Sunday, 17 January 2010

Equal but Different

Final blog of the night... and this is only because I said I would.

I am, as previously mentioned on here, thoroughly fed up with outbursts of mockrage from Tories on Twitter, although in some ways it's a useful indicator that what I've said has hit a raw nerve. Latest case is the RTing by me of a Tweet from a constituent, which, as abbreviated by me, was: "A gay man/lesbian voting Tory is a fool. Cameron voted ag repeal section 28 & party is aligned with homophobes in EU". (The constituent, btw, is a journalist who writes on LGBT issues for various local publications. And he's a gay man in a civil partnership. I've met him and his husband; they're nice blokes).

So why has this struck a nerve with the Tories? Obviously no-one likes being called a fool, and perhaps the language could have been more moderate, but you can see I'd already had to condense the tweet to fit it in, without being able to add comment of my own. And anyway, I do think that most people would be misguided/ mistaken/ unwise/ foolish/ irrational/ imprudent/ demented/ derranged/ just plain wrong [delete as appropriate] to vote Tory at the next election. Of course I do. A Tory Government would be a disaster for this country and deeply damaging for my constituents on a personal level.

But let's get back to the main issue. I suspect my constituent's tweet was inspired by reading this piece in Saturday's Guardian, on the Conservatives' less than impressive track record in voting against gay rights. I've not seen any conclusive proof that the leopard has changed its spots, despite Cameron's attempts to convince us otherwise. If a gay man/ lesbian votes on the basis of identity politics, then it's hard to see why they'd vote Tory. (And none of the 'outraged' have said anything to challenge that view).

Of course, many LGBT voters won't vote on that basis, which is where the tweet is open to challenge. If you're a gay man with parents who happen to be very elderly and very wealthy, and the only thing you care about in life is getting your hands on as much of their money as possible, then it could be argued you'd be a fool NOT to vote Tory.

Let's move on though, to the issues which I know concern my constituent, and on which basis he may well cast his vote at the next election. An example of "the politics of But" (rather than "the politics of And"). Yes, the track record of this Labour Government on equalities is remarkable, from equalising the age of consent, gay adoption, scrapping section 28, civil partnerships, recognising homophobic hate crimes.... have a look here for more. But.

Civil partnerships are not the same as marriage. And we won't have true equality until they are. I've tried looking into this, and the explanation I got as to why the UK hasn't gone down the path of other countries who have legalised gay marriage was that it's more difficult in the UK because whereas in those countries you can only be married in a civil ceremony and can then choose to go on and have a religious service should you want one, in the UK you can be married in church without the civil element. Which I took to mean that you couldn't have gay marriage in this country without persuading the Church of England, Catholic church, etc, to accept it.

But you could have a concept of civil marriages for all those who don't care for the religious part of the marriage ceremony, so there would at least be equality there, and hope that the Church takes a more enlightened view in future. (And give it nudges in the right direction). Although that could be seen as downgrading civil ceremonies for opposite sex couples and be met with opposition? I don't know the extent to which this was all discussed before the 2004 Act became law - I wasn't in Parliament then - but I can see why the "But" matters, and perhaps it's time we revisited it.

The other "But" is the fact gay men are still barred from being blood donors, because they're in a high risk group for HIV transmission. My initial response to this was, well, it's an understandable restriction. But when you think about it... Giving blood is an altruistic thing. We don't pay people to give blood in this country. People do it out of the goodness of their hearts. And it's self-certifying. People who go along to give blood are by and large trusted to say whether or not they've been indulging in risky behaviour. A gay man might not know if he's HIV positive, but I can't see why, if he had any doubt in his mind, he'd decide to go and give blood. And there are second and third generation tests which pick up infected blood anyway. The risk in the US, according to this, of contracting HIV through a blood transfusion is 1 in 2 million units transfused. And - correct me if I'm wrong - people are paid to give blood there. So I can see why gay men find it offensive to all be lumped into the same bracket, and to, in effect, be accused of being indifferent to the fate of people to whom they donate blood.


Tim Roll-Pickering said...

I think it's the basic assumption that people are expected to follow identity politics which triggered the response, as identity politics and conservatism especially have never been bedfellows. But anyway...

As for marriage/civil partnerships, there seems to be a different explanation give for this inequality each time - the last one I heard said that it wouldn't have got through the House of Lords so there was no point in trying. (The person in question is proudly trumpeting the fox hunting ban so exactly why they'd never heard of the Parliament Act I've no idea.)

I find the explanation you've been given hard to swallow. Canada has both religious and civil marriages like the UK and had no problem with allowing same-sex marriage without forcing it upon religious faithes. The 2005 Civil Marriages Act has the following clause:

"3. It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs."

Such an arrangement could just as easily work in the UK, allowing not only civil marriage equality but also allowing those religions that do recognise same-sex marriage to continue to do so.

Pointer2null said...

Re: Gay blood donation. The ban is all based on prejudice and old bad science...

A straight man who has unprotected sex with a different girl every weekend can give blood TODAY
A straight man who has had unprotected sex with several prostitutes can give blood after just 1 year
Those who have had unprotected sex with an intravenous drug user can give blood after 1 year
Those who have had unprotected sex abroad in a high risk HIV country can give blood after 1 year
Gay men are banned FOR LIFE, even if they've only ever had sex with one partner - and even if they used protection.

cowbutt said...

What Pointer2null said in his last para re. Gay blood donation. Nothing more to add to that really.

Re. different-sex civil partnerships:

David Love said...

I'm hoping the title was ironic? It sounds rather like "separate but equal"

That said, I really do support the idea of civil marriages of equal status with religious marriages: in many countries a priest or magistrate have exactly the same standing as each other: Both are (potentially) marriage officers and there is no legal difference between the types of marriage. Then (whether we speak of gay or hetero marriage) you marry in a church with a priest if you want the religious element and in court if you don't. I think that's better all round.