So last Tuesday was described by many as an historic Parliamentary occasion, and a landmark day for the LGBT population, and for the furthering and advancement of equality and progress more generally.
MP’s voted by an overwhelming majority of 400 in favour of gay marriage to 175 against.
Before getting into the arguments and controversies around this, I want to make an initial point. Much of the daily business done in Parliament does not pique the interests of the general population, apart from political nerds and Westminster junkies.
However last Tuesday was altogether different. Much time in Parliament is spent self-aggrandizing, horse trading and engaging in verbal combat, not to mention the scrutiny of some dull legislation. Hence, many people, apart from political junkies tune out of, and are apathetic towards the political process.
Now I will confess to being a slight political junkie myself, but this 3 act play had me gripped more than normal. From the passion of David Lammy to the putrid views of Roger Gale there was something for everyone, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions which I will discuss later.
But at the heart of this battle, there are two distinct forces, a la David and Goliath and Good vs.Evil. These are the forces of equality and religious freedom. Those against marriage equality would, and frequently do have you believe that these two forces are diametrically opposed to each other, and that never the twain shall meet. However this is just posturing and unecessary scaremongering. The central problem with this being couched as an either/or argument too is that it offers up a very monolithic view of Christianity and religion more widely. The view that is being offered up is that of the Conservative Evangelicals. The view offers up for example that God created marriage in the spirit of complementarity, that is to say between a man and a woman. Another common, derogatory slur is to opine that marriage is between Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, although that slur is becoming somewhat tedious and repetitive now.
Secondly at the heart of the battle there lies a question. It is simply this. What kind of society do you want? Do you want a society which is divided and stratified, based on something as arbitrary as the gender of the person you go to bed with? Or do you want one where everyone can marry freely, regardless of sexuality.
Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough, suggested that we have to get away from the idea in life that everything has to be viewed through the “merciless prism of equality”
Now, this is utterly typical whinging from somebody who is showing a total disregard for, and appreciation of the issues at hand. Put more frankly, this is a total dismissal of the concept of equality from someone looking at it through the merciless prism of privilege, and someone who sadly takes it for granted, using his position in Parliament to spout his vile vitriol, which has no ontological basis apart from, wait for it, Mr Leigh’s own opinion!
In my view, something becomes merciless when it is unbearable, or whenever it causes an element of fear? I ask this. What is to be feared from equality? What makes it so unbearable? So offensive? So rancid?
It struck me when I watched the debate that I thought we had come further in the struggle for gay rights than we have. Perhaps that is my own fault though. Perhaps I have cloaked myself in a protected coterie of LGBT-friendliness f0r too long.
But this would be my final thought to Mr Leigh. I have looked at the merciless prism of inequality through the lenses of being trans, lesbian, and in a wheelchair, and none of the lenses look very pretty. In fact, I would go so far as to say sometimes that life is a lemon and I want my money back. However that is only sometimes.
But the barrage of anti gay sentiment made me wonder if in fact I was watching the mother of all Parliaments, or perhaps a bunch of neanderthals. MP’s had the gall to say that they were being accused of homophobia, through choosing not to vote in favour of the Bill.
What other reason could the general public discern, when they are not intimately acquainted with every Member of Parliament’s personal and spiritual beliefs? I also wonder in passing how many strawmen the “religious freedom” argument took to cobble together.
People in this country already have religious freedom. They are not locked up and persecuted for it, as in commonplace in many countries across the globe.
I believe in the strongest terms possible that the freedom granted to one person should not be used to curtail and subdue the freedom granted to another. That is not freedom, that is conditional freedom, and in the 21st Century United Kingdom that we live in, in is simply not right, nor ethical nor moral, and not fair.
Stephen Gilbert (Lib Dem), Margot James (Conservative) and David Lammy (Labour) all made excellent passionate speeches. Stephen spoke passionately in favour of the Bill. Margot warned that socially conservative views may cost an election.
But if Lammy were an actor, he would have won an Oscar. He used his position as a black MP to be at one with the LGBT community. He drew parallels with the times when black and white people were segregated, were forced to drink from separate water fountains and attend different schools. These wounds cut deep for people who were treated differently, just because of the colour of their skin. That is wrong, and so is denying the gay, trans, and intersex and non binary community the right to marry.
As David Lammy said so well, it is the kind of language that pushed Rosa Parks to the back of the bus.
It is the politics of division and segregation. It is bad and rotten and has no place in my conscience.
It also enforces hierarchy when a group of people are told to be happy with the civil partnerships that have been afforded to us.
That is simply not good enough. Firstly, because the right of people to be unified is not a luxury item.
Secondly, it is a diktat of the very worst kind.
It says to minorities, know your place. You enjoy the leftovers while we eat the banquet. It makes people feel less worthy, less important and less human. Love is love.
I can tell you, there is nothing worse than watching the majority doing something you are perfectly able to do. The difference is, minorities cannot. The LGBTINBA community I am sure has been happy for years watching their straight, heterosexual colleagues to get married. Well, now it is time for that status quo to end, and I thank the Prime Minister David Cameron, and his predecessor Tony Blair for paving the way for this. I support David Cameron’s progressive stance but I am sorry that many in his party do not see that the relentless prism of equality is necessary for a forward looking society.
Finally I want to turn to the radio presenter Cristo Foufas, who does weekend overnights on the London talk station LBC 97.3.
Cristo is openly gay, and opened up the phonelines to discuss the week’s devel0pments. The amount of homophobia was disgusting. The first caller claimed that “they should keep it in the bedroom”
Others claimed that children would be confused if adopted by gay parents. How blinkered the country seemed to be in the early hours of Saturday morning made me despair, and feel sorry for Cristo at being exposed to this bigotry. But he did not do the polite thing and sit back and take it. He challenged, he was angry, and I was proud of that.
Discrimination is not OK, and he showed that.
But the “gay friends” argument annoys me, and as David Lammy said;
“Separate but equal is a fraud.”
It does still mean you are subjugated. It keeps you in your place, where you belong. But we are also showing our strength, as an LGBTINBA community. It is time for the merciless prism of equality to shine like a rainbow beacon upon us all. That time, friends is now.
So as I conclude, I return to my title. Many previously invisible voices now do have choices which are becoming more visible. But some still remain invisible? I think particularly of the intersex community and the non binary community. Their voices are valid too but have been largely muted out of this discourse. What will Government do for them, so that they can celebrate and affirm love for others too. They are a part of society too. Acknowledge them as such, and give them freely their stake in this pivotal moment of human history.
At the end of the day, what I have spoken of here is love. Love which at its baseline, does not grapple with religious freedom or legal locks, but burns passionately and brightly in the hearts of all those who have seen its flame.
If a gay person gets married, it does not annul a straight marriage. It does not change the meaning of marriage, and love, unlike humans under the guise of religious freedom, does not discriminate. Marriage is a symbol of love, a symbol which should be open to all. I did not hear a single credible argument against the same sex couples Bill. I rest my case. Perhaps the small C conservative spine will be eroded.