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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