Friday, September 24, 2010

Who needs enemies....Gay Inc. In The U.K.

By: Craig Rigby
There has been a festering sore at the centre of gay politics in the UK for a while. This week was the party conference for the smaller of the two parties in the governing coalition and it seems to have brought the puss filled ulcer to a greasy, leaking head. Only time will tell if the boil can be lanced or if it will cause blood poisoning and death for the patient.

The patient in this case is the gay rights organisation Stonewall. Stonewall was founded in the 1980s to lobby the government for civil rights for lesbian and gay people. It has had a lot of success in its time. It successfully lobbied for gays in the military, employment protections, and the right of equal access to goods and services. Stonewall was also instrumental in gaining the very strong UK civil partnerships laws, laws which are different to marriage only by name.

But this is where the trouble began, while most gay people are happy with civil partnerships as they stand, most are also irritated by the lack of the word itself. Many people blame Stonewall for the situation. At the time of the consultation on gay partnership rights, Stonewall decided that pushing for every right associated with marriage was good enough. As long as gay people had equal legal entitlements, they were willing to let the word go. I for one think this was a mistake, it would have been far better to push for everything and be turned down than to roll over meekly.
Since the law came into force Stonewall has been silent on the matter. They have refused to start a campaign for gay marriage saying that, while there is still a single instance of homophobic violence left in the UK, they should not waste time pursuing a costly campaign to gain a name...marriage. Even when other gay rights groups have called them out and when government ministers have been making all the right noises, they have still refused to comment. They merely state that gay marriage is a cause which they are neither for or against.

Along comes the Liberal Democrat conference and a debate on gay marriage rights. The conference floor came out strongly in favour of gay marriage with only three people voting against. The policy they have adopted is to allow civil partnerships for straight people as well as marriage for gay people. The panel at the debate included Lynn Featherstone, minister for equality whose job it is to enact this kind of legislation and one Ben Summerskill, the Chief Executive of Stonewall.

It seems that Mr Summerskill decided to forgo his usual silence on the matter of gay marriage and offer some opinions. The extra ordinary thing is that the opinions can only be described as anti marriage!

He pointed out the financial implications of the policy. He called on the Treasury to publish an impact assessment on the cost. He then stated that the policy could cost up to 5 billion in taxes in the next 10 years as straight couples...who would have been traditionally put off by the historical implications of marriage...decide to get a civil partnership instead. There has certainly been anger from heterosexual people on their exclusion from civil partnerships. One couple even took the issue all the way to the European Court for Human Rights. But as one delegate on the conference floor put it: “if South Africa had adopted Stonewall’s approach [to the cost of equal rights], it would still have apartheid”

He has also put forward the argument that not all gay people want marriage. In 2009, explaining why the charity was then not actively campaigning for LGBT marriage equality he stated:

"we know there are quite a lot of gay and lesbian people who wouldn't want marriage, and some have explicitly said so.".
Stonewall built on this on the 21st September 2010:

"While some lesbian, gay and bisexual people fully support changing civil partnership into marriage, there are others – including particularly some women – who do not want something that is either the same as or synonymous with marriage."
This argument makes absolutely no sense. There are some gay people who pretend they are “cured” and then go around casting fire and brimstone at the rest of us.. does that mean we should all give up and get sham heterosexual marriages? It seems to me that Mr. Summerskill himself may be one of the people who doesn’t agree with marriage, one of those people who can’t get past the 12th century definition of a man owning his wife. In a recent survey it was found that 98% of gay respondents favor gay marriage.

To give the Liberal Democrats their credit he did not get an easy ride from the conference floor. Former London mayoral candidate Brian Paddick criticised Stonewall during the debate for not supporting the measure. Perhaps most damning of all was a tweet from MP Stephen Gilbert. "It should not be for me as an MP to lobby Stonewall to support gay equality, it should be for Stonewall to lobby me."

I for one, am done with Stonewall until they change their position. I am thankful for all they have done for us so far, but this isn’t just our horse falling at the final hurdle, it is our horse turning round at the final hurdle and kicking us right in the nuts.


  1. As a UK resident I am so glad you have brought this up. For a long time many of us have had issues with Stonewall and the way that they fail to represent us as a community. Whilst their apathy angers me I can't say it surprises me.

    I don't think we ever should have had civil partnerships in the UK because the fact is they aren't equal (Since there are issues with their international recognition and with equal pensions). If so then what would be the point in them? I think it is time for complete marriage equality in the UK and that should be done by abolishing civil partnerships altogether, not by opening them up to straight couples whilst simultaneously opening up marriage to gay couples.

  2. I'd say I agree... but being an American I don't even get the rights of marriage let alone the name. Stonewall may have caved on the terminology but they helped win the rights. That is far more than the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) here in the US has done in 20 yrs.

    My partner in the UK and I will register our CP this year and then guess what? I then can immigrate to the UK like any other spouse.

    SO yes I agree the "separate but equal wording" sucks, but frankly you are still light years ahead of us over here on the idiot tea-bagger side of the Atlantic.

  3. This is not trhe first thing Stonewall have done that's ticked me off. Their nomination of Julie Bindel for their Journalist of the Year award was unforgivable.

    I'm not donating to anyone right now, but once I can afford it I'll be donating to OutRage! - it's money far better spent. I recommend everyone else do the same, and if you'd previously supported Stonewall write and tell them what you're doing and why.

  4. It is sad to see a single word making such a wide chasm. While the rest of the world is still struggling with homophobia, UK already enjoys more than most gays can dream of. People can disagree with their approach to marriage but is it right to attack allies, especially when they have won important battles, like gays in the military? For hundreds of thousands of Americans serving in the military under DADT, Stonewall looks like a hero, not a villain.

    Many other countries had to have civil unions before they had marriages. It is only a word. If it takes a little longer to get it, is it worth the ideological battle raging, and the many couples denied their rights while waiting, dying? Personally, I think Stonewall did the right thing. If the climate at the time was not yet right for full marriage equality, then accept everything but name equality until the time is right, like now.

    It is a pity that political egos turn this into a battle when it's nothing more than a simple disagreement. If everyone take a deep breath, take a step back, and work together to get to that last mile, winning marriage as well, that's what a community is suppose to do.

  5. Would it do Stonewall any harm not to start supporting marriage eqaulity? Would it do them some good to support it?

    I agree we're better off than some countries, although worse off than others, there are some differences between CPs and marriages and the British CP is uniquely British and may not be translatable abroad.

    We should be grateful to all those that campaign for LGBT rights and let us not foreget Stonewell aren't the only ones that brought about the changes mentioned above. There are govts, the EU and some pretty good MPs around. Of course we live in a different age now as well so CPs , althouigh only 5 yrs old, are outdated, not becoming the norm in progressive societies for gay couples.

    CP are not marriages, they're not equal. Yes, we should condemn Stonewall loudly for not supporting the call for marriage equality. Nothing less that equality is good enough for us and we shouldn't settle for second best.

    We shouldn't compare oursleves with countries that have lesser rights than us and be grateful for how much better we are than them. I'm sure Americans gays are better off than gays from Iraq and so on but I'd be surprised for American gays to be satisfied with what they have just becuase they are better than gays in Iraq. There is a move in the UK towards marriage equality and Stonewall should not prevent or interfer in a negative way to stop this.

  6. Let's look at other European countries.

    Click on any of the links in the list of 7 countries that legalized same-sex marriage, and you will see the history of their struggle. Let's go through the list systematically, in alphabetical order.

    Belgium - civil union: Jan. 1, 2000, with limited rights. Same-sex marriage: June 1, 2003, without right to adopt. Right to co-parent: June, 2006.

    Iceland - registered partnership: June 2, 2006, with full equal rights. Same-sex marriage: June 27, 2008.

    Netherlands - Registered partnership: Jan. 1, 1998, with full equal rights. Same-sex marriage: April 1, 2001.

    Norway - Registered partnership: Aug. 1, 1993, without right to adopt. Adoption allowed: 2002. Same-sex marriage: Jan. 1, 2009.

    Portugal - Same-sex marriage: June 5, 2010, with full rights.

    Spain - Same-sex marriage: July 3, 2005, with full rights.

    So it appears that most countries that allow same-sex marriage only achieved it recently, after years of allowing registered partnerships, sometimes with limited rights. Notice there are 13 other countries with registered partnerships, not same-sex marriage, some as recently as 2010, such as Austria and Ireland.

    Is it better to have full rights same-sex marriage than to have limited rights registered partnerships? Of course it is. Is it better to have nothing if not full equal rights same-sex marriage?

    I suggest a little consideration for the thousands of couples in those countries who had registered partnership but not equality in marriage. Was it better for them to have nothing or at least some protection when it comes to hospital visitation rights, pension and insurance rights, financial rights of all sorts?

    Stonewall has done well for the many registered partnerships in the UK. Ask Sir Elton John if he would prefer to have nothing until full same-sex marriage. Ask the many partnerships where one partner has since deceased, and the other has been protected financial by the registered partnership.

    I think all the attacks against Stonewall is mean-spirited. I am not surprised if the original people in Stonewall feel defensive, and paint themselves into an unrealistic position against same-sex marriage by all the attacks. Is that how a community behave? It is one thing to withdraw your support, financial and political, from an organization you disagree with. It is another to attack it viciously.

    Be grateful for their service; agree to disagree, and move on.