Thursday, 31 May 2012

Thanet Conservative Councillor Leaves Homophobic Abuse On Fellow Councillor's Phone

One of the architects of the equal marriage debate at Thanet Council, Cllr John Worrow, recently received a homophobic message.

It has today come to light that this was the work of Cllr Ken Gregory who is a Tory.

 Here's a statement from Cllr Worrow:


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Shepway And The Diamond Jubilee

There's plenty to look forward to this weekend in Shepway, from the local street parties to the Folkestone Airshow and other organised events. A large floral tribute to Her Majesty The Queen is in place on the Leas, shops are putting up their bunting and posters are up for both the lighting of the Jubilee lantern and the fairground on the old Rotunda site. But there's one little bizarre thing that I don't think Shepway thought through correctly.

The other day I got home to find a large Union flag flying outside my house. I smiled and thought it was for the Jubilee. The next morning I took my new dog Ayden for a walk up my street, and stopped to look at some of the other flags which obviously weren't Union flags. Hmm... other Realms? Commonwealth nations? Erm... no this one is Morocco! I racked my brain for connections to the Jubilee and then realised... they were up because of the Olympics!

Now forgiving the slight slap in the face that gives to Her Majesty (Diamond Jubilees are a tad rarer that Olympic games in this country), it's caused quite a bit of confusion. Those I've spoken to about have mostly genuinely thought the flags were for the Jubilee and either thought the other flags were Union flags or thought Shepway Council was just a completely useless organisation that would put up any old flags as they didn't have enough Union flags!!

It seems bizarre, absolutely crazy in fact, to put up flags for the Olympics a few days before Her Majesty's Jubilee. Why do it? Why not allow a weekend of national celebration to pass before moving on to the next excitement? Last year during the Royal wedding celebrations I drove through Reigate High Street, which was covered in Union flags. It was absolutely fantastic. We even had flags up here in Folkestone. But obviously this year Shepway District Council doesn't think highly enough of Her Majesty to even postpone the Olympic flag raising let alone put up some British flags to celebrate.

I really don't get it.

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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Marriage Equality Should Be Above One's Own Ego

As you all know, far too well I suspect, I've been moaning about and then campaigning for equal marriage for a number of years. You can't really call me partisan on the issue as I've been criticised in the past by Liberal Democrats for being "unfair" on the party when it still hadn't adopted marriage equality as policy and still when Lynne Featherstone announced what I considered (and still consider) to be inadequate plans for equal civil marriage. And I have in the past attempted to convince myself that I should be conciliatory towards those who have not been in favour of equal marriage until recently.  As we all know that is very much still a work in progress.

As someone who spent a great deal of time getting marriage equality into the news agenda and on to the agenda of the Labour party, it is extremely hard to see people who previously had no interest in the issue suddenly championing it. And I don't mean people who just kept quiet, I'm talking about people I approached directly and asked to support it years ago, especially in the Labour party, and who told me it was not an important issue and not one they cared about. Now suddenly they are begging others to come out in support of it under their own campaigns (Labour for Equal Marriage, for example). It really pains me, and makes me incredibly sad to see this sort of bandwagon jumping on an issue that, in my opinion, is a matter of human rights.

And I've got to get over it. Yes it hurts that in the future people might look back and think Stonewall and Labour were behind the marriage equality struggle. It hurts that campaigners like Peter Tatchell, organisations like Pink News/C4EM and the fact it was more Stonewall's uselessness that pushed the agenda than anything else will probably be forgotten. But you know what? If we get equal marriage, even if it's just civil marriage for now, then we'll just have to swallow our pride and be happy.

The worst part is, this is what Labour activists always tell me to do. Shut up and just be happy and forget about the truth. *sigh* Playing politics is such an unrelentingly shit game for unrelentingly shit people.

I just have to start looking forward to my marriage and move on....

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Saturday, 26 May 2012

Admiration for German Pirate's Innovation

I've watched the rise of the German Pirate Party with fascination. From a tiny base, they have begun to really make large strides in terms of both electoral success and party development.

Personally I find their policies rather attractive, putting the radical back into politics whilst keeping away from the decrepit left/right structure of 20th century politics. But their innovation in party and policy development is what is really interesting about them.

Their emphasis on transparency really is something I can wholeheartedly support, and their request that any coalition talks be livestreamed online is in keeping completely with my previous notes of disillusion with the way the talks for our Coalition were carried out (and implemented). I've been asking for a grown up, open approach to coalitions and I think this really fits the bill.

Today Andy Emmerson brought another facet of their innovation to my attention: Liquid Feedback (based on a concept called liquid democracy). I've always found direct democracy to be at once terribly libertarian and yet stiflingly authoritarian. Direct democracy always seems good on paper but forcing people to vote one way or another on subjects they might not really understand either forces them to make a vote they may regret or not vote at all and allow their voice to be silenced. Representative democracy, on the other hand, does allow some "expertise" into the system and with our representatives paid to research things you'd hope for some reasoned and sensible votes. However, as we have seen over the Lib Dems vote on tuition fees, it also means your vote may not end up being used in the way you wanted it to be used.

Liquid democracy manages, quite cleverly, to mix these two systems with some extra failsafes into something that, on paper, seems brilliantly flexible and powerful. Now it may not work, it might only work in certain cultures and climates, it might end up creating the next dictator. But as a technical innovation in policy formulation it is fantastic.

It's something I'd love to see discussed within the Liberal Democrats and trialled if appropriate. Just as Spineless Liberal has, I have a great many concerns and questions over it's use and what it might lead to. But if we really are going to have a "New Politics" this is the sort of concepts we need to start exploring as a party, and as a country. The risks are great but the benefits might be even greater.

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Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Tory "Free Vote" On Marriage Equality Shall Be Rather Revealing

Since David Cameron took over the leadership of the Conservative Party, there has been a concerted effort to "detoxify" the brand. They've been very careful, if not always successful, to present themselves as economically liberal and liberally conservative on social issues (supporting marriage as a social good but for everyone, for example).

However there have been few, recent, clear cut votes in the House of Commons to show just how deep this change goes. With the confirmation (although it was pretty obviously always going to be this way) of a free vote for the Conservatives on civil marriage equality, it's looking like we are going to see a real test of this new "nice party".

Tory MPs are still engaging in spreading falsehoods about marriage equality. Sir Roger Gale thinks the Government will rewrite the works of Shakespeare. Craig Whittaker thinks equal marriage will lead to polygamy. Tim Loughton et al. believes we already have all the rights we need in civil partnerships (a falsehood we know not to be true)

It's going to be interesting to see just how many of their Tory colleagues are as poorly advised. And then we'll know just how detoxified the brand really is!

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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Differences Between Civil Partnerships and Marriage

The original version of this post can be found here: Civil Partnerships and Marriage: What's The Difference?.

It is quite common for people to wonder: "Why all this kerfuffle over equal marriage, aren't civil partnerships the same as marriage?" From anti-equality politicians to well-meaning people, there remains a great deal of confusion over what differences there might be between the two.

So I thought I'd just note down some of the major differences:


The most obvious difference in law is, of course, gender. A marriage is a partnership between a man and a woman. A civil partnership is one between two people of the same gender. If only gender was so neat and tidy! Gender, in a legal sense to avoid any semantic arguments, is NOT set in stone. People can, and do, change their gender.

So if you have a married couple, and the "man" in that couple transitions into becoming a female, that couple would face a difficult choice as to whether to dissolve their marriage or not to get a GRC. They will lose accrued pension rights and other financial benefits if they decide that a GRC is necessary and need to get a civil partnership if they wish to again be legally recognised as a couple... and the benefits will need to start to be gained FROM SCRATCH again.

This is my number one reason for campaigning for marriage (and civil partnership) equality. Transgendered people, and their partners, are unfairly discriminated against by the "separate but equal" way we are currently doing things in this country. Making marriage laws gender neutral would be a massive step in the right direction. A more thorough look at this subject can be found here.


This, as if it needed saying, is a little complicated. Thankfully someone has made a video explaining this the problem in Lego. Everything always seems clearer in Lego.

This is a serious issue and currently couples affected are having to fight this discrimination in the courts using the Equality Act 2010 to help them. Here is one of the more recent judgements. Marriage equality would, hopefully, ensure this little loophole is fixed and ensure pension rights are respected by all companies.

International Recognition

This issue is also touched upon in the video above.

Think of it this way: of course same-sex marriages won't be recognised in many (dare I say backward?) countries. But civil partnerships fail the criteria for an international standard (many countries with equal marriage won't recognise civil partnerships!), whereas marriage equality would make things far clearer for travellers and emigrants to countries with equal marriage. And for those countries where they do have civil unions, those married couples will be more likely to have their relationship recognised on some level.

As ever more countries consider equal marriage (at the moment we have developments awaited in France, Paraguay, Columbia, Mexico, USA, Taiwan, Vietnam, New Zealand, Finland....) this problem will only become worse.

Religious Freedom

Marriage equality, true marriage equality, would allow for religious same-sex marriages to be carried out by supportive religions. Right now we have the newly created religious civil partnerships but, typically, the registration charges for this are far higher than for marriage! And a Unitarian church had a great many problems getting a civil partnership licence due to health and safety concerns, despite being allowed to hold marriages!

The Quakers have this to say:

“Quakers have been discussing sexuality for fifty years. We see God in everyone and believe all committed loving relationships are of equal worth and should be celebrated in the same way. That is why, since 2009, we’ve been asking for the law to allow our same-sex Quaker couples to have a spiritual celebration within their worshipping community; not just a civil partnership which is a legal contract.”

Why should religions have to pay more to "marry" same-sex couples than opposite-sex ones? Why should they be denied religious freedom? They shouldn't, and wouldn't, if marriage was gender neutral.

Separate But Equal

The other day one of my work colleagues was abused on the train home because he was gay. Being openly gay/bisexual still has its drawbacks in life. Being forced on most official forms to declare whether you have a marriage OR a civil partnership outs someone's sexuality and I find that most uncomfortable even if I, speaking only for myself here, don't mind someone knowing my sexuality.

And why should I be covered by a different law to the one that covers the relationships of my family and friends? I'm not looking for a pretend marriage, or a gay marriage, or an "I can't believe it's not marriage" marriage. I want simply a marriage, to the person I love, covered in the same way the marriages of others I care for are covered. I pay my taxes and abide by the law of the land so why does the Government get to  decide which consenting adults can enter a marriage?

For those who like to say they are the same, the courts disagree with you. As announced in this court ruling.
To the extent that by reason of that distinction it discriminates against same-sex partners, such discrimination has a legitimate aim, is reasonable and proportionate, and falls within the margin of appreciation accorded to Convention States.
The Legal Nitty-Gritty

The laws covering civil partnerships have no concepts of consummation or adultery. This makes dissolving a civil partnerships at times easier and at times more difficult.

There is no requirement to take any vows. Can you imagine a marriage without vows? No. Because they are actually a legal requitement!

Marriage case law doesn't necessarily cover civil partnerships.

So yes, there are a few differences, some fairly important to the well-being of same-sex couples. Marriage equality would resolve these issues in a clear and sensible way.

***EDIT 10/02/2013. I wish to make it clear to those who may be using this article to defend the Government's Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill that currently, as of today's date, it does not resolve the issues of pension inequality, consummation, adultery and leaves several outstanding issues with regards to trans rights. It also maintains the separation of married same-sex couples in law from married opposite-sex couples.

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Sunday, 20 May 2012

John Sentamu Is Woefully Uninformed On Implications of Marriage Equality

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, has returned to the subject of marriage equality and civil partnerships this week.

I firmly believe that redefining marriage to embrace same-sex relationships would mean diminishing the meaning of marriage for most people, with very little if anything gained for homosexual people. If I am right, in the long term we would all be losers.
He seems not to realise marriage equality isn't just about "homosexual people" and at the same time spreads that common falsehood that civil partnerships and marriage are "equal" and thus nothing further needs to be done.

I understand it's easier to see the world in very simplistic terms. Male and female. Gay and straight. White and black. If the world was that simple, Sentamu's arguments would have far greater weight. But it's not.

Male and female are not, and never have been, absolutely separate biological concepts. The line between genders is blurred in nature and we force those who aren't so easily defined to define themselves one way or another. And there are those who find themselves defined in a way that they don't define themselves. As you can imagine if gender is diverse, then sexuality (and thus romantic love) is even more so. Marriage equality is about taking gender out of marriage and allowing romantic love to be the main factor in deciding who can or who cannot get married.

Does the Archbishop realise the affect this division between marriage and civil partnership has on transgendered individuals and their relationships? No, he doesn't. To him it's all about the gays, sex and babies, not about real people and their relationships.

And worse he fails to acknowledge there are real differences between marriage and civil partnerships, not least of which are based on pensions and international recognition. I've got to the point where I honestly don't think that our opponents, such as Sentamu, are liars. I truly think they just don't listen and learn. They never acknowledge these differences, never mention transgender issues, never even allow themselves to just consider the implications of reserving marriage to one type of couple in a world as diverse as ours. It shows a lack of imagination and intellectual curiosity that makes me worried for the leadership of certain organisations in this country, the Church of England amongst them.

John Sentamu isn't homophobic (not based on this argument anyway), but he is completely and utterly wrong.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Five Years In Five Posts

Caron is having a bit of a retrospective on blog posts posted over the last five years, and I thought I'd join her!

2011 - This Is Likely To Be The Least Popular Post I've Ever Written - My plea for some dignity from some of the more enthusiastic supporters of David Laws (and to not hate me!)

2010 - So Now: Where Do I Stand? - My thoughts on the then brand new, and exciting, Coalition agreement.

2009 - My Grumpy Letter To The Owners Of The Canterbury Tales - The Canterbury Tales was offering a discount for the gays. I decided to enquire as to how they were going to determine someone's sexuality. Never did get a reply...

2008 - Can Iris Robinson Avoid Insulting Homosexuals For A Second? - A bit of a spare blogging year for me, so this post from July is the closest I could get. I think the title says it all!

2007 - A Beginning - From June, it's the first ever blog post on this little blog! Of course this wasn't my first blog but that's a whole 'nother story.

Funny really to think this little blog has quietly grow old. My personal, and much neglected, blog seemed to age loudly but this one has definitely been a slow burner.

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Saturday, 12 May 2012

Dear Anti-Marriage Equality Activists: Thank You!

Once upon a time I was concerned at the lack of visibility of the issue of marriage equality. Hardly anyone in this country, LGBT or straight, seemed to care. I lamented that most were satisfied with civil partnerships, and the actions of campaigners like Peter Tatchell or individual members of the public like myself did not seem to be changing the situation all that much. Even after the Liberal Democrats adopted marriage equality as an official policy, most folks seemed unenergised. However, thanks to you rabidly anti-equality folks out there, the issue has exploded on to the political scene!

Every time someone says marriage equality is equivalent to slavery or might lead to polygamy, you push yet more undecideds into the marriage equality camp. They didn't care about it until you attempted to suggest same sex relationships are inferior to opposite-sex ones. Thank you so much for that.

Every time someone says marriage equality isn't important, you incense just enough "don't knows" into active support. And every time you waste Parliamentary time during an irrelevant debate to suggest we shouldn't waste Parliamentary time on the subject, you point out the stupidity of your argument and force people to stand against you. After all, if you opposed it because it was unimportant you surely wouldn't want to bang on about it so much in debates that aren't about it! Thank you for undermining your own arguments. It's really helping.

Every time you parrot the lie that civil partnerships and marriage are the same and there's no need to call them the same thing, you cause free-thinking types to ponder whether that's actually true. You open up the debate to the truth, which was so hard to get across beforehand. Thank you for helping us get the message out there.

Every time you complain that it'll force churches to carry out same-sex marriages, you remind people that there are plenty of churches and religions that are currently forced not to! And when you bang on about this during a consultation only relevant to marriages not conducted on religious premises, you remind people that you don't know what you're talking about. Thank you for standing against religious freedom, it reminds people that this consultation doesn't go far enough!

Every time you call it "gay marriage", you remind us that we're not just fighting for "gay rights" but for the rights of bisexuals, transgendered people and, this might alarm you, everyone else. Thanks for promoting diversity!

When marriage equality becomes law, I'll always remember your help in making it so much easier. Without you I think this issue would've been swept under the carpet a long time ago. My warmest thanks indeed!

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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Burning Pictures Of Your Opponents Is Not The Done Thing

UKIP have been having a bit of a surge of late in both the polls and in defections to them. They are confident, fresh and a real contender for breaking out of the pack of minor parties at the polls tomorrow.

UKIP also aren't evil monsters, and most of them I deal with are not only polite but intelligent too. I don't buy the "UKIP are the BNP/EDL in suits" argument. There are real policies in that party, some of which even I find appealing.

However they don't like to put their best foot forward. When UKIP's Twitter RT'd a picture entitled "Campaign on fire in Soho" showing a UKIP burning a picture of Lib Dem candidate Brian Paddick, I tweeted
It was, mostly, in jest at the juxtaposition of the act, who was pictured and where it was taken. It was begging for a headline after all!

Now I don't think they were burning the picture because they were homophobic, although I admit that is the tone that has been taken by others on Twitter. They were burning it because they were thoughtless morons who don't like Brian Paddick (those two things can be exclusive but not in this instance I fear!).

Burning a picture or effigy of your opponent is, at best, idiotic and thoughtless. At worse it's malicious, hateful and nasty. It's not becoming of a party that hopes to take our country in a new direction. It's not becoming of any decent person. UKIP's response to this criticism? It's not homophobic. The person in the picture is gay. Does being gay excuse you from such an act? No. As I'm gay does that mean I get to go piss on war memorials,  spit on posters or do any of the other rather classless things people do to "symbols"? No.

UKIP supporters should have said "No, that's not very clever is it. Sorry we'll have words." Or "Well it's not homophobic but I agree it's not very grown-up".

Alas, they accuse the Lib Dems of being childish whilst failing to take responsibility for the actions. I'd rather have a responsible, decent party in power than one that burns pictures of opponents then fights against criticism by playing the right-wings favourite dog whistle: political correctness gone mad.

And that "But they're gay" card has been played before. It means NOTHING.

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The PoFA Is The Reason I Still Believe In The Lib Dems

Way back in May 2010, I made it clear rolling back Labour's draconian laws and attacks on our civil liberties was my red line. The completion of this roll-back would, in my mind, make all the coming pain worth it.

Well that time has now arrived. The Protection of Freedoms Act has rolled back several of the worst attacks on civil liberties.

A landmark move to roll back Labour’s surveillance state has today become law. 
The Protection of Freedoms Act will:
  • stop councils snooping
  • end the storage of DNA of innocent people
  • reduce the bureaucracy of CRB checks
  • end 28-day detention
  • stop schools deciding on their own to take fingerprints of children
  • Make stalking a criminal offence
  • End wheel clamping on private land
  • Delete historical convictions for men who have had consensual gay sex with someone who was over 16

Now let's not pretend it's perfect, 28-day detention just becomes 14-day detention and there are lots of provisos on the end of the DNA database, but this is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for when the Coalition began. After decades of eroding our civil liberties, the Government has made a clear statement that it's changing the relationship between the state and the individual.

The fight isn't over, there are plenty of other civil liberty issues that need addressing. But this is a great leap forward towards a more liberal country.

So on my Lib Dems in Government checklist we have: raising the personal income tax helping those on the lowest incomes, fighting attacks on civil liberties, supporting the most radical House of Lords reform in a century and pushing ahead with marriage equality. Those aren't the only Liberal Democrat "wins" in Coalition but those are the ones that remind me that, despite the attacks from the left, this Government is not unalloyed evil.

The Liberal Democrats are still fighting on the side of the angels.

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