Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Dangers Of Marriage Equality

For many years I was single-minded in raising the profile of marriage equality. I never had the luxury of stopping and reviewing the wider implications to my world view as there just weren't that many people interested in getting past the "But why do we need it?" argument.

Now the campaign has moved beyond me and better campaigners are heading the charge. I no longer need to spend time writing to people, getting media attention on the issue or arguing with opponents. I now have the time to sit back, watch what happens and finally see the wood for the trees.

And I am concerned.

I've always been someone with sympathy for "unconventional people" (an awful phrase and I apologise for using it but you know what I'm saying). I believe, fundamentally, that our society needs constant reinvention and improvement and unconventional people and their lifestyles are, in my opinion, the people pushing the boundaries of our existence. And I despise bullying of others just because they are different. Basically, I oppose conservative social attitudes with a passion.

I suppose, given how conservative an institution marriage is, that I shouldn't be surprised that conservatism is rearing its ugly head in the marriage equality campaigns. I like to think it's just "situational conservatism" used as a pragmatic way of winning the argument. But when have I ever liked pragmatism? I couldn't support those who misled Parliament about opposing marriage *cough* Chris Bryant *cough* during the civil partnership debates, and I won't support those opposing other people's way of lives, just to advance marriage equality, now.

It's enough to make me concerned that naysayers like Mark Simpson and Julie Bindel may have a point. Are we at risk of losing something special as we gain something conventional?

I think it is a great risk, but I also think their views ignore the dilemmas of others and are, in their own way, deeply conservative. Conservative in that it favours preserving the status quo over reforming it. And the others they ignore include the troubles transgender people face under our current separate systems. So whilst I think there is a danger, I also think that in not pushing for marriage equality we risk harming others. And that will not stand.

I've always been clear marriage, as it currently exists, isn't what I want in my vision of the perfect future. But I believe it is important to fight for marriage equality now to even out some of the cruel and perverse consequences of our current systems (especially on transgendered people, I've always been clear it is their predicament that is my number one issue with how things are). But that doesn't mean I will stop defending polyamorous relationships nor that I won't be less than honest that I find some arguments in favour of legalising incest compelling. It might make my position open to easy attack by authoritarian haters but that is another risk I am willing to take to avoid being a hypocrite.

I refuse to compromise on my belief that everyone has the right to live their own lives, free from the oppressive conformity of society. And marriage equality is just one step in a greater battle and, indeed, just the start of the slippery slope. There's nothing wrong with progress when it's done to strengthen our liberty. 

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Saturday, 23 June 2012

A New Danger From Civil Partnerships?

Opponents to marriage equality from both the LGBT community and the anti-LGBT groupings often complain that LGBT folk don't need marriage because they already have civil partnerships which gives them all the rights they need.

If we ignore the obvious argument that this isn't quite true, we must face the fact that civil partnerships (as a separate institution) allow politicians to far more easily undermine those rights at any time. This week this is exactly what has happened in Queensland, Australia.

Unlike with marriage where LGBT folk are either "allowed" access to this institution or forbidden it (and sometime forbidden after being allowed such as in California, USA), the separate institution of civil partnerships allows politicians to tinker with which rights they will allow and which they won't at any time without consequence for the majority of the population of their jurisdiction.

This puts LGBT people's relationships at far greater risk than when covered by a gender neutral marriage law. It's far harder to demote LGBT's marriages to some sort of "not quite marriage" at any moment without risking legally undermining all marriages. Sure you can ban same-sex marriages completely but even then, in most cases, marriages performed before the ban are left unaffected. It'd take a cruel politician to destroy someone's marriage after the event! But in the case of civil partnerships it seems quite acceptable for politicians to giveth and then taketh away willy-nilly.

Another compelling reason to fight for marriage equality instead of (or as well as) civil partnerships.

There is, of course, an even better way to protect relationships from Government meddling.

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Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Equal Marriage Debate FAQ

There are a number of false assumptions and misunderstandings doing the rounds on the internet and, sadly, in news studios the country over. I hope to answer some of the serious questions and concerns people have about marriage equality in order to make things a little clearer. 

Would legalising same-sex marriage force churches to carry out ceremonies whether they wanted to or not? 

(As asked by Guy Fawkes here)

Firstly consider that, at this stage of the debate, the Government has no official plans to allow ANY legal same-sex marriages to be carried out on religious premises. They have specifically planned this so as to ensure churches aren't forced to carry out any marriage they don't want to.

But it would be disingenuous of me not to admit that most people arguing for marriage equality do want  religious organisations to be allowed to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies. That is quite different to wanting to force all religious organisations to do so, something that the Law Society says won't happen if religious marriage equality ever became a reality in the future. Religious same-sex marriage would strengthen religious liberty not destroy it.

Many lay people seem to be very concerned, mainly due to some rather suspect comments by the large churches, that no religion is forced to do something it doesn't want to. Rightly so. That is not going to happen under the current proposals, especially considering the current proposals only concern civil marriage.

Also, for those who think marriage is a purely religious institution, there's a fantastic brief history of marriage in the UK here.

Many people, including gay people, think there's no need for marriage equality. Aren't civil partnerships good enough?

(As suggested by Ben Bradshaw and Andrew Pierce)

Civil partnerships were, I'll admit, a great step forward in protecting the private lives of LGB couples. Without it we'd still be living in a country where hospital visits could be denied, homophobic families able to force partners out of funeral arrangements for their other halves and many other nasty things. Civil partnerships were a plaster to heal some very deep wounds.

But, as I've stated many times before, there are differences in the rights and responsibilities bestowed by civil partnerships and marriage. They are not the same. And the separation unfairly affects transgendered people and their partners.

This is not an argument about semantics, nor about "gay people stealing our words" as some might put it. We do not want marriage because we want to upset heterosexuals, we need it to give us the same rights as opposite-sex couples.

Why do you prefer "marriage equality" to gay marriage? Are you trying to make it sound more acceptable?

I've seen this a few times, mainly in Telegraph and Daily Mail articles, and I'm never more amazed by this obsession with language. I don't stop people saying gay marriage, but I prefer marriage equality (or same-sex marriage depending on the circumstance) as it's more factually correct. Bisexuals aren't gay. Transgendered people might not be gay and this issue is about them too. Gay marriage is so simplistic and takes away from the fact we don't want a separate new form of marriage but just to be allowed the current type... i.e. "marriage".

So no, I didn't adopt it because it sounds more acceptable and, in fact, it's often a hindrance as people might not get what I'm talking about. But it is correct and thus it'll stay.

What other questions could people, genuinely, have? Let me know in the comments below.

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Saturday, 16 June 2012

Ann Widdecombe's Wrong. Again.

Ann Widdecombe has held a webchat on gransnet in which we got this gem.

Presumably you are opposed to gay marriage? What would you say to a mother like me, whose son would desperately like to marry his partner and who feels that he should have the same rights as her daughter.  
I can never understand why the very people who support marriage as a source of social stability would wish to deny this to one group. Surely it would be better to include gay men and women (where they want to be included) then to push them out into the cold?  
I would say that your son would not gain anything from civil marriage that he does not already have in a civil partnership. But under the proposals, your daughter would lose the right to describe herself, legally, as a wife.
This is almost certainly based on the reports earlier this year that legislation will need to be amended if equal marriage went through to ensure the laws were actually going to be applicable to all marriages. This might involve instances of "husband" and "wife" being removed. Now firstly this may not have to happen, as amending all legislation would be a near impossible task, so I suspect some sort of typically British fudge will occur.

No one is going to have to stop calling themselves a "wife" or a "husband". I'm pretty sure those terms will still be used in courts of law across the land. If/when I marry my other half he shall be my husband. The idea there's some secret conspiracy by LGBT activists to destroy marriage by the trojan house of "equal marriage" is one best left for the tin-foil hat brigade.

It's not something one expects from a former MP. But then again one of her old colleagues Roger Gale thinks Shakespeare will be rewritten once marriage equality is achieved! It takes allsorts I suppose.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

It's Okay To Be Homophobic If You're Gay, Part Two

Two years ago Andrew Pierce outed himself as a homophobe, one who believed that you can't be a homophobe if you are gay. This of course is a ridiculous proposition. Now he's come out with a more direct challenge in his most recent article's title: I’m a gay man who opposes gay marriage. Does that make ME a bigot, Mr Cameron?

Well I think the obvious answer to this is no, it doesn't but you are one anyway. Your hatred of "camp men", your disdain for the truth and the fact you think your sexuality trumps criticism suggests you are indeed a homophobe.

Disdain for the truth?, I hear you ask incredulously. Firstly in this most recent article he uses the same tired phrase of other homophobes; "metropolitan elite". This from a man who lives in Belsize Park! The idea that marriage equality is some secret plan of the queer toffs belies the fact that the people pushing this (such as Peter Tatchell) aren't exactly part of that "elite". And our opposition (including, in the past, such champagne socialists as Ben Summerskill and Chris Bryant) has often come from the very grouping supposedly in support!

He then moves on to quote Ben Bradshaw's (another elite me thinks) ill-thought out comments on marriage equality, without then pointing out Bradshaw will, ultimately, support the move!! Such deception!

But his final move is breath-taking in it's audacity.

Even gay rights campaigners are puzzled by the Prime Minister’s conversion to the cause. Stonewall, a powerful pressure group for gay equality, has not called for gay marriage.  
While the organisation — of which I’m proud to be a member — supports the idea of gay marriage, its priority remains tackling homophobia in schools after research showed that gay men in the 16-to-24 age group are significantly more likely to have attempted suicide than other young men. 
Stonewall did adopt that position.... in 2009! It is now very much attempting to steal the spotlight and "lead" the marriage equality campaign. There's even a whole campaign now!

So even if there's an argument that Andrew Pierce isn't a bigot, I think there's quite a clear argument that he's not to be trusted.

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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Thank You Church Of England; You're Really Helping Marriage Equality!

Last month I wrote a piece thanking the opponents of marriage equality for helping push forward marriage equality. Today I think we saw a rather grand example of this in the current controversy caused by the Church of England's response to the Government's marriage equality consultation.

The Church of England has been trending all day on Twitter and the vast majority of tweets have been negative towards the position they have taken. Various people have used the opportunity to spread the link to the consultation which finishes on Thursday, and I've seen a great number of people announcing they have completed the survey just to counter what the Church of England have said.

Meanwhile my blog hits on my marriage equality posts have gone right up as people have been searching to answer their questions about the differences between marriage and civil partnerships.

It's been an exercise in how to rile up even more hitherto neutral people against the position you are trying to promote. Thank you Church of England, you've really helped us get our message out there and kept our supporters angry enough to keep on pushing this forward.

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Despite Church of England scaremongering, there are important legal implications caused by marriage equality

The Church of England is up to it's usual game of playing up being an established church yet undermining Her Majesty's Government whenever they can. Seriously, if you are going to be a state church then you have to toe the line. If you want, quite reasonably, to be able to criticise the Government then perhaps disestablishment isn't a risk but an opportunity?

Regardless of their less than sensitive or subtle way of making their case, we must accept there are important implications, to them and others, from the legalisation of equal marriage. Right now, as the current plans stand, legislation shall be written undermining religious freedom (not that the big churches care as it only undermines other people's religious freedom) by denying religious organisations the right to hold legally valid same-sex marriage ceremonies. However, it is unclear how the Government plans to work around the fact that we have an established church who currently has a duty to marry any Anglican (and often anyone in general) within a parish who wants it.

I've expressed before my concerns that the way the Government is pursuing marriage equality risks not only leaving both sides of the debate unhappy but creating a legal fudge that may leave religious organisations open to being forced to marry people the organisation doesn't want to.

As disestablishment, my preferred option that would make the task of introducing marriage equality far easier, is unlikely in the extreme it is clear we need to look at other examples of how to move forward.

The consensus on Twitter seems to be a rather radical (for our conservative isles) move of removing the function of civil marriages from all religious bodies. Akin to France, or some American states, the civil component would be performed in a registry office and then any religious element would be up to the couple and religious organisations as a completely private matter.Whilst I think this would be a huge step in the right direction I still don't think it addresses the fact that we have a state church.

The other option is to follow what Denmark has very recently done. Denmark, like us, has an established church (one in full communion with the Church of England!). There no priest will be forced to marry a same-sex couple. However, as it is a state church and one that actually appears to understand it's place, same-sex couples have the right to a marriage in their local church but a supportive priest would need to be found (with the help of the unwilling one!) to carry out the service. This seems more in keeping with the Church of England's position in our society, and whilst it's not one I like I think it's the way forward. If the Church of England really wants to remain as an established church then it needs to start acting like one. They won't like this idea, of course, as the Church of England is far too independently minded to really remain as our state church any longer. But perhaps this idea might make them reconsider their role once and for all.

Then other churches will be free to decide whether or not they want to perform such ceremonies, which would be a huge win for religious freedom in our country.

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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Men's Rights Activisits: Should I Hate Them?

I'm a man. Brought up by two strong, independent women. I've never really seen women as anything other than equal to men. In fact I find gender politics confusing. Why anyone would expect all women to be the same is beyond me (i.e. expect them to "stay in the kitchen" etc.) but conversely I don't appreciate certain people acting as if all men are sexual perverts and violent monsters. I find this "us vs. them" approach crazy. Some men are bad people. Some women are bad people. When will we just accept this?

And yet the idea that there is some vast chasm of difference between the genders is deeply ingrained into our society. Our advertising plays this up hugely, often casting women only as mothers who have to look after their men who are portrayed as helpless child-like creatures or there's the other side of the coin is that women are overly emotional, confusing people as shown in the advert below:


And this Mitchell and Webb piece is amusingly spot on.


Or how about how this piece on male stripping which suffers from a great deal of cognitive dissonance.
Why do men strip? Why the hell not? Not for them the ominous low-lit venues and sexual vulnerability of female stripping; when it comes to men taking their clothes off, they're the ones in charge.
Because all women who choose to do this are all victims, forced into stripping as they have no option and are completely at the mercy of drunken men? Is that what this piece is trying to say, that no self-respecting woman would do this sort of thing but men knock yourselves out?
But do the boys ever feel exploited? "Definitely not," he insists. "Physically speaking, they're stronger than their audience, which creates a different power dynamic than with female strippers. These guys like showing off and frankly, I don't think they mind being objectified. That's precisely what they enjoy." It's hard to imagine that male stripping, though seemingly far less demeaning than its female counterpart, doesn't involve some kind of Faustian pact. Surely anything that requires you to 'drop trou' for a living must have consequences. What, for example, do the boys do when their looks go?
Less demeaning than female stripping because the male strippers can beat people up? That seems to be the argument here. Men finding women getting naked attractive = disgusting, women finding men getting naked attractive (and being "rowdy") = all in the name of fun. That's the message I'm getting from this article. 

Maybe it's because I'm gay and have little vested interest in this sort of sexual politics but I just don't get it. It's just like the cognitive dissonance in debates over porn

I have a major problem with some forms of feminism for just the reasons above, that they seek to paint all men as potential aggressors and all women as potential victims. So sometimes I read stuff from Men's Rights Activists pointing out the excesses of some feminists and I find myself agreeing with them. Some times pieces on blogs like A Voice For Men have a core that I can agree with.

But then the problems start. They do the thing which they accuse some radical feminists of doing, they take things to the extremes. They moan about how awful it is that women aren't back in the home or insult women using slurs. Often the answer to a serious question (such as why there is hardly a groundswell of demands for equality on the front line where men are still mostly expected to risk their lives [thankfully the Senior Service is a little more enlightened than the army]) descends into misogyny of the first order. As someone who wants true equality, it is very uncomfortable reading some of the stuff put out by some MRAs.

Where is the Voice for Sane People blog? I don't want this "us vs. them" debate any more. It serves only to keep society trapped in some backwards abyss. Men and women who believe in equality need to start speaking to each other. Women's rights still have a long way to go and a lot of minds still need to be changed to ensure the safety and well-being of women in this country. But the dismissive way men who ask pertinent, sensible questions are treated by well-meaning women's rights activists cause a great deal of resentment. We need to work together, to fight for true equality for all.

So I think I do hate most MRAs. I hate them just the way I hate most radical feminists, they are divisive and unhelpful. Can we have some sanity please?

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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Slave Labour For Her Majesty's Jubilee? Heads Must Roll

I don't think I need to remind you that I'm a royalist, and I absolutely adore the Jubilee. Driving through the villages of west Kent yesterday I was thrilled to see all the bunting and village parties. Flags were flying and children were having fun, nothing better for a Bank Holiday weekend national celebration.

But perhaps what you may not know is just how despicable I find "Workfare". As someone with libertarian sympathies I find the concept of the Government forcing people to work quite appalling. It is nothing but slave labour, in my opinion.  

So I was somewhat aghast this morning to see this story in the Guardian.

Firstly, and most importantly, is the way in which we are treating unemployed people as slave labour. It's bad enough making them go to work for no pay, but forcing them to camp out? I had never even considered that as an option. Who thought that making people do work they probably don't want to do AND camp out in the cold was a reasonable thing to do in 21st century Britain?

Secondly, and with quite worrying in its indications of the stupidity of those who arranged these workfare workers, who signed off on this? Her Majesty and Her Household have been VERY careful to avoid controversy. They have avoided using public money to pay for the Jubilee as much as possible. I am quite convinced nobody in a position of responsibility in the Royal Household would have signed off on this, due to the bad PR this would lead to. Because this is AWFUL PR. Someone has brought Her Majesty into disrepute here by tying her Diamond Jubilee celebrations with the extremely controversial Workfare scheme. This shows a level of idiocy I never could have imagined.

Someone is responsible for this. Someone must be held accountable because abusing the unemployed in this way and at the same time bringing our monarch into murky political waters is perhaps the most intolerable thing I've seen in the UK in a long time.

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Friday, 1 June 2012

Her Majesty: An Avatar For The Better Angels of Our Nature

This isn't going to convince a republican. In fact I wouldn't try to convince a republican as, and I've said this before, I'm mostly convinced by the more rational republican arguments. My love of the monarchy is wholly irrational.

But I wanted to say a little something about what I think is the best quality of Her Majesty; that is that she embodies our better qualities.

In the world of Second Life, users create avatars for themselves based, usually, not on what they actually look or act like but as they would wish to be. They use these avatars as their "front" to meet others, to interact and explore.

Her Majesty is the avatar of the United Kingdom. She is compelled by protocol and tradition to represent the better qualities of our nation. She, and her forebears, are stoic when faced with disaster. Polite and courteous no matter the situation. Strong yet not aggressive. Humble (in manner if not in more material matters) yet not grovelling. We send Her Majesty as our avatar to other countries to put our best foot forward and use her to greet the good and the great who visit us.

No greater example of this can there be than in the events surrounding the death of the Princess of Wales. When our country mourned (I won't get into my feelings on those events!), we forced her to adapt to our requirements, to grieve a little more publicly than she would have liked to personally. She is not a free agent, but is the beating heart of our country.

Of course this is not a surprise, at her coronation she swore to serve our country. Her office is not of ruler but as a representative of something larger than her and than us all, of something a politician can't embody for more than a short time. She is our history and our nations soul given a body and allowed to walk among us.

That, I believe, is why Her Majesty is so special, for she has taken these duties upon herself with never a public complaint or an urge to stamp her own personal beliefs upon the institution. And it's also why it's always sad to see people try and bring her into political matters.

For 60 years she has served us, and served us well. I wish her many more years on the throne!!

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