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.]
The man said of the baby: “He has stolen my heart.” But Elton John will not be taking 14 month old Lev home; instead, the baby will remain in a Ukrainian orphanage for children affected by HIV/Aids. Without parents, without aunties and uncles, or his own bedroom in a loving family home.
Many believe that what Elton has sought to do, and what Madonna and Angelina Jolie have both done; taking children from disadvantaged countries to lives of untold luxury, is wrong. These mega-millionaires, billionaires even, should instead invest their time and money improving the lot of as many children in these poor countries as they can; by building new and better orphanages, providing access to medical care, clean water and healthy food.
Perhaps singling one child out for a life of opportunity whilst leaving others in a state of despair is utterly outrageous, perhaps it is a noble and loving act of giving love and a family to someone who would otherwise have none.
But these are not the things the Ukrainian Government considered when it rejected Elton Johns’ proposed adoption of little Lev. It is because, as Minister Yuriy Pavlenko has said, the mega star is too old and not married. The age gap is certainly wide. Elton is 62, much more than the 45 years the Ukrainian Government says is the maximum age difference for adoptive parents. However his civil partner, David Furnish, at 46 would be within the age limit, and it could be argued in any court or to an adoption official that the wealth and opportunity that Elton John and his partner could offer an adopted child would far outweigh the possibly reduced length of time that Elton John would have with the child due to his age.
The fact that the Ukrainian Government has rejected Elton John because he is not married is worrying, but true. However it can hardly be the fault of Ukraine, a generally conservative Eastern European nation heading into what will be a turbulent election period, to refuse to recognise a civil partnership between a gay couple as the same as marriage. Yes it shows the Ukrainian Government has having an unenlightened view on gay rights, but no one could reasonably expect anything else from this badly divided nation struggling to pull free of its Communist past and menacing Russian neighbour.
This instead exposes a fundamental flaw in the very concept of the British civil partnership scheme. Whenever UK citizens ask their Governments about the full right to marry their same sex partner, the responses that have been received from both Scottish and UK Governments, and in fact from Stonewall UK has been thus: ‘civil partnerships are fine, you get practically the same rights as married couples, you can even get dressed up and have a ceremony down at registry office, so stop bothering us and don’t push your luck.’
Although many people who believe in same sex marriage view this argument as deeply offensive and plain discrimination, it isn’t technically wrong. We DO get virtually the same rights as married couples, which is good, but without a doubt we need to go further and have full marriage equality across the UK. This aside, we then encounter the problem of international recognition of UK same sex couples. Whereas a married same sex couple can move from Canada to Belgium to Spain to Iowa and still be married, the minute they step onto British shores they are relegated to civil partnership status. Therefore when a British ‘civilly partnered’ (what is the actual verb?) couple moves to a jurisdiction that has taken the bold step to allow same sex marriage, it leaves the British couple in a legal limbo, it may even force them to have ANOTHER ceremony to ensure they get the rights they are entitled to as a couple.
The fact is that civil partnership is not a marriage, the British Government never wanted it to be classed as marriage, but our culture has somewhat embraced this as our own British style of same sex marriage, without the protests and court cases, and of course without the name or ancient traditions. So when Elton and David had their civil partnership ceremony, the media celebrated this as a ‘marriage’. Sometimes with inverted commas and a hint of tongue in cheek; other times genuinely inferring that they considered the partnership to as good as a wedding and refered to it as such. This widespread embracing of civil partnerships by society as ‘gay marriage’ has perhaps contributed to the apathetic feeling to real same sex marriage in the UK.
But the case of Elton John proves that for all the similarities, it allows all those who have well entrenched disdain for gay partnerships and the LGBT community to easily sneer at these ‘pretend weddings’ and ‘so called marriages’, and continue to view and treat same sex couples and LGBT people as less then equals, as different from ‘normal’ society and therefore deny them the right to family, security and full citizenship.
The reason same sex marriage is so contentious and civil partnerships, civil unions and domestic partnerships are by comparison not is partly because same sex marriage forces those with less than inclusive views to confront their prejudices and stereotypes. When they have to consider these people they dislike as equals, it puts them on the defensive. In the same way the male elite opposed votes for women, segregationists fought against sharing schools with African-Americans, and racists today claim President Obama is trying to destroy the American way of life; to accept that someone has the same rights as you have, to vote, go to school or become President, is to invariably accept them as the same as you.
Had Elton and David been legally allowed a real marriage, whether they would have wanted it or not, would perhaps not have let them give 14 month old Lev a new life, but it would have forced Ukrainian Government officials to consider the fact Britain believes two husbands can do just as good a job raising a child as can a husband and wife. You don’t change people’s minds by playing to their preconceived beliefs, you do it by forcing them to confront the prejudices they hold. That is why same sex marriage is so important, not just as a matter of equality, but as a way of proving to those who hide behind stereotypes that two wives or two husbands can do just as good a job as loving each other, raising children and contributing to society as anyone else.
It is great to see the Prime Minister speak so strongly against the passage of Proposition 8. It has been horrific to sit and watch as so many families hang on the balance as their marriages are deliberated in the California Supreme Court; and Gordon Browns’ description of this malicious attempt to tear families apart as “unacceptable” adds to the broad and diverse coalition of those who believe that marriage is ours by right.
New jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, even the Mormon ruled state of Utah, are all grappling with this issue, well over a half century since Separate but Equal was ruled unconstitutional. Today it is still the dominant feature of the civil rights question, as it has been in days gone by.
Martin Luther King, told us over and over he had been to the mountain top; that he had seen the Promised Land, and it was going to be built in the deepest, racist and most violent part of the south – that out of segregation, a nation of equality could be built.
Well we have seen it too. We know what our promised land looks like because we have lived it; in Massachusetts, in Connecticut, in Spain and South Africa, and for too little time we lived it in California.
It is time it comes here.
Tuesday 17th March, the Scottish Parliament will step into that ever growing line of legislatures who have been held accountable before their citizens as we ask for the rights we have been promised. The Prime Minister has called this inequality in Marriage unacceptable, he is right. There are couples clamouring at the gates of churches who will gladly marry them before the eyes of God but right now the law says no.
The law says no, we cannot have what others take for granted. The law says no, we cannot tell the world about our husbands or our wives and no, we cannot be equal in our own land.
As the law says no, we can respond only with yes. Yes, we can live as if we are married, we have done it. Yes, we can build a family, we are doing it; and yes, we deserve equality from a government we elect, and that we equally pay for.
We don’t yet live in the Promised Land, but by God we’ve seen it. We can move that mountain and we can have what is ours and it can start in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, 17th March. Let us not come back from the brink of equality as other places fall to separate but equal, let us not be scared or cynical as we listen to those who only hate, but let us say yes, yes we can have our Promised Land and yes we can have it here.