Last week Pink News had an exclusive that Stonewall had decided to fight for religious civil partnerships. On its face it sounds like good news, right? That’s a significant difference between marriage and civil partnership, and with many faith groups fully inclusive of LGBT people, it seems there is no reason to disallow a ceremony in a church or synagogue that is willing to conduct it.
But take a look at the comments left on this story, or almost any other story predominantly featuring Stonewall, and what is immediately obvious is the depth of anger, the feelings of so much disappointment with Stonewall, with their policies and their actions. I don’t think that the critics are only from a disgruntled minority, I think there is widespread and growing disillusion with Stonewall, a feeling that they are getting it wrong too many times, that they no longer speak for the everyday LGBT person.
On the issue of marriage, Stonewall are certainly getting it wrong. One comment from last weeks’ story sums it up for me;
What is it that Stonewall doesn't get about this?
Many of us aren't interested in civil partnerships – WE WANT FULL EQUAL ACCESS TO MARRIAGE.
That's what Stonewall should be campaigning on, not entrenching this second-class status we have now. Get a grip, Stonewall.
Comment by David — November 19, 2009 @ 2:25
What campaigning for religious civil partnerships does is undermine one of the strongest arguments for overturning the ban on same sex marriage. Article 9, Section 1 of the Human Rights Act guarantees the freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and for individuals to manifest that religion or belief in worship, practice, teaching and observance.
Marriage is fundamental to many faiths, including faiths that are inclusive of LGBT people and same sex couples. The law as it stands separates a congregation by sexual orientation, allowing straight members of that faith to practice their religious teaching and marry, whilst the LGBT section of the congregation can only receive a legally meaningless blessing, being forced to have a secular civil partnership.
If religious civil partnerships were introduced, it would correct that discrepancy, but then what are you left with? Two systems of recognition for couples, with marriage still legally denied to same sex couples. And for what reason? Does Ben Summerskill, OBE, believe that marriage is between one man and one woman? Does he think same sex couples don’t deserve marriage? Does he think that gays can’t handle a marriage?
A real answer would be nice. Stonewall are actively undermining the argument for full marriage equality through their actions, to know why seems the least they could do.
Marriage isn’t just important socially or personally, but still politically. The Conservatives have a policy of granting more tax breaks to married couples. Would this automatically be extended to civil partnerships? No Tory will give you a straight answer on that. And every time the rights or benefits of marriage changes, gay groups will have to spend their precious little time and resources lobbying for that change to be included for civil partners.
And each time the civil partnership act is amended to keep up with marriage, the absurdity of having two separate systems becomes clearer. The gap between commitments to equality and actions that promote equality becomes wider. The unanswered question doesn’t go away, it only gets louder, why can’t we just get married?
But I think the root of their growing dislocation from the everyday gay is not just in the civil partnership issue, but is deeper, yet at the same time the most obvious.
They have forgotten the meaning of the word Stonewall.
June 1969, the gay icon Judy Garland had just died. In the early hours of that morning, the men in drag, the trannies, the screaming fairies, butch dykes, and queens that went to the Stonewall Inn, many mourning her death, were being arrested and dragged out of the bar.
Like the spark of revolutions in other places, an extraordinary set of circumstances produced a moment in time where history turned. For every Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning person alive today, without question we owe where we are right now to those who rebelled at the Stonewall Inn.
The well built drag queen who smacked a policeman over the head with her purse, the flamers and hustlers that uprooted a parking meter and used it as a battering ram to get back into the bar and help their sisters and brothers, the queens and fairies who pushed back after they were pushed too far, they are the ones that let even the most straight acting among us live and work openly.
Yet today, there is no T in Stonewall. ‘Equality’ for Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals yes; Transgender people? All those who don’t quite fit into the L or G or B? Look somewhere else.
I have heard that this is because there are specific Transgender groups; that some Transgender activists wish to advocate for things themselves and want their own organisations.
If we know one thing as LGBT people, it’s that diversity is good. So why does this stop Stonewall doing T? How can there be too many groups advocating for Transgender equality? Why would it be a bad thing for messages of Trans inclusion and rights to come from many diverse and inclusive groups, rather than just a few?
No one can or should ever split up the LGBT community. By doing so, the very genesis of the entire gay rights movement is at a stroke forgotten. It was no straight acting conformists that initiated that rebellion in 1969. It was fags, queers, camp men and butch women that through punches and pushed back.
That’s why Stonewall are getting it wrong. Its not just marriage, civil partnerships or the Equality bill. its that they have compromised one too many times, they have conformed just a little too much, they are dividing the LGBT community just too many times.
They have forgotten the meaning of Stonewall.
[Nick Henderson is director of LGBT Network, which advocates for same sex marriage in Scotland.]