It really is quite astonishing. The head of the UK’s largest gay lobby group, Ben Summerskill, has announced that Stonewall does not campaign for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. He claims this would be too expensive and urges gay couples to be content with civil partnerships.
According to a report in Pink News, Summerskill had refused on previous occasions to outline Stonewall’s policy on marriage equality but when questioned at a LibDem conference fringe meeting stated that Stonewall will not actively campaign for marriage equality because they believe it could cost £5 billion to implement.
No one is sure how they justify that mind-bending figure, but part of their argument seems to be increased pressure on pension funds, particularly if unmarried heterosexual couples decide to have civil partnerships. Since heterosexual couples already have the option of marriage (and it must be comparatively few who reject the word ‘marriage’ on ideological grounds to such a degree that they would sacrifice their pensions) it seems implausible.
What is even more perplexing is that Stonewall feel it is their role to do a cost-analysis rather than simply holding a government to account on equality grounds. It claims in its defense that there are more urgent priorities, such as tackling homophobic violence.
What Stonewall evidently fails to see is that if a group of citizens are not fundamentally equal before the law, then this appears to legitimises all other forms of harassment and discrimination they receive. The government has a moral duty to signal that all are equal if it expects society to follow suit. Gay lobby groups should understand this and instinctively have equality at the core of their policy. Equality is the top priority. Everything else is commentary, detail or tangential.
As Peter Tatchell of the other leading gay campaigning group, OutRage! says:
“While many straight politicians now support same-sex civil marriage, Stonewall is refusing to campaign against the homophobic ban on gay and lesbian couples getting married. Among other reasons, it says equal marriage rights could cost £5 billion to implement.
“It is shocking to see a gay equality organisation declining to support equal rights legislation because it might cost too much. No other equality organisation makes equal human rights contingent on the cost. It is deplorable to insinuate that we can only have equality if it doesn’t cost too much.
“Where does Stonewall get this £5 billion figure from? If civil marriage and civil partnerships are the same, as Stonewall has always claimed, how could marriage equality cost more?
“Every other comparable LGBT organisation in the world is campaigning to end the ban on same-sex marriage, but not Stonewall. It is out of step with the British and global trend towards equal marriage rights,” said Mr Tatchell.
An open letterhas been sent to Stonewall signed by many leading gay campaigners and academics. Two signatories, Professor Celia Kitzinger and Professor Sue Wilkinson were the lesbian couple who in 2005 went to the High Court in an effort to have the UK recognise their lawful Canadian marriage. Liberty and OutRage! supported their case. They got no help from Stonewall.
The real tragedy is that Stonewall will be helping the those forces raging against gay equality for whom marriage equality is the final showdown: the tabloid press, evangelical religious groups and the far-right. They will now all – with a straight face – be able to say that even Stonewall, a leading homosexual rights pressure group agrees that gay people are not worthy of marriage.
Stonewall will probably slightly back-pedal now and issue a statement that they do support marriage equality after all (now that they’ve seen the strength of feeling in the gay community) but insisting that they have identified other priorities.
These will be weasel words. Equality is, and must remain, the priority of any civil rights organisation. It is the beacon. Without it, we are lost in an opaque mist of relativism, under-the-table deals and, ultimately, the injustice of convenience.
UPDATE: The anti-gay Christian Institute has wasted no time in using Summerskill’s comments to its own addvantage, issuing a press release titled: Lib Dems back ‘£5bn’ same-sex marriage policy