Homophobia,  Law Reform

Miscarriage on Equality Street

Over at CiF, Peter Tatchell is giving his backing to a heterosexual couple who want to have a civil partnership, not a marriage. OutRage! has long held the position that separate can never be equal and has also argued that any two people in a relationship of mutual care and commitment sharing a home ought to be able to secure rights if they want them – such as the popular example of two elderly sisters living together.

Anyhow, instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll republish an op-ed I wrote back in 2004 for ReFresh magazine. You’ll have to forgive the anachronisms.

We humans have a remarkable capacity for self-delusion. When we were kids we’d much rather have had a thick slice of chocolate cake than the bland shredded wheat or flaked corn fare of the breakfast table. And so it came to pass that muffins were invented. We can kid ourselves that it’s the healthy, alternative breakfast but the truth is, a muffin is just cake with good public relations. Yes, a muffin is just a slice of cake without the guilt and the stigma of having cake for breakfast. Clever, eh?

The government’s Civil Partnership Bill is a political muffin. It’s an unhealthy recipe for continued discrimination and second-class status, deceptively packaged as equality and given a good spin-doctor.

What is so hard to understand about the concept of equality? In its present form, the Civil Partnership Bill assumes that gay people are inferior to heterosexuals. Why else should marriage be reserved for heterosexuals alone?

Now, this is not about whether gay people should “ape” heterosexual institutions or not because, put bluntly, rejecting what you’re not allowed to have in the first place is a hollow gesture. It’s about equality. It’s about insisting that rights available to one group of citizens are equally available to others – that’s all.

Certainly, many believe that we can’t expect more so shouldn’t ask for more, or that change comes in small steps. But consider this: The Berlin Wall wasn’t brought down with sandpaper; it was brought down with sledgehammers! Change has to be decisive, not incremental. The more half-measures we accept, the weaker our political leverage becomes when we try to demand the rest. We must demand full rights NOW and compelling reasons for why the Bill still sets us apart from our heterosexual neighbours.

Besides, wouldn’t it be much easier if the law were simply changed so that the legal meaning of ‘spouse’ included both opposite- and same-sex partners? So why, other than the fact that we’re considered second-class, is this Apartheid-style legislation even being considered – much less supported – by some parts of the gay community? Have we bought into the belief that we don’t deserve equality?

The bottom line: Apartheid thinking perpetuates the “us and them” way of thinking. It’s no way to build an inclusive society. Imagine if the Government announced one law for white people and another for black people. Imagine if they announced they’d be turning back the clock to a time when women were governed by different laws to men. It’d be unthinkable, but here they are in 2004 suggesting that there should be one law for heterosexual citizens and another for gay citizens. Isn’t it outrageous?

What’s more, it leaves the door open for future discrimination. With separate laws, future governments can grant extra concessions to heterosexuals, or even remove rights from gay couples without affecting the rights of the other group.

How do they even believe they can get away with it? Simple. They’re relying on our fear that if we don’t accept this we might not get anything at all. How cynical Mr Blair! The gay citizens of the United Kingdom want equality. Nothing more, nothing less.

We must tame our fear. We must not let the Government off the hook. They say they won’t consider simply opening up marriage to all. We must demand to know why!

The principle of equality has served our struggle for rights and freedom well. We must not give it up now. We must stand firm in our demands for an equal and inclusive law in an equal and inclusive country.

Don’t serve us muffins, Mr Blair.

Of course we know that the campaign for marriage equality came to naught and the government ultimately pressed ahead with one law for gays and one law for straights.

We were told there were “compelling reasons” for having done so. Compelling reasons? Are there any? Not that I’ve heard. Most simply parrot lobbyists for religious organisations like the Christian Institute. We’ve been told that marriage is for raising children. Well, some gay people do that. Besides, many straight couples do not want children or can’t have them. They’re not barred from the right to marry. We’re told that marriage is a sacred religious institution, but that’s also nonsense. No one bars heterosexual atheists from marriage. They’re free to have a civil marriage without a vicar in sight.

The most ludicrous reason – put forward by the Christian Right – is that allowing same-sex couples to marry will “devalue the currency of marriage”. What bollocks. Amazing how even the failure of heterosexual marriages can be blamed on the gays!