same-sex couples were being discriminated against in relation to matter that was within the ambit of article 12.
No, they don't provide much evidence for the "serious prospect of a successful challenge" but I think their legal reasoning is pretty good here. Clearly the Government should pursue full equal marriage (religious and civil) rather than focus on civil marriage alone. I hope their legal opinion has influenced the Government into expanding its proposals accordingly.

But these are NOT arguments stating churches will be forced to perform equal marriage. The Church then moves on to arguing over if the Government allows religious marriage how this might affect them but that is more an issue of domestic legislation and I'll look at it in its own section below.

So the Church of England's legal opinion seems to be that the ECHR may well not be amenable to denying same-sex couples, and the religious organisations that support them, religious equal marriage. But nowhere do they suggest the ECHR might force religious organisations opposed to equal marriage to perform same-sex marriages.

Liberty, fairly predictably, offer a robust defence of the proposals here. Karon Monaghan QC summarises her opinion here:

In my view, therefore, any requirement upon a church or religious organisation to conduct same-sex marriages, contrary to the religious convictions of its members’, would violate their Article 9 rights (and those of any person compelled to take part, for example a minister).  
Merely permitting the solemnisation of same-sex marriages on religious premises, as with opposite–sex marriages, would not, of course, intrude upon the Article 9 rights of any religious organisation.
Ergo, the European Convention on Human Rights should protect the rights of those who oppose equal marriage rather than force them to do things against their will.

The ECHR covers many countries that offer marriage equality and some of those have established churches. I've done lengthy searches through sources in both English and in the native tongues of the countries concerned, but have yet to find one case of the ECHR becoming involved with this question once equal marriage has been legislated for by a national Government. 

Will domestic laws force churches to carry out equal marriage?

It is extremely difficult to argue one way or another on this as the relevant legislation has not even been proposed yet. However some have raised this as a concern as well. My main argument would be that any domestic law can be amended by the new marriage equality bill so as long as this is dealt with properly there should be nothing for opponents to worry about.

Karon Monaghan QC, on behalf of Liberty, looked at this in some detail.
In particular, I am asked to consider the following questions:  
a. Were Parliament to enact provisions that would allow religious bodies willing to do so to conduct legally binding marriages in the same way that they can currently conduct marriages under Part III, Marriage Act 1949, would the decision of a body opposed to same-sex marriage not to do so, or the refusal of an individual minister not to conduct such a ceremony, be challengeable under the Equality Act 2010, under another antidiscrimination provision or on human rights grounds?  
b. If so, would a provision similar to section 6A(3A) Civil Partnership Act 2004 be sufficient to protect a religious body and/or individual members of the clergy from such legal challenges?  
c. Are there any additional safeguards that could be built into the legislation to forestall such a risk?  
d. Would provisions similar to those in the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005 be adequate to prevent a maverick clergy member conducting a same-sex marriage that might arguably be legally binding?  
e. Again, are there any additional safeguards that could be built into the legislation to mitigate the risk?  
f. Would the Article 9 rights of religious bodies that do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages on doctrinal grounds reinforce any safeguards built into the legislation?
She then summarises her responses here:
a. A refusal by a minister or a body opposed to same-sex marriage to conduct same - sex marriages would not violate the Equality Act 2010 so long as they could demonstrate that to do so would be in conflict with the strongly held convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers. Further, it is very unlikely that a refusal to conduct a same-sex marriage in such circumstances would unjustifiably violate the Convention rights of any other person, in particular those of a same-sex couple seeking to marry. 
b. For the avoidance of doubt, provision could be made in any legislation (permitting same-sex marriage) analogous to that seen in s6A(3A), Civil Partnership Act 2004. 
c. Again for the absolute avoidance of any doubt, the Equality Act 2010 could be amended so as to add a clause to Schedule 23 (paragraph 2(14)) making it clear that nothing in the Equality Act 2010 “should be taken to require a religious organisation or minister to solemnise a same-sex marriage if they do not wish to do” or similar. 
d. Provisions similar to those in the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005 would be adequate to prevent a maverick clergy member conducting a legally sanctioned same-sex marriage. 
e. No further safeguards are required to address the “maverick clergyman” other than those described above (requiring or dispensing with consent in each case at the behest of the governing authority) and those that are ordinarily and already found in this context. 
f. The Article 9 protection afforded religious organisations is strong. This too would provide real safeguards to a religious organisation that did not wish to conduct same-sex marriages on doctrinal grounds.
The Church of England looks at this area too, being that it is important to them due to the complex legislation covering our established church and its duties.

These assurances are all based on the position being as proposed in the consultation paper: i.e. the limitation of same-sex couples to non-religious forms and ceremonies. If, however, that position were not upheld – either because it was held to be unlawful by the courts or as a result of changes to the applicable legislation during its passage through Parliament or by way of subsequent amendment – the basis for those assurances would fall away.  
In that scenario a considerable amount of further legislative provision would be required in order to protect the position of the Church of England and other religious bodies. In particular the whole range of rights and duties that exist in relation to marriage and the Church of England would have to be reexamined. 
Even if a mutually acceptable legislative solution could be found by way of limiting such rights and duties, it cannot be assumed that any such solution would itself withstand subsequent challenge, whether in our domestic courts or in Strasbourg. The ultimate outcome for both Church and State would be quite uncertain.
The Church of England's considered response to this then is that it'll be a difficult process in ensuring their rights are protected but possible. 

Doesn't the Church of England have a legal responsibility to marry any eligible couple in their own parish?

Much has been made of this responsibility by those opposed to equal marriage and the Church of England's legal opinion mentions it too.

Anyone who is resident in England has a legal right to marry in his or her parish church irrespective of his or her religious affiliation and the minister of the parish (the rector, vicar or priest in charge) is under a legal duty to conduct the marriage. 2 The existence of this right is recognised by the Marriage Act 1949 (which governs the procedure for all marriages in England and Wales).
I have a question regarding this however. If they have a legal right, how can the Church of England legally turn away divorcees (at the discretion of the minister involved)? I feel the situation is a little more complex than is being presented and that the pertinent laws covering the Church of England in this regard can be amended if necessary.

Feel free to fire back examples that show I'm wrong. I've written this post mainly out of a sense of frustration with opponents failing to provide proof for their claims. I decided to seek out the evidence myself and, after so doing, feel a lot more confident that they are wrong. However, I will be very happy to hear considered opposition to what I've presented here!

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Saturday, 24 November 2012

UKIP Aren't Just Wrong On #EqualMarriage, They Are Very Confused

***Edit, I have since carried out further research showing UKIP's legal argument regarding the ECHR is completely without merit. See here***

I have a great deal of respect for the libertarian position on marriage, a position Steve Baker MP has written about before. Indeed, I was only writing last post about my own dilemma in both supporting equal marriage and wanting Government out of the whole business. So take it as read that I hold no animosity towards those who stand back from the marriage equality debate for some related ideological consideration (be they anti-marriage queer radicals, or purist right-wing libertarians).

I even have respect for those who oppose equal marriage because it goes against their personal beliefs. Do not think I don't understand where you are coming from even if I think you are completely wrong and that attempting to enforce your beliefs on my relationship isn't something I find endearing.

But there is one anti-equality argument that I cannot put up with. It is the hypocritical "faux-libertarian" argument most typically spouted by UKIP supporters. I've dealt with this before in a rather light-hearted look at David Coburn's Pink News article back in March (my commentary can be found here). When, earlier this month, UKIP released their latest comments on their marriage equality policy I didn't feel the need to elaborate further but today I've seen David Coburn and others using his article and his sexuality to defend that same policy. That, I felt, needed a response.

They start their 15th November 2012 post bigging up their libertarian credentials with the bizarre comment that this is why they support civil partnerships. Civil partnerships are a Government issued contract and are in no way "libertarian"!

They then summarise the Government's current proposals (which may change shortly, I admit) to only legislate on equal civil marriage. They rightly point out that many LGBT people are religious and may find these proposals unsatisfactory and may even take the case to the courts to allow them to marry in religious premises. This I understand completely, and suspect it is quite likely that a couple may well do this in these circumstances and probably with the support of Liberal Judaism, Unitarians and the Quakers.

That is when they make a few leaps of logic and assumption without providing evidence.

1) They suggest that this hypothetical court case would lead to the Government FORCING churches to marry same-sex couples. 

That is quite a leap indeed, surely you would think that if the case was successful the Government is more likely to open up religious marriage equality whilst allowing continued protection for the dissenting religious organisations? Personally, based on fact that "civil marriage" is more an imaginary concept than a legal one I suspect the Government may well include provisions allowing this in the original legislation.

2) This being UKIP, they suggest these authoritarian changes would be foisted on the country by the evil European Court of Human Rights. 

I quote:

We believe that, give.n (sic the current nature of the European Court of Human Rights' attitude to such matters, there is a very strong likelihood that the Court at Strasbourg will agree that it is an unlawful discrimination on those grounds and order the United Kingdom to introduce laws which will force Churches to marry gay people according to their rites, rituals and customs.
Hmm... what are the current attitudes of the ECHR towards equal marriage? They do not feel the need to compel countries to give marriage rights to LGBT people. Channel 4's FactCheck does a good summary on this. They are right to point out that several European countries have introduced equal marriage and there has be no similar legal case as predicted by UKIP. It's all pointless speculating and only serves to remind us that the law should be carefully written to protect religious liberty (for both those who want to marry same-sex couples and those who don't).

3) UKIP then express shock at suggestion Government might ban religious organisations from marrying same-sex couples.

If the Government has it in mind to forbid Churches from marrying gay people, that would be a monstrous piece of tyranny: let Churches and faiths decide for themselves.
Don't tell UKIP this as they might faint, but that is the current situation! Allowing Churches and faiths to decide for themselves involves giving them the legal right to marry same-sex couples but not forcing them to use it. This sort of mind-bending logic really does make me wonder who wrote this policy and whether it is more from opportunism than belief in opposing equal marriage.

After this they continue to moan and speculate about how evil forcing churches to marry same-sex couples would be. Based on no evidence. Nothing. Nada. Oh and then they say "It is not a priority" (put a pound in the "Overused Argument" jar please).

It is a policy that flies in the face of libertarianism, lacks critical thinking and appears to be written by someone who doesn't really oppose equal marriage but just wants to appeal to people who do. It is extremely hypocritical for UKIP to complain about the Government not allowing religious organisations to marry same-sex couples at the same time as opposing equal marriage. It is a conflicting and hastily written piece.

Coincidentally it was published not long before UKIP's Croydon North candidate Winston Mackenzie and their leader Nigel Farage made the issue part of the Croydon North by-election. Shame on them.

UKIP need to make a decision. They need to do one of three things:

1) oppose marriage equality completely on the basis that same-sex relationships are "different" to opposite-sex ones
2) step back from the debate and make a libertarian case for marriage reform.
3) embrace marriage equality as a marker on the long road to liberty.

Their current policy shows them up as exploitative, ideologically dodgy politicians of the worst kind.

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

On #equalmarriage I'm Totally Two-Faced

I've always been open about the fact that I unexpectedly fell into supporting marriage equality. Labour pissed me off. There I was happily being all radically queer in my early twenties and along they came and instituted civil partnerships. At the time I found the idea of marriage to be cold and dreary, yet Labour had some how managed to make formalised same sex relationships seem even more so! I wasn't going to put up with that.

And that was how I went from someone who couldn't even conceive of marriage as being part of his future to being someone who devoted way too much of 2010 to bugging people about getting the right to get married. I've obviously mellowed in my old age.

Sometimes I get so caught up in monitoring the arguments, spreading news and insulting Labour that I forget about what I really want. I was thinking about that on the way to work the other day. Personally, I don't really feel the need for Government affirmation of my relationship to my beloved Jim. I am, and this may surprise you Dear Constant Reader, an old romantic when it comes to the concept of marriage. To me it is more important that Jim and I believe we are married. Even though I'm certainly not Christian any longer and I've, with reluctance, left my pagan ways behind me, I'd love a sweet little ceremony somewhere with family and friends. But it doesn't need to be led by any official figure.

In fact, and this is where I get controversial, I find the concept of the Government and institutions giving married partners benefits above and beyond what single and unmarried couples get a bit disturbing. I want the Government out of relationships entirely. People should be free to associate, contract with and love whomever they wish (or to not do any of those things). Marriage should be something people and organisations sort out themselves for whatever purpose they want it for. They can be married in their own eyes, in the eyes of others or in the eyes of their God(s).

I've dealt with this before, and explained why I still fight for equal marriage. But I do always feel very two-faced. It helps that anti-equality activists often use arguments against romance to defend their policies. They often believe marriage between one man and one woman is a "social good" and this is why it alone deserves Government backing. This keeps me on the straight and narrow and reminds me that the fight for equal marriage is one that's pushes back against such an authoritarian understanding of Government. I do not want a Government that decides to reward one group over another. Government should be there only to arbitrate disputes, defend property and persons against attack and support those who really can't support themselves. It is not there to socially engineer a utopia and especially not one particular version of utopia.

I'm in too deep to hold myself aloft from what a younger version of me might have considered a petty skirmish. When marriage equality becomes reality I may well shed tears and I will most certainly, Jim willing, head down to our local registry office to formalise our relationship. It shall be a happy day, I have no doubt.

But I shan't stop there. I'll still be writing letters and bugging people for many years to come in the hopes of one day getting a little closer to the dream of a country where people get to love how they wish and no one feels the need to get involved in their relationship.

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Sunday, 18 November 2012

Whether I Get To Marry Appears To Be Dependent On Employment Contracts, Oh The Romance!

Facebook has a lot to answer for. But so does the Trafford Housing Trust. An idiot posted on his Facebook aghast that the Government would dare force equal marriage upon churches (the plans aren't even about religious organisations!). An even bigger idiot decided that this person deciding to express his personal opinion on his personal social media page in his personal time constituted a reason to demote the original idiot.

I used to work at a housing trust. I know they can be dumb. They once told off the LGBT group (of which I was a member) for the use of the word "queer". So it is good to see sanity prevailing and the idiot won his case against THT.

THT should be ashamed of themselves. Their policies are an insult to free speech and have succeeded in bringing the marriage equality movement into disrepute through association with such an abuse of power. But the case does now strengthen freedom of speech and belief. It flies in the face of the accusations from the anti-equality crowd that courts will send them all to a gulag for daring to speak their mind.

Speaking of which.... the Coalition against for Marriage has declared their fear that teachers may well be sacked for refusing to "promote" equal marriage. This amuses me for several reasons.

1) their position implies a school shouldn't sack (or at least discipline) a member of staff who refuses to do their job.
2) it flies in the face of the previous policy of anti-equality activists that was disgusted that the previous Government would force them not to sack LGBT people (and force them to consider hiring that person if they were the best candidate for the job).
3) it is not like they haven't previously tried to sack LGBT teachers in this country or actually sacked them in other countries

Personally I think it would be a rather authoritarian and unnecessary step for a school to sack someone for this reason. I think it is healthy that kids get different view points. But I also think schools have a right to sack teachers and staff that don't toe the line on what they teach children. I'm not saying a Catholic school should be allowed to sack a gay teacher, nor that a secular school should be able to sack a Catholic teacher. But if that teacher doesn't follow the lesson plans and school curriculum then they aren't doing their job and should be disciplined in the appropriate way.

If a teacher "promoted" equal marriage in a private Catholic school should that school be allowed to sack them? That is the question one should ask anyone who spreads this sort of fear. I'd be interested to hear their answers.

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Sunday, 11 November 2012

Remember Maria Miller, Religious Freedom Works Both Way

I very much welcome Maria Miller's commitment to protecting churches who choose not to marry same-sex couples. It is right that we protect religious freedom.

“To make sure there is no element of doubt, we would be legislating to protect the rights of religious institutions to continue to have freedom on this matter.”
But is she really dedicated to religious freedom? Given the proposals remain only about "civil marriage" (a novel legal concept I understand) doesn't she feel the proposals themselves aren't supportive of religious freedom?

How can we say it is right that LGBT friendly religious groups be banned from holding legally recognised same-sex marriages? Is it right that if they wish to hold even a civil partnership they may end up paying higher fees or that they may be denied the right to at all due to health and safety concerns (even though they carry out marriages in their building already!)?

If Maria Miller and the Coalition Government really believe in religious freedom they will put forward proposals for full marriage equality with the correct safeguards in place to protect all those unwelcoming groups who want nothing to do with it. Otherwise their claims to be concerned about religious freedom will be shown to be no more than subservience to certain religion's views over others.

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For The Fallen - Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Friday, 9 November 2012

I Think We Should Give Justin Welby A Chance On LGBT Rights

I know, I am always the first to judge. When it comes to people like Nigel Evans or Chris Bryant, I often find it hard to forgive as well. If you found someone describing me as an unhinged radical marriage equality ranter, I think there would be plenty of evidence to back that up. Given that it affects me personally, it is hardly surprising I can get a little overly emotional on this issue.

However, I feel like so much progress has been on this issue, I can afford to try and be better. More constructive and more ready to listen. Don't get me wrong, I still think "compromise" is a dirty word but I've always been willing to defend religious rights on this issue so I'm not really compromising here.

Let us give Justin Welby, who will from March 2013 take over as the Archbishop of Canterbury, a chance. I'm not saying we shouldn't shoot his arguments down in flames when he gets around to making them, but let us hear him out first. What he has said about LGBT rights today seems to hold out some hope of a reasonable discussion,

"It is absolutely right for the state to define the rights and status of people cohabiting in different forms of relationships, including civil partnerships."   
"We must have no truck with any form of homophobia in any part of the Church. The Church of England is part of the worldwide Church, and has responsibilities that come from those links. What the Church does here deeply affects the already greatly suffering churches in places... like Nigeria."   
"I am always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us. Above all in the Church we need to create safe spaces for these issues to be discussed in honesty and in love." 
Whilst some have already held this up as proof he is a bigot who doesn't support marriage equality, I think this is suitably vague enough to allow some flexibility on the issue of civil marriage too. And it is very important, far more important than marriage equality, that the Archbishop starts to tackle the dangerous homophobia of Anglican churches abroad, especially in Africa (and most especially Uganda where Anglican bishops have been supporting the "Kill the gays" bill). There is hope here, and I'm prepared to let him have the benefit of the doubt for now.

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