Thursday, 30 August 2012

Catholic Hypocrisy Over LGBT Issues, Education and Marriage Equality

Peter Kearney, a director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, only recently suggested that marriage equality would lead to teachers being sacked for expressing moral views. It's not a frivolous suggestion given past experience and I have the tiniest little bit of sympathy for him on this (although my views on freedom and employment are best summed up in this excellent article from the Law Society Gazette).

However I was slightly amused to see this news story break within days of his comments. A pro-marriage equality (or at least an anti-anti-marriage equality) teacher at a Catholic college has been suspended for taking issue with his Principal's stance on the matter. So do Catholic's only value free speech and moral values when they are their own? Would it be right for Catholic teachers at secular schools to have the promotion of their own personal moral values protected but not at a Catholic school? I'd love to know where Peter Kearney stands on this story!!

The same issue holds true for this story about a new Catholic school in Cornwall. The educational ethos there goes something like this:

"The whole population is taught that homosexuality is fine and children should accept they can have two mums or dads but they should not be taught that nonsense. It is not right"
Yeah that is nonsense but, of course, teaching Jesus was born of a Virgin makes perfect sense.

Again we must ask: will it be okay for a teacher there to teach about marriage equality or some similar issue in a positive manner and express a personal opinion in favour of it? Or would that be something they'd need to be spoken to about? The article suggests they have a rather strict policy on exactly what moral values can be taught but this opens up the question of why it's okay for them to restrict free speech and not secular Government run schools.

It all stinks of rank hypocrisy. Either schools should set the guidelines or it should be a free for all. None of this having your cake and eating it too!

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Polyamory Is On The March Again In The Americas

Polyamory (or polygamy as the media prefers) is back in the news again. Three people have managed to get a civil union approved by a Brazilian notary. Rather puts paid to the slippery slope argument of anti-marriage equality folks, it is their (suddenly beloved) civil partnerships they need to be careful of!

Sadly, rather than prompting a discussion on legal protections for "unconventional" (as if any relationship is conventional) relationships, it has unleashed the fear and loathing of the Brazilian Christian community. I know it is to be expected but I am still always somewhat taken aback at the level of disapproval some busybodies express for the lives of others.

This comes as the Brown family, of "Sister Wives" fame, prepare to launch a law suit to have the rather regressive laws of Utah overturned. Full disclosure: I love "Sister Wives". It is a touching, interesting and amusing look at a way of life that is outside of my personal experience. Plus the four wives are hilarious, intelligent and strong. I love them all.

The case for polyamory in Utah is immensely complicated. As you, Dear Constant Reader, know I have a fascination with the history of the Latter-day Saint movement. It is compelling stuff. The baggage of that history, of their embracing of polygyny, of the persecution they suffered for it and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' eventual surrender of that practice hangs over the heads of those who continue to practice "The Principle" today. And, at the same time, the actions of a large number of groups and individuals who have (or had) polygynous relationships bring a nasty taste to the mere mention of polygamy. Domestic abuse, child abuse, benefit "fraud" (it's complicated....) and quite a number of other issues continue to occur in many of the Mormon fundamentalist groups. However I think it is clear polyamory doesn't make people bad and the issues that lead to the problems described above are not going to just suddenly occur because two women live with a man. There are deeper problems within those communities that need to be faced but they won't be until everyone moves beyond "POLYGAMY IS EVIL!!"

In Utah the argument is not about legal recognition. It is about simply being allowed to live AS a married couple with someone (not as a legal married couple) when one is already legally married. That is why instead of using marriage equality as an example, the Browns are focussing more on Lawrence v. Texas. Drawing parallels with (or even laying blame on) the marriage equality movement is a tad simplistic. In the USA gay people can now live together as a couple but in many places polyamorous people can't. In Utah the fight for polygyny really is a fight for freedom.

Polyamorous marriages and civil unions prompt dismay not just from spiteful religious people hellbent on forcing everyone to live how they want them to live, but also from more thoughtful and respectful commentators. They bring to light many of the issues some of us have with the way Government's deal with relationship rights and the control the Government has over our personal affairs. The way marriage is set up makes legal polyamorous marriage nigh impossible. And that is why I find polyamory so utterly fascinating. If same-sex marriage will open up marriage to everyone, polyamory might be the thing that finally forces the Government out of marriage completely. It is unlikely to be an issue here in the UK for quite some time (and the Coalition is working on closing down loopholes recognising foreign polyamorous marriages) but it is going to be interesting to watch where the battles in Utah and the coming one in Brazil (as the forces of conformity try desperately to claw back control) take us.

I set out my agenda two years ago. Personal freedom to make relationship contracts is the goal. If same-sex marriage will bring equality, polyamorous marriage might well bring us all liberty.

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Sunday, 26 August 2012

Remember When The Catholics Were The Ones Accused Of "Subversion"?

"As to papists, what has been said of the Protestant dissenters would hold equally strong for a general toleration of them; provided their separation was founded only upon difference of opinion in religion, and their principles did not also extend to a subversion of the civil government. If once they could be brought to renounce the supremacy of the pope, they might quietly enjoy their seven sacraments, their purgatory, and auricular confession; their worship of relics and images; nay even their transubstantiation. But while they acknowledge a foreign power, superior to the sovereignty of the kingdom, they cannot complain if the laws of that kingdom will not treat them upon the footing of good subjects." - William Blackstone
It is sometimes hard to remember that the Catholic population of our country is still not fully equal to anybody else. This is plain to see in the Acts of Succession. Thankfully this final left-over from the anti-Catholic laws will soon be removed and Catholics will be able to say they are finally equal citizens with the rest of us.

Awful things were done to Catholics in the past in this country (and, of course, awful things were done by them when they briefly returned to power). Things we should never forget. Sadly it would appear that some Catholics have forgotten their past persecution and now seek to persecute those of us who they dislike. The boot is sadly on the other foot now.

Cardinal O’Brien said: “The Church’s teaching on marriage is unequivocal, it is uniquely, the union of a man and a woman and it is wrong that Governments, politicians or Parliaments should seek to alter or destroy that reality. With this letter we will announce the creation of a National Commission for Marriage and the Family, a body which will be charged with promoting the true nature of marriage, it will develop an online prescence and produce materials and organise events which will help Catholic families to support and sustain marriage. While we pray that our elected leaders will sustain rather than subvert marriage, we promise to continue to do everything we can to convince them that redefining marriage would be wrong for society.” 
Let us try not to persecute the Catholics when they lose their self-declared "war" (totally Christian language as always) and instead defend their rights to religious freedom. That will be the sweetest of victories indeed.

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National Marriage Sunday Renews The Campaign Against LGBT People In Scotland

I believe that some people who have concerns about marriage equality are not homophobic. Whilst it is hard for those of us who are personally affected by their opposition to accept this, I think it is something we should remember. Know thy enemy after all!

But when it comes to opposition from the upper echelon of the Catholic Church's command structure, I feel that the "We aren't homophobic!" line is completely without merit. Today, in Scotland, they have declared it to be National Marriage Sunday and propose to form a new group against marriage equality known as the National Commission for Marriage and the Family. Yet we know just how their arguments will go...

Item: People 'should not act on homosexual feelings', says Catholic spokesman

Their insistence that they are just concerned about their religious freedom and protecting "true marriage" is shown clearly to be a lie. Their campaign against marriage equality is rooted in personal and religious distaste for LGBT people. But it's not like they are trying to hide that...

Item: Scottish Catholics: Homosexuality cuts lifespan by up to 20 years

They are often reluctant to share the sources of these figures but the 20 years figure is a dead give away. That suggests they are using this 2005 study which is based, and this is excellent stuff, on a study of obituaries. Even a younger version of me worked out how that might be an incredibly flawed way of working.

And of course whether our "lifestyle" leads to a shorter lifespan is rather irrelevant to this debate. We do not decide who gets to marry based on how long they have to live, would the church ban a woman from marrying a man with HIV/AIDS?

Item: In reversal, Catholic Church backs ‘Kill the Gays’ bill

After previously opposing the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a Catholic Archbishop and other Christian leaders have called for it to be put back on to the Parliamentary agenda. Although this may be because the death penalty part is now being downplayed, the bill remains repugnant.

Lest you think I have some hatred towards the Catholic church and Catholics in general, I don't. I have a problem with the leadership. I'm picking on them today as they are the ones who will be spreading a message of hate in their church services today disguised as "concern". There are individuals within the church who support marriage equality and some polls show a majority of Catholics (in Scotland) support it too! We must reach out to those people and ask them to reach out to their leadership and point them in the right direction.

But be under no doubt... the Catholic church leadership do not oppose marriage equality out of some high-minded matter of principle. They do so because they despise LGBT people and our relationships. I wish I could make our opponents imagine how they would feel if not only were they told their relationship with their loved one was sick but that people ACTIVELY tried to destroy that relationship and make them live a life of celibacy. Unfortunately, because many in the Catholic hierarchy do live a life of celibacy, this may be too great a leap of imagination and empathy.

I'll leave you with this.... when the representative of the Catholic church spends almost a whole debate on the matter of whether teachers will be sacked because of their views on marriage equality (as in the first link above), you know they are losing the argument. They are desperate and I'm concerned this will lead to further hateful remarks as they try to scaremonger.

Religious freedom must be protected, and if only the Catholic church and other religious opponents would work with the Scottish Government and marriage equality campaigners there might be a good chance it actually will be!

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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Anti-Marriage Equality Campaigners Should Be Making Hay, But They Aren't

Sometimes the United Kingdom feels, to me, like a very conservative place. I often imagine it is inhabited by a bunch of Ann Widdecombe types. And so I have often made the same mistake anti-marriage equality campaigners have, in my opinion, made; to imagine marriage equality would be an incredibly uphill struggle and maybe impossible for some time to come. But it is becoming increasingly clear that, to my great relief, I and their are quite, quite wrong.

Thankfully my pessimism led simply to me fighting harder, unfortunately for them the anti-marriage equality campaigners have allowed their optimism to make them slack.

I started to realise that something was up when they started releasing their polls. It seemed obvious then that they realised the polls weren't going to go in their favour. Just look at the questions on this July ComRes poll just as an example. No where do they ask the straightforward question regarding whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Why the roundabout way of phrasing things? Because polls show that, when asked directly, a majority do back same-sex marriage (or at least do not oppose it).

I think this lack of interest is shown clearly in the response to the Coalition for Marriage's petition. It has had, to date, 596236 signatures. This is after a very concerted campaign to get people to sign it in churches, schools and places of work. In 2005 the church-going population of this country was 3.2 million people and, if that article is to be believed, that number is on the rise. So the petition represents a mere 18% of C4M's target demographic! In terms of overall population that isn't even 1%. This is hardly an uprising against marriage equality and really should have alerted these campaigners to the fact they could not simply rely on the same old arguments to win hearts and minds to their cause.

But it hasn't. What have we had instead? Well they've ignored the huge differences between the USA and the UK and decided to use some very Christian American arguments.

Take, for example, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children's now infamous leaflet. In what may be one of the most ill-conceived tactical moves ever, they decided to link marriage equality to an increase in abortions. In a country like the USA, where abortion is a very divisive issue, this totally bogus claim may have won some pro-life waverers over to the anti-marriage equality cause. But here in the UK, a country where the issue is far more settled, linking these two social issues causes at best a confused guffaw and at worst actively makes people angry enough at your deception that you push them further into the pro-marriage equality camp. It's the perfect example of this in action.

That argument is not one that is going to reach out and convince people. It's preaching to the converted and it turns people off.

Or look at Anglican Mainstream's linking to these, rather disturbing, 77 non-religious reasons to support man/woman marriage. This leaflet suggests that marriage equality will lead to early on-set menstruation for girls and thus high risks of breast cancer, juvenile delinquency and the exile of Mennonites (among other things). Now, I don't mean to state the obvious, but these are not the sort of arguments that are going to win over to you the vast majority of the population of this country. The central argument of this leaflet, and most anti-marriage equality arguments come to that, is that marriage is a child-centric institution. This it definitely was in the past. This argument has some justification, even if I can't see how that stops same-sex partners from getting married (I want to marry a man with 4 children, one of whom lives with us, so my life is hardly child free!). Anyway, this is not the sort of argument that will hold much water in this country.

In case no one had noticed procreation and marriage have drifted apart over the years and now happen quite separately. A great number of people now have children out of wedlock. These people may later marry, be it to the father/mother of their child or to someone else. Marriage is seen as a sign of commitment more often to each other than to one's future family and as an expression of romantic love. If you talk to someone about marrying so that they can have children they may well regard you as if you had spoken to them in Mandarin.

And that is the crux of the matter. Anti-marriage equality arguments are happening an echo chamber, watched from outside only by us marriage equality folks who get all indignant about them. They are failing to resonant with the population at large and are not winning over the "don't give a damn"s. There are ways, none of them virtuous might I add, I can think of that they could easily reach out to those people but I'm not here to win the argument for my opponents. It fills me with a great deal of joy to see the own goals and poor strategy of our opponents and to see that they just aren't bothering to try to connect with those outside their

Meanwhile over here in marriage equality land we have campaigns such as Out4Marriage which, through testimonials and famous talking heads, is trying to engage the majority with touchy-feely (i.e. rather effective) arguments about love, commitment and fairness. And that is why our argument has come from nowhere at the start of 2010 to prospective legislation in Holyrood and Westminster in 2012, because we haven't just kept talking to each other, but reaching out and convincing others.

That is why we are winning. Let us keep up the good fight and hope our foes don't realise their error.

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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Impressive Rebuttal Of Typical Anti-Marriage Equality Arguments

Those evil members of the Pink Mafia/metropolitan gay elite at C4EM have found this very thorough article calling for marriage equality: A Plea In Law For Equal Marriage. Check it out!

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Sunday, 19 August 2012

7 Non-Religious Arguments Against Marriage Equality And Their Flaws

After seeing the terrible arguments put forward by the SPUC, I thought I would start checking out other organisation's arguments against marriage equality. I immediately stumbled upon this page from the Christian Medical Fellowship which purports to offer strong arguments against marriage equality that would appeal to those with no faith. It is good to see them trying to move beyond religious arguments, which only work on those with a shared belief, and try to argue more generally. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly given my bias, I found these arguments to be extremely thin. So I thought I'd deal with them one by one.
1. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Marriage has existed in virtually all cultures for thousands of years and has been recognised in our own laws as the 'voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others for life' (Hyde v Hyde 1866). It is not up to governments to redefine marriage – but simply to recognise it for what it is, and to promote and protect it as a unique institution. Same-sex marriage is an oxymoron, like a four wheeled bicycle or a two storey bungalow. 
Reason number one, and we encounter our first fallacy (you would have thought they'd hide it a bit better). The appeal to tradition. I really don't think this is a powerful argument against marriage equality at all. Marriage equality could be a bad thing for society but whether it is does not hinge on our society's previous views on marriage and thus both ancient tradition and modern tradition are irrelevant.

This argument also suggests that it is Government alone that can redefine marriage yet this appears to be happening in society as a whole anyway.
2. Same sex couples already have civil partnerships. All the legal rights of marriage are already available to same-sex couples through civil partnerships so there is no need to redefine marriage to include them. The President of the Family Division of the High Court in England and Wales has described civil partnerships as conferring 'the benefits of marriage in all but name'. Marriage and civil partnerships have been designed for two very different types of relationship and should be kept distinct. 
I feel I've pointed out before how "the benefits of marriage in all but name" idea is not entirely true and also why the "Civil Partnerships Are Enough" argument is simply not good enough. I won't repeat myself here except to say this argument is one we can now put to bed.
3. Redefining marriage without consultation is undemocratic. None of the political leaders who are supporting the legalisation of same-sex marriage announced it as a priority in their election manifestos. There is already a huge amount of opposition to the move and pressing ahead with legalisation will lead to considerable dissension and division. Legalising same-sex marriage to appease a small minority is wrong and it should not be foisted on the British people without proper consultation about whether rather than how it should be done. 
Talk about a false proposition. Undemocratic is a very loaded term and open to a great deal of interpretation. We are not a direct democracy nor is our democracy based on delegation, it is what is known as a representative democracy. This means that at each election people choose to elect someone to take responsibility for making legislative decisions on their behalf. Manifestos are guidelines allowing people to vote for who they feel will best represent them. They are not a binding contract (as the Lib Dems have shown!).

None of the three major parties declared marriage equality OFF the agenda. Surely, if we use the CMF's own flawed argument, that would suggest that most people aren't concerned about it? Personally I don't think that is the case but once you start going down this silly route there are plenty of things you can make up about what people feel based on who and what they voted for at the General Election.

Finally both David Cameron and Nick Clegg made it clear during the election campaign that marriage equality was up for debate. Does that render this entire argument rather moot?
4. Protecting traditional marriage is good for children and society. Stable marriages and families headed by a mother and a father are the bedrock of society and the state has a duty to protect the uniqueness of these key institutions. There is considerable evidence (2) to show that marriage leads to better family relationships, less economic dependence, better physical health and longevity, improved mental health and emotional well-being, and reduced crime and domestic violence. Same-sex marriage, in comparison with marriage, is an unproven and experimental social model. 
Given the fact same-sex couples are already parents (sometimes through previous relationships, sometimes through a choice they have made together), surely giving those children and parents access to this incredibly powerful and important institution would be of benefit to them and to society as a whole?

I have to say that this paragraph is illustrative of why marriage equality is so important, especially for the children of same-sex couples. I fail to see how this is meant to persuade people that forcing some families not to have these unique benefits is good for society!

Marriage has been shown to have some key health benefits for same-sex couples, their children and LGBT teens.

5. Marriage is a unique biologically complementary relationship. Marriage is the only legal union which can naturally lead to children. The fact that there is a natural link between sexual intimacy and procreation is what makes marriage distinctive and different. Redefining marriage will undermine this distinctness and difference and risks normalising technological intervention in reproduction. 
Another logical fallacy? Seriously bad stuff. The appeal to nature.

Also marriage is not a "unique biologically complementary relationship". For it to be uniquely biologically complementary then all other relationships (unmarried, "temporary" [I'm being polite]) would not be biologically complementary which would surely mean pregnancy couldn't happen? Sexual intimacy and procreation happen within and without the marriage setting, thus are not distinctive to marriage. Marriage is only unique in the benefits it confers upon those relationships it covers, and thus "redefining" marriage (see a little bit of a history of marriage in the UK before using that term again) is only right if it is to extend those benefits to other relationships.

Even if we were to allow that marriage should only be extended to those relationships where there is a reasonable chance that those relationships will lead to responsibility for children then there is still no argument here about not allowing equal marriage.
6. Redefining marriage will be complex and expensive. Redefining marriage could cost billions and involve amending hundreds of pieces of government legislation. The word 'marriage' appears 3,258 times in UK legislation, which underlines the central role the institution plays in national law. Introducing same-sex marriage is a legal can of worms (3) which cannot be achieved without changing the common and legal definition of the word marriage and other words which define it (eg. 'husband and wife', 'consummation' and 'adultery'). These changes will inevitably change the definition and nature of marriage for opposite sex couples by trying to accommodate these two very different kinds of relationship under one legal umbrella. 
Here, at last, is one we can all agree on. It will be. The reason for this is because marriage (unlike civil partnerships) is treated with a great deal of importance and has implications upon relationships and society that are almost beyond measure. This only goes to show how important it is to allow all loving relationships that might involve shared responsibility for children to share in the benefits and responsibilities of marriage.
7. Redefining marriage will lead to faith-based discrimination. We have already seen a rising tide of discrimination against people who support traditional marriage as a result of the legalisation of civil partnerships coupled with new equality legislation. If same-sex marriage is legalised it would inevitably impact on other areas of law, such as health, education, adoption and employment, and place people from faith groups at risk of marginalisation, exclusion and litigation. 
Now this is a very important point to consider, but the "will lead" in the proposition should really be "may lead". It is definitely a danger and one that we must fight to avoid. If religious organisations would only work with LGBT campaigners and the Government in drafting the necessary protections it is a danger that is easily avoided. I implore those who wish to defend their religious freedom to work WITH us in changing the law so that they can continue to be allowed their freedom of conscience without forcing other religions to be denied theirs.

But how this is an argument against marriage equality I don't know.

What do you think?

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Thursday, 16 August 2012

SPUC Take Coalition For Marriage Positions Off The Deep End

Today I've seen something that made me laugh and then gape in shocked amazement. It was a picture on Twitter of an anti-marriage equality poster.

I laughed because it seemed so outlandish as to suggest a fake, but then I found it was actually a real thing which stopped the laughing quite quickly. So before we break down its arguments let us just check we all know what we are dealing with.

The SPUC is the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children which, it goes almost without saying, is a pro-life organisation. Last year, according to its about us page, it decided marriage equality was related to its goals of protecting the unborn.

Now let's look at the flyer:

Firstly note their use of a wedding photo ripped in half. What are they implying with that picture? That marriage equality would lead to actual marriages being destroyed? It seems bizarre to have that picture there to be honest as if I marrying Jim might lead to someone getting a divorce. 

Now let's move on to what they say. "Don't let politicians destroy real marriage" is very misleading. In what way does marriage equality undermine, let alone destroy, "real marriage" (which they define as the marriage between one man and one woman)? Can someone please explain this to me? There is nothing, not one thing, in the current marriage equality proposals at Westminster or Holyrood that would lead to men and women not being able to marry each other. 

Now what I would assume is that this just a highly emotive way of saying that marriage equality will somehow lead to an increase in divorce and broken homes. That is a testable hypothesis. Let us look at one study, which you can see in full here:

The results above show that laws permitting same-sex marriage or civil unions have no adverse effect on marriage, divorce, and abortion rates, the percent of children born out of wedlock, or the percent of households with children under 18 headed by women. Laws permitting same-sex marriage or civil unions may even raise marriage rates, and reduce abortions and the percent of female-headed households with children, even after controlling for many confounding variables and state and year fixed effects. Laws banning same-sex unions, if they are of long duration, generally appear also to have beneficial effects since they are associated with fewer abortions and female-headed households with children, but the seemingly beneficial effects of these laws appear to complement the effects of permitting same sex unions. (There is also evidence that short duration bans are significantly but weakly related to fewer divorces.)  
We cannot say that we have disproved the existence of a link between laws permitting gay marriage and a negative impact on ‘‘family values’’ indicators, but we can say that no such link is demonstrated in the data that we analyzed here. Permitting gay marriage does no harm, and making it legal may even be beneficial, since it seems to raise marriage rates, reduce abortions, and reduce the chance that children grow up in single-headed households. We believe it is incumbent upon those that posit a link between permitting gay marriage and harm to families and children to put forth evidence that supports their claims about same-sex marriage rights, especially when confronted with evidence that directly refutes their claims.
Perhaps they have access to other studies. A quick check of their background paper and position paper on the issue reveals nothing to suggest they have used them. These papers in no way reflect their claims in this flyer!

Now on to the claim at the bottom "Defending marriage defends unborn children". This implies, quite clearly in this setting, that marriage equality will lead to more abortions. Their background paper says this:

Weakening marriage is in no-one’s interests. Strengthening marriage is in everyone’s interests: the moral environment in which children are conceived and grow up will have a lasting effect on their stability and happiness – and indeed on their survival. Abortion figures reveal the importance of marriage as an institution oriented towards the care and protection of children: in the UK babies conceived outside of marriage are about 4-5 times more likely to be aborted than those conceived inside marriage. Children after birth face greater risks of harm in non-married situations.
Yet again they make claims in their flyer that their papers don't support with data. This paragraph in no way suggests how equal marriage will lead to more abortions and the study I've quoted above shows that there was no link found!

This flyer has little, if any, rational basis. It distorts the issues and does not present the arguments SPUC make on their website against marriage equality **UPDATE, the back of the flyer does present those arguments but my problems with the assertions on the front remain unchanged*** (which are more moral/religious issues and have little to do with incidents of abortion). If this is what the Coalition for Marriage partners are putting out, we need to be very concerned indeed about their commitment to reasonable debate and against homophobic discourse. 

Absolutely disgusting. 

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Countering The "Civil Partnerships Are Enough" Argument

One of the most persuasive and effective arguments opponents of marriage equality (and oft-quoted marriage equality agnostics like Christopher Biggins) use is that civil partnerships are so close to marriage that there really is no reason to pursue marriage equality*.

If we ignore the, sometimes glaring, differences between civil partnerships and marriage, civil partnerships do offer extremely strong protections for same gender relationships. Gone are the days of long term partners being denied hospital visitation or inheritance rights. Those heartbreaking moments that were once so brutally common are now consigned to history.

Civil partnerships were successful enough to dampen the call for marriage equality, and it's one of the reasons I still have a bit of a downer on them to this day. They truly do undermine, when dealing the issues superficially, the case for marriage equality.

So it is important to take a step back and consider: are we just being greedy? Are we seeking to "redefine" marriage, as our opponents claim, just because we are selfish and ungrateful? Are we placing a great deal of importance in just a word? Is the "cost" worth it?

One thing so often forgotten (or ignored for ideological reasons) by our opponents and agnostics alike is the plight of transgendered people and their partners in marriages or civil partnerships when getting gender recognition. The wonderful Sarah Brown describes the problem here, and the paragraph below shows the heartache caused by keeping civil partnerships and marriage separate entities.

This trans woman was me, and I made that faustian bargain in 2009, surrendering my marriage of eight years and, after much bureaucracy, converting it to a civil partnership. I now bitterly regret doing that. We had both convinced ourselves that it was just paperwork, and didn’t really mean anything, but we were wrong. It hurt deeply, and it still does. We had a wonderful civil partnership ceremony with friends, but I wish I could take it all back.
So civil partnerships certainly aren't enough to stop people having their marriages dissolved forcefully by the state. 

Then we have international recognition and the protection of the rights of British citizens abroad. The case of Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger represents the slap in the face caused by the current downgrading of one's perfectly legal marriage in another country to a civil partnership here. If we recognise opposite-sex marriages under the same foreign laws, then how can we pretend people aren't married under those same laws just because their genders don't meet our requirements? It's totally unfair.

Even more concerning are the problems (and they will grow as marriage equality becomes more widely recognised in the coming years) caused when someone in a civil partnerships visits or lives in a country with equal marriage laws. Because civil partnerships, unlikely marriage, aren't an internationally recognised standard it is highly likely that they will not be recognised as marriage in those countries. It is bad enough that civil partners won't be protected in countries without same gender partnership rights, but worse that because we don't have marriage equality they might not be registered in countries that do protect those rights! Following what will, fairly obviously, be an internationally recognised standard makes sense.

So civil partnerships are a typically British fudge that are not enough to avoid insult to those married abroad nor avoid the risk of non-recognition of the rights of British ex-pats and travelers. 

This argument also suffers from another problem. If civil partnerships are so similar to marriage what is the issue with marriage equality? Surely it makes sense to bring such similar institutions together in a simplified way to make sure case law applies equally. And Rupert Myers has a similarly probing question for proponents of this argument:

If civil partnerships are sufficient for gay couples because they provide the same package of rights, is that significantly different from saying that Rosa Parks should have been happy to sit at the back of the bus because it took her to the same place as the white people at the front?
Are civil partnerships enough to allow religious freedom? Some might say that those religious organisations wanting marriage equality so they can marry members of their faith should just accept their, newly won, right to conduct religious civil partnerships. Unfortunately for those wishing to stop marriage equality, local authorities have conspired to make the cost of being allowed to register civil partnerships much greater than marriage. This is putting an unfair burden on churches that support same gender partnerships than those who don't. With a properly worded marriage equality law allowing freedom of conscience for the religious this problem would cease to exist.

So civil partnerships aren't enough for those who believe in religious freedom. 

There are other examples of how civil partnerships aren't good enough, feel free to add them in the comments if you so wish!

Those, such as our "friend" Ben Bradshaw, who make the "civil partnerships are enough" argument must be challenged on it. They are often simply uninformed on the issues, usually blind to trans issues and make the remarks in an off-hand manner. It is important to correct them loudly to stop this lazy argument in its tracks. It is simply wrong. Civil partnerships were not enough in 2004, and they are not enough now. Marriage equality is the only way to resolve all these issues in a clean, clear-cut fashion.

*Another way this argument is put is that people do not understand why gay people would want a marriage in a church when they have civil partnerships and Christianity hates them. 

There are so many faults with that argument it is worth pointing them out.

1) it assumes LGBT people want to marry in a church. Marriages, in this country, don't have to be performed in a church. 
2) it assumes all churches are against LGBT relationships and that all LGBT people are atheists. Do I really need to point out this is fairly obviously untrue?
3) it takes a rather evangelical and Protestant view that Christianity is a cohesive whole when we all know it is far more complicated than that. 

I have to say that whilst I try to treat opponents with as much respect as I can muster, if you make the mistake of assuming all LGBT are atheists or all Christian churches think the same thing then I tend to dismiss most of your other arguments without further consideration. So let's stick to sensible arguments only please. 

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

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Nick Clegg and An #EqualMarriage Promise?

It would appear Nick Clegg hasn't given up on reaching for the stars. In a move that would make sense, given that the Scottish Government will be pushing forward for both religious and civil marriage equality, he has again restated Liberal Democrat policy that both should be introduced here in England and Wales.

Sadly, for those of us who want to see this too, it's quite clear he isn't speaking on behalf of the Government but simply personally as a Liberal Democrat.

"It is Liberal Democrat party policy, and my personal view, that those organisations who do wish to conduct same-sex marriages, should be free to do so. It is not the place of government to mandate religious organisations to conduct gay marriages. But nor is it the place of government to ban them from doing so."
More interesting is the news that Whitehall sources confirm a majority of responses to the Westminster consultation on civil marriage equality were against. It is hardly surprising given the strength of feeling among the religious that they should be able to say who can and can't get married.

Thankfully it looks likely that the Government will ignore those responses as they weren't actually asking if they should introduce it but simply seeking opinions on how it should be done.

However, in the wake of the Lords Reform debacle, I have growing concerns that this fight will be even harder than this pessimist thought it would be. With the Tory rebels getting cocky it could be a rough ride through the House of Commons and then it faces even stauncher opposition in the unelected Lords. Will we get marriage equality introduced in this Parliament? Only time will tell.

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

When LGBT Activists Become The Bad Guys

Lots of people know about the Stonewall Riots but less people know about the homophile movement, including such groups as the Mattachine Society, who were around at the same time. The reason for this is that the Stonewall riots were not approved of by these more mainstream LG organisations. This disapproval ultimately cost the homophiles the support of LGBT people in great numbers as they, rightly, regarded the Stonewall riots as just violence against unjust actions by the local authorities.

Ever since then there has been a great deal of conflict between LGBT folk willing to take radical action (such as Peter Tatchell and OUTRAGE) and those who work in less provocative ways (like Stonewall, although I suppose being absolutely useless is pretty provocative to some). From the Compton's Cafeteria riots and the Stonewall riots, we have incidents such as the White Night riots, the various antics of the UK Gay Liberation Front and more frivolous incidents such as when lesbian activists invaded the BBC newsroom. We should not overlook the importance of these radical (and often violent) actions in support of LGBT rights. Most of the great leaps forward have come through peaceful legal or political action, but these radical actions kept the spirit alight during the darker days. There is a time and place for both types of action.

But things are really coming to something when radical action involves spray-painting "Tastes Like Hate" on a fast food outlet, or bullying people in entry-level jobs (whilst lying about your sexuality, Harvey Milk would NOT be proud) or it involves being dicks to a homeless guy reading a Bible. When did our righteous anger at injustice become so petty, so hateful and so anti-intellectual? Radical actions these were not.

We need a new rule for LGBT activism: don't be dicks. Look at how the least appealing members of the anti-LGBT movement act and DO NOT COPY THEM. It's really quite straight forward. Do sit-ins, kiss-ins, protests and marches. Be respectful but clear and direct. You don't need to be angels but try not to be the sort of person any decent individual would cross the road to avoid.

It really isn't that hard, is it?

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

Monday, 6 August 2012

And with that, I think the Lib Dems and I may be over.

I'll admit that in my youth I was a bit of a philanderer with regards to my choice of political party. At 13, in the midst of the 1997 election I declared myself a Tory like my forefathers before me. But, as I learnt about the multitude of evils (i.e. MPs) within that party, I soon came under the delusion that Tony Blair and his New Labour project was the way forward. The momentum of this forward motion sadly propelled us into war. Not being an utterly heartless, warmongering bastard I decided New Labour was no longer the place for me. And thus, by a process of elimination and a brief flirt with Caroline Lucas and the Greens, I found myself wondering what the Lib Dems were all about.

My first recon mission introduced me to some local Shepway Lib Dems who were everything I'd been looking for. First Peter Carroll and then, eventually, people like Lynne Beaumont and Tim Prater (among many others!) seemed to me to be intelligent, caring and extremely hard-working people. The sort of people one would want to aspire to be like. And those first impressions remain to this day. They truly are amazing people.

Then came the policies. And I found them rather sensible. I liked their love of freedom and my, still recovering, New Labour self liked the fact they were rather generous towards those in need. I won't pretend to be the most dedicated Lib Dem ever (Lazy is my middle name) but since about 2003 I have been completely loyal to them. As I found my political beliefs move from social democrat through to classical liberal, I found the Lib Dems were a broad enough church to still keep me in it.

Despite the fact that I learnt, as a political gay teenager, that the Tories aren't just to be treated warily but should be actively disliked I've stayed through the Coalition. Some of the things, especially the Income Tax allowance changes, have been amazing Lib Dem wins. Other things have been uncomfortable but I've stuck them out thinking that eventually there would be a prize worthy of my beloved party's destruction.

It's funny really, I always thought my disillusionment with the Lib Dems would come over some matter of individual rights, sexuality or internet freedom, something which would really get me angry. I never thought that the straw that would break the camel's back would be Lords Reform.

It may well be better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. It may well be we did the right thing in putting national interest ahead of party interest. But in doing so the Lib Dems have lost our soul and, a minor consideration I know, broken my heart.

Now I am totally aware of my previous pledges of loyalty to the Lib Dems over their support of my heart's desire, marriage equality. I shall honour those pledges but not in the spirit they were intended. I shan't resign as a member, I shall pay my dues. I owe the party that much. But I am no longer a Lib Dem at heart or maybe I am but the party isn't. Either way, we're definitely separated and I'm simply paying maintenance.

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

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Trolling Along

troll: One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument 

This is a bit of ramble but hey ho...

Don't feed the trolls. Those of us who have been online for a fairly long time cannot have failed to have encountered that oft chanted mantra on a forum or, dare I out my age, newsgroup. It has served us well for all these years.

Trolls, like dirty old men and fangirls, are an internet hazard. They've been a part of the internet ever since it entered it's "modern era" in the late 90s, and they are unlikely to go away. And part of me has become fond of them as part of the fabric of the internet along with other sub-groups such as the furries or the Youtubers.

Sadly there appears to be somewhat of a troll related moral panic occurring in this country and it is just growing worse and worse.

Who is and who isn't a troll has never really be clearly defined but, in forums at least, you knew one when you saw one. However now the word troll is used to refer to allsorts of people, interacting in allsorts of ways. Say something someone, especially a celebrity or "respected" individual, doesn't agree with, and you're a troll. Here's a classic example:

@davidallengreen @fleetstreetfox Good? So racism & threatening behaviour can be excused because free speech is bigger?

@jamesreckons @fleetstreetfox Oh dear, are you still trolling.
It's becoming a way to silence debate, stiffle criticism and belittle and insult those who you disagree with.

Take another example of this, not exactly troll related, but hidden among some obvious examples of nasty messages on Youtube, displayed in this catchy tune, one just doesn't quite seem right.

The message that most upset Steve Furst? "ur NOT funny and never will be". That might not be the politest message in the world but that is pretty clearly a reasonable opinion someone might have. No one is funny to everyone. Some people may not find Steve Furst funny (to be honest I've no idea who is but I'm sure he's a lovely and hilarious person even if this particular nitpick of his suggests an overly large ego). That isn't hate. It's not trolling. It's just an opinion!

And so we come to the Tom Daley fiasco. I can't stand rudeness, and what was said to Tom Daley was uncalled for, disgusting, thoughtless and unreasonable. The threats of death were, as you can imagine, without defense. And yet we reach the problem. Tom Daley retweeted the original nasty tweet and instantly Reece Messer came under attack from Daley fangirls and fanboys. He was, in turn, subject to the same sort of abuse he gave to Daley. Yet he was arrested, and those who abused him were not! And he'd done this sort of thing before but not until Tom Daley was involved did the authorities care. The police CANNOT police the internet. It is a complete impossibility.

In the days of forums, forum hosts banned persistent and unwanted "trolls". In the days of Twitter users get banned for abusing corporations but don't seem to have to worry if they abuse others (unless they are famous). If one has an open resource such as Twitter, which is so immense that it is near impossible to moderate, there must either be an acceptance of total freedom or it might as well close down. It's really that simple.

And the reeks of double standards on a whole different level as pointed out by fleetstreetfox.

I've become increasingly unhappy with how anti-discrimination and anti-social behaviour laws are being used to undermine free speech, free expression and to suppress debate from those deemed unworthy of having an opinion. If you can't handle seeing people for who they really are (from the epic and the kind-hearted to the mundane and the mean-spirited) writ large across your screen then perhaps you need to log off. Because the internet shows up our species for its best, it must show up it's worst as well. That is in its very nature.

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