The legislation allowing same-sex marriage in the UK has been a long time coming. The Civil Partnership Act, that came into affect eight years ago, promised to be the first step in the rapid stride towards total equality for gay men and women, and indeed in the last eight years we have seen major progress made in equality for homosexuals.
No longer are they categorised as second-class citizens, or ostracized to the fringes of society. Anyone can talk about homosexuality; young or old, male or female, white-van-man or high powered city lawyer, in any pub or bar in the country without fear of violent or offensive repudiation.
Gay people can pretty much get married without anyone batting an eyelid and, of course, can give blood no questions asked.
In case you’re blind to sarcasm, I’m being ironic. This ‘rapid stride’ towards equality for gays has rather degenerated into more of a slow crawl, and there is certainly no shortage of volunteers who would quite cheerfully kick us while we’re down there. Don’t mistake me for being needlessly cynical; I think it’s terrific that the Same Sex Marriage Bill has recently passed through the House of Commons but, let’s face it, this has not happened unhindered or nearly as quickly as it should have.
We are in 2013, and an issue which essentially affects only the gay community, positively at that, is still causing an uproar. In Britain we pride ourselves on being a progressive and liberal society, but when a de facto issue, gay equality, shows signs of becoming de jure, then people and politicians show their true colours. And very few of them are the colours of the LGBTQ rainbow.
The Same-Sex Marriage Bill passed through the House of Commons with a majority of 400 ‘Ayes’ to 175 ‘Nos’. A landslide victory, right? Not quite, if we stop patting our Parliament on the back for being, as Nick Clegg puts it “very strongly in favour of equal marriage”, and take a slightly more dispassionate look at this result. We have 575 votes cast in total and so we have a percentage of 70% ‘For’ versus 30% ‘Against’.
Seems like a strong majority, but surely the thought that more than a quarter of our elected MPs are still opposed to same-sex marriage seems mildly worrying? Of the 175 votes against, a staggering 136, 78%, of these were from Conservatives, including the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and the Welsh Secretary David Jones. In fact, if we take the Conservatives in isolation, they as a party actually voted against the Bill rather than in favour, with the 136 ‘Nos’ beating the ‘Ayes’ by 9 votes.
Now I speculate here, but it strikes me that there is an opportunity to be seized by the ‘progressive’ parties of our country. With the Tories so obviously split about the Gay Marriage Bill, the liberal Labour and Liberal Democrats could use this very convenient platform to showcase their ‘progressive’ beliefs to the general public by voting in favour of this Bill which has so divided the Tories. They may as well be saying ‘Bloody Tories, look how backwards they are! Vote for us, we want to let you drink cosmopolitans and pretend to be unicorns or do whatever it is you gays do, not like the Big Bad Tories!’
When talking about politics, there is very little other way for a member of a minority group to be other than cynical. It’s a politically savvy manoeuvre and, ultimately, Labour is cashing in on this very obvious demonstration of outdated conservatism by the Tories, in a bid to monopolise on Tory hate and reclaim the power that was snatched from them in the last general election. I’m sure there are some MPs who generally believe in the Gay Marriage Bill, but anyone who says there isn’t any political agenda to be fulfilled by voting in favour of it in the Commons is either being very idealistic or just lying.
Ultimately, though, a statistical perspective is not the right way to view the ramifications of the Gay Marriage Bill. It is primarily a symbolic gesture, and as such we can see responses to the Bill as symbolic of attitudes towards homosexuality in the UK.
In perhaps the most selfless and masochistic act I have ever undertaken, I decided to watch the two minute and 43 second-long interview with Tory MP Sir Roger Gale on the BBC, regarding his views on the passing of the Bill.
With his eighteenth century opinions quite congruent with his eighteenth century appearance, no bright young buck is old Roger. He describes how “there are a huge number of people very concerned indeed” about the Bill and somehow suggests that gay marriage features on the same stratum as incest.
He suggests an abolition of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill which would be replaced with a vague ‘Civil Union’ bill of some kind which would allow everyone ‘currently excluded’ to be joined in a civil union, such as gay people and brothers and sisters, and therefore presumably humans and animals, because these are all certainly part of the same issue.
He insists that this would begin to satisfy the opponents but, realising that he has just likened homosexual matrimony to incest, Gale quickly tries to backtrack on this, saying that this type of union is actually ‘to do with property and legal rights.’ Sorry? What does that even mean? Oh yes, because the idea that two people of the same sex should be able to marry because they love each other is exactly the same as a brother and sister marrying for some ambiguous ‘property rights’, presumably rights for a property in which they can breed and raise their gene-deficient, mutant spawn.
What really struck me about this, is that one of the main arguments against the Gay Marriage Bill is that it would set a ‘dangerous’ precedent. If the gays were allowed to marry, then it would pave the way for incestuous marriages, marriages of bestiality, marriages to inanimate objects, and so on. While this argument is obviously filled with so many flaws that I would need an entire separate article to adequately name and unpick them in, Gale’s proposed ‘Civil Union Bill’ would actually legalise the very unions that he and the Bill’s religious opponents claim to fear so much, all in aid of protecting the semantics of the word ‘marriage’.
It is quite obvious, then, that the issue here is not that gay marriages would devalue marriage and set this precedent, but rather that opponents to the Bill such as Gale, who would use this argument are using it instead as a transparent veil to cover the fact that they just plain don’t like gays.
When we look at the amount of opposition the Bill has, we uncover in the House of Commons a microcosm of a very anti-homosexual, in fact, homophobic feeling that, if we are honest with ourselves, is not so difficult to find in the ‘real world’ outside of the Commons.
There is no doubt that homosexuality has become far more widely accepted in the past decade or so, especially among the younger generation, and tolerated among the older generation. I say ‘tolerated’, as ‘accepted’ suggests that something is considered a part of the norm and therefore where one wishes to place their genitals no longer matters to anyone, which is certainly not the case with the older generation currently.
This may be a generalisation, but it is a generalisation with basis. Acceptance can never replace tolerance until, to be blunt, the older generation die out and the excuse “It was just how I was brought up”, that is often used as an ‘explanation’ for someone’s homophobia, no longer holds currency.
That is not to say that homosexuality is entirely accepted within my generation- I myself am no stranger to homophobic verbal abuse, and several of my gay friends have experienced homophobic violence for things as harmless and unobtrusive as holding hands in public.
When two people who love each other cannot hold hands because a homophobe deems it as ‘shoving’ their homosexuality ‘in their face’ and will respond with violence, while it is quite alright for two sweaty heterosexual people to dry-hump each other furiously on a sofa in the corner of a club without fear of reprisal, then we are still a long way from acceptance.
There is more to equality than just passing legislation; feelings and attitudes need to change before real progress can be made.
Anti-homosexuality is not always direct and obvious as it is in the case of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill; the lethal strain of ignorance about homosexuality has spread even to the NHS. Incredibly, gay men are still not allowed to give blood, and there seems to be no evidence of this changing any time soon.
Last time I checked, my blood wasn’t poisonous black sludge and as far as I’m aware nor is the blood of most gay men and so, with blood stocks so critically low, can the NHS really afford to be alienating an expanding sector of the male population?
Of course, the NHS’s reasoning for this is, predictably, that gay men have a tendency to be riddled with the dreaded AIDS, an association which has been brought up with gay men so much that it’s almost a joke.
Yes, Freddie Mercury died of AIDS, and it was all very sad, but Mercury was a rock god and therefore, unsurprisingly, he was extremely reckless. To most gay men, contraception may not be particularly ‘rock-and-roll’, but most are able to hold in check their unbridled animal urges that strike whenever another gay man comes in close proximity just long enough to realise that they should probably put on a condom.
Incredibly, being gay is not actually a pre-requisite for contracting AIDS, one contracts it from unprotected sex, not by having an affinity for the same sex’s genitalia. The AIDS scare of the 80s and 90s died out a long time ago in the UK, yet for some reason the gay community is still feeling the residual effects of this in the form of the NHS’s ludicrous and, quite frankly, backwards policy.
I may have began this article saying that the legalisation of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill was a long time coming, but unfortunately anti-homosexual feeling both inside the House of Commons, and outside in the collective consciousness of the British people and even in institutions such as the NHS, is an even longer time going.
It has taken eight years to reach the point of so-called marriage equality, which only came when the government finally began to realise that the gays couldn’t be bought off indefinitely with the compromise of the Civil Partnership Act.
Why we aren’t yet a non-secular society is beyond me. I am not an anti-theist at all, but the notion that conservative religious views condemning gay marriage should still be considered to carry more currency than that of gay people, and those who are pro-gay rights is quite frankly insane.
What I shall further never be able to understand, is why anyone should discriminate against someone based on who they decide to have sex with or even marry. It affects them in literally no way at all. I mean honestly, what are the consequences of allowing gay people to get married?
I’m fairly confident we’re not all going to degenerate into pig-shagging Satanists or spread a plague across the country, let alone ‘devalue marriage’, so why is the need felt to impose outdated views somewhere where they are neither needed nor wanted.
The Same-Sex Marriage Bill is not even out of the proverbial woods yet, as it comes to face the House of Lords shortly.
Luckily for the gay community, however, those with seats in the House of Lords have a reputation for being enlightened and forward-thinking liberals, so there should be nothing to worry about!