Monday, 30 December 2013

2013: The Year The Right-Wing Moralists Lost And The Left-Wing Moralists Won

Throughout 2012 the media fed us the, with hindsight, lies of opponents of marriage equality who assured us it'd be all but impossible to get marriage equality on to the statute books. 2013 revealed just how wrong they were and saw their campaign against marriage equality collapse under the weight of its own inconsistencies. 

Cardinal O'Brien had been a staunch, and often offensive, opponent of same-sex marriage (and pretty much any LGBT friendly policy). His downfall would've have been delicious if such joy was not tempered by sympathy for all those he hurt. But having one of the most visible opponents be brought down by scandal was not the only thing working against our opponents. 

There are some high-minded, intellectual debates one could have about the pros and cons of same-sex marriage. There are some interesting, thought-provoking issues that can be brought up by opponents of two people of same-sex getting married (see here for my review of the most compelling books from the opposition). Fortunately for those of us who favour such marriages, the opposition in this country didn't even touch on such issues. And their low-brow, scare-mongering served only to show how empty their arguments were. 

They thought they were on to a winning argument with the whole "teachers could be sacked for speaking their views" issue but were quickly undermined by the Catholic church threaten to sack pro-LGBT teachers. Their attempts to build bridges with LGBT anti-marriage radicals were misguided at best. And their briefings to Parliament were so full of strawman arguments and see-through attempts at misdirection that even I could rebut them

And when it came to the votes the Government's same-sex marriage bill passed. And it passed easily. Yes, the bill is flawed. But my how far we've come since this blogger started agitating for marriage equality in the UK.

The utter defeat of right-wing moralists would have been utterly sweet were it not for the continued rise of the joyless anti-sex left wingers who have slowly risen to fight the imaginary armies of the Patriarchy (and take out LGBT and other sexual minorities in the cross fire). 

These heteronormative campaigns against lad's mags, porn, sex workers and strip clubs have drawn some strong support and had some successes (such as with the Co-op and Tesco's meeting the demands of the Lose the Lad's Mags campaign halfway). And this is despite the campaigns being just as poorly thought out as the anti-LGBT rights campaigns earlier this year.

Next year... well... new challenges ahead. And huge risks. The EU elections and the Scottish independence campaign loom...

Saturday, 21 December 2013

A Wonderful Year For Marriage Equality

The fight for LGBT freedom globally is one that is far from won. Just this week Nigeria and Uganda have tightened up their anti-gay laws, and Russia has highlighted how even relatively advanced nations are enacting some deeply worrying legislation. But this year one part of the LGBT movement has had levels of success that have astounded even the optimists among us; marriage equality has been one success story of which we can be proud.

Here in the UK, the fight for marriage equality turned out to be a lot easier than we were expecting. Throughout 2012 the right-wing press and activists had declared that the battle would be hard fought and everyone assumed the House of Lords would be a tough nut to crack. Yet when the votes of legalising same-sex marriage in England and Wales went through both the House of Commons and House of Lords, the majorities in favour were overwealming. It was a very quiet revolution. The law itself is far from perfect but all the bleating in the world from respectable folks like Cardinal O'Brien couldn't stop it passing through Westminster. 

And in Scotland, a similar bill is currently working its way through the Scottish Parliament. It also appears to have near ironclad support from MSPs. Soon the vast majority of British citizens will live with same-sex marriage laws. Thank you 2013!

The USA has been quite the surprise. After last year;s massive wins for Maine, Maryland and Washington, we've seen a massive increase. Between May 17, 2004 and January 1, 2013 10 states and the District of Columbia legalised same-sex marriage. During that time Prop 8 ended same-sex marriages in California.

This year the Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage in California was overturned. Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Hawaii and Illinois legalised same-sex marriage, whilst New Jersey, New Mexico and, prepare the smelling salts, Utah had their bans on same-sex marriages overturned in court. The result in Utah is, inevitably, going to become the next Prop 8-esqe battle (though perhaps the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should learn a few lessons from that debacle). But this is an absolutely fantastic turnaround from the Bush era of constitutional bans and disappointments.

And it didn't end there for the hated "Defense of Marriage Act" was overturned on a federal level. Truly LGBT folk in the USA can say 2013 was a year to remember!


New Zealand, Uruguay and France (overcoming fierce opposition and cleric led hooligan riots) all legalised same-sex marriage this year. And with all these advances the debate has spread to more and more countries. With Ireland set for a referendum on same-sex marriage within a couple of years Northern Ireland may soon be the last significantly populated place in all north-west Europe one can't marry someone of the same-sex.

Well done 2013. What a fantastic year it has been!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Polyamory Now Legal In Utah

I wrote last year about the Brown's of "Sister Wives" fame and their campaign to end Utah's regressive laws on "religious cohabitation".

Utah has, I'm sure you'll know, a long and complicated relationship with both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and polygamy. In the 19th century polygamy was a central tenet of the LDS Church and they played a cat and mouse game with federal authorities to keep the "Principle" alive in Utah. By the 20th century the federal authorities had won and the LDS Church gave up the "Principle" in order for Utah and the church itself to commence normal relations within the Union.

By the middle of the 20th century the LDS Church was busy rebranding itself and, in so doing, sort to ever further distance itself from its polygamous past. It did this with the help of Utah state authorities and passed, in 1973, a law which banned living with more than one person as if you were married.

“A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.”
Not only did this allow authorities to intervene in some cases of abuse among fundamentalist Mormons, it also became a rod to beat those who were causing harm to no one else. A couple of years ago the Brown family themselves fled their beloved Utah home and settled in Las Vegas in order to avoid jail for the adult members and family separation.

Now the Brown's have won a victory that will allow others of their faith to practice non-legally binding plural marriage without fear. This is absolutely fantastic news, marking another step forward for freedom. It may be appealed however so fingers crossed this ruling is a keeper.

As predicted last year Lawrence v. Texas (which ended US state's anti-sodomy laws in 2003) played its part:

“Consensual sexual privacy is the touchstone of the rational basis review analysis in this case, as in Lawrence.”

Gay rights lead to human rights. Good times!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Scientology Orgs are a "place of meeting for religious worship"

In a ruling that shall be repeated ad nauseum on Scientology videos, posters and websites, the Supreme Court has agreed that weddings can take place on the premises of Scientology Orgs, as they constitute a "place of meeting for religious worship"

"Religion should not be confined to religions which recognise a supreme deity," said Lord Toulson as he made the judgement. Whilst this is clearly right morally and in terms of things we already accept as religions, this is going to cause a headache for a lot of people and not least the Charity Commission and the tax man.

The real problem is the very concept of a Government trying to define what it, and what is not, a religion. It is akin to attempting to argue what makes up Doctor Who's canon. What makes up my Doctor Who canon is not what makes up your Doctor Who canon. This is quite true for religions too. What I consider a religion, others will not. Some might consider certain religions as a "cult" whilst others just don't think it is a religion at all. Such arguments have raged for years and not just on small New Religious Movements like Scientology. Confucianism and Buddhism are both hard to define as a religion and even some adherents wouldn't describe them as one. Even some, mainly born-again, Christians will swear blind Christianity is not a religion but is (depending on who you ask) a "faith" or "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ".

And if one cannot truly define what is and what is not a religion it does seem somewhat silly to attempt to give religions tax breaks that other groups and organisations cannot expect.

The court's decision was the right one in allowing Scientologists, no matter how ridiculous one finds their beliefs and how dangerous one might consider church practices, to marry in their orgs but one would hope that one day someone will finally tell the emperor that he has no clothes and stop the whole nonsense that is attempting to define a religion in law.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Civil Partnerships: 8 Years Old Today

Let's face it... I've never been very nice about civil partnerships. Even now I feel the bubbling of rage just beneath my skin at the mere thought of them. They were introduced by Labour because of the obvious need for some sort of partnership rights for same-sex couples. That can, really, only be seen as a good thing. But the fact is that, at the time of their introduction, the debate internationally had already moved on to marriage equality. Civil partnerships were, in hindsight, doomed to be considered obsolete within a few years of their introduction. 

And that is what really rankles me. In the years after their introduction Labour acted as if the matter was closed. My attempts to discuss equal marriage with LGBT Labour members were dismissed. Chris Bryant called me a numbskull for asking why he didn't even mention marriage as an option during the debates (and why he argued against equal marriage during them). Stonewall were so pleased with civil partnerships that they fought, briefly, tooth and nail to protect their uniqueness against any attempts to pursue marriage itself. And that was despite the multiple problems civil partnerships have

And now here we stand... the last anniversary of the introduction of civil partnerships that will fall before same-sex marriage comes into place in England and Wales. Isn't it time I just let it go? Forget it ever happened? I wish I could. 

But in their weird ideological defense of the obsolete Stonewall and Labour showed that LGBT freedom is nothing but a political game to some. Our attempts to seek liberty will be stymied by the self interest of political organisations and parties. We must never settle for second best and, when we accept second best as better than third best, we must at least state "this is not what we really want". No more politics, no more muddles like the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, we must continue to argue for what is right. 

Civil partnerships were a sham. And whilst some may argue they were a stepping stone to same-sex marriage, I'd say that by becoming an idol (one that was to be defended at all costs) of the Westminster LGBT set it actually served to make this years hard won victory just that little more difficult.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Tom Daley: Label-Free

I know, I know. Tom Daley's announcement that he's in a relationship with a man will fill enough column inches this week to reach to the Moon and back (twice). "Isn't he brave?" "Isn't it about time we stopped caring?" etc. etc. And there will be article after article about the difference between homosexuality and bisexuality. Plus, of course, you'll have the homophobes on social media (or "trolls" as the media will erroneously call them) who will I'm sure get a column or two devoted just to them. Just look at them go already.

So before tomorrow's papers are published I thought I'd just get in my own little comment. I don't need to say the above, because it is all so predictable as to be irrelevant. But what I do what to discuss is Tom Daley's distinct lack of labeling himself. Though some were quick to label him, such as Pink News briefly identifying a man who likes both men and women as gay, he did not do so himself.

It might seem strange that someone like me, who openly calls himself gay, would be so happy to see someone NOT refer to themselves as "gay" or "bisexual". I remember the very moment I first accepted my sexuality. My first thought was "I'm gay". It was a powerful talisman, a way to ward off the demons of some imagined future homophobia. Some people like to say "I don't define myself by my sexuality". Not me. I was happy, proud and overly eager to label myself and consider my sexuality an open and shut case.

But life is so much more complicated than labels. And "gay" is definitely a label that no longer says what we want it to say.

I'm not just thinking of the campaign to keep gay "gay" launched by Will Young and, ever conservative, Stonewall. Their aim to stop the evolution of language is not just doomed to fail because its nigh impossible to do that, but also possibly because "gay" no longer does what it says on the tin.

I feel like I've straddled two distinct periods of "gay culture". When I headed out on to the scene at the age of 14 (but the height of 6" so easily avoiding those ever vigilant bouncers) there was still a bit of secrecy about the whole affair. Gay bars were listed in the back of Gay Times, some with instructions on how to get in (Ring the Doorbell). There were gay clubs here in Kent that were hidden out in the countryside where no one not in the know would find them. Gay bars were GAY bars and woe betide anyone else trying to get in (due to my height and choice of rather butch dates, I was often counselled by wary bouncers that the establishment was a gay bar *wink wink* *nudge nudge*). And then I met Jim and I stepped back from the scene. And whenever I've put my head back into it, I've found it radically different. Gay guys who'd never heard of Section 28. Heterosexual people taking over the bars (my Mum even tells me about her trips to what was Folkestone's gay bar). Bars closing and cruising moving from set defined spaces to mobile phone apps. It is a whole different world.

Mark Simpson wrote on this phenomenon in "End of Gays". It really is a revolution and it is still going on. It pleases me to think that young guys today can just "be". They don't need to label themselves, they don't need to limit themselves with labels.

Tom Daley has stated he's in a relationship with a guy. But he's said that if things changed in the future, so be it. That seems so much more realistic than pretending relationships can only be based on some rigid unchangeable sexuality. Sexualities do change. And relationships can transcend sexuality. The world is a complicated place and labels can just over-simplify things to the point that they just cause confusion.

All power to Tom, and shame on those who want to label him. If he decides to label himself in the future, so be it. But for now Tom... just be who you are.