I can smell something in the air: the festering stench of complacency.
More from Patrick Strudwick
And it terrifies me. The complacency is over gay marriage. There is a feeling among gay and liberal people that somehow it will just happen, that because the government has launched their consultation on it and there will be a vote in parliament that the battle is all but won.
This optimism is blind. It is blind to our opponents. The conservative Christian lobby is advancing fast on this matter. As ever, the homophobes are organised and very, very vocal. They have money, power and the unerring belief that God is on their side, so fight to the end – and fight using whatever means necessary – they must. The Coalition for Marriage has the ear of MPs, religious leaders and it has (at the time of going to press) over 400,000 signatures on its anti-gay marriage petition. Nearly half a million people want to prevent loving couples from marrying; they want marital apartheid, a two-tier system. Rather than being the love that dare not speak its name, they would like homosexuality to be the love that cannot share their name.
And what do we have? Despite the brilliant work of Conor Marron and James Lattimore, the couple behind the Coalition for Equal Marriage, there are just – again at the time of going to press – 40,000 signatures on the petition supporting gay marriage.
‘Do petitions matter?’ you might ask. Do MPs take any notice? After all, whether we get gay marriage through parliament is not down to a referendum but to the votes by MPs. But this will be a free vote – there will be no party whips in place – and MPs always know the bottom line: they must remain popular with their constituents. If you think the number of your voters who do not want gay marriage is 10 times higher than those who do, which way – if you do not have strong feelings on the matter – are you more likely to vote?
Gay marriage is much more precarious than previous legislation because it is the conclusion of existing progressive measures – civil partnerships. It’s the final stretch of a marathon so it needs a big final push. The public is fairly evenly split on the matter but many just don’t feel very impassioned about it either way because we have almost the same set-up as straight people – a feeling I suspect is mirrored in the House of Commons. It’s not just our complacency that could hamper equal marriage, but that of the uninterested backbench MP.
It doesn’t help when even gay MPs couldn’t give a fig about gay marriage. Let’s pause for a moment to consider the case of Labour MP Ben Bradshaw. He said recently: “This isn’t a priority for the gay community, which already won equal rights with civil partnerships. We’ve never needed the word ‘marriage’, and all it’s done now is get a bunch of bishops hot under the collar. We’ve been pragmatic, not making the mistake they have in the US, where the gay lobby has banged on about marriage.”
So: “this isn’t a priority” for the gay community. Says who, Ben? Have you asked us? In any case, no one said this is the most important issue we face. Merely, the government is making it a possibility so of course we should lobby to realise it. Also, civil partnerships do not amount to equal rights. If they did they would have the same name, newspapers wouldn’t use inverted commas to describe our “weddings” and our “husbands”, and transgender people wouldn’t have to divorce their spouses and then get a civil partnership if one of them transitions.
Bradshaw, who himself is in a civil partnership, states, “we’ve never needed the word ‘marriage’”. Well, I do. I would never marry until what I have is recognised as precisely the same as my brother’s, my sisters’ or my parents’ relationships. Why should we stop until we have the same recognition as anyone else? If you think we shouldn’t bother, as Bradshaw seems to, I would urge you and him to think hard about why. He seems to suggest it’s a matter of tactics, pragmatism. But did Martin Luther King encourage black people, for the sake of strategy, to stop when they gained almost the same rights?
This position denotes a lack of self-respect. And it reeks of embarrassment towards those who fight hard for gay equality. Notice how Bradshaw uses the phrase “banging on”. The MP, whose record on championing gay causes is hardly bravura, should meet those in the US involved in the long, ugly fight for gay marriage. What shameful disrespect he shows for those who have battled so tirelessly for the community.
Despite his comments, Bradshaw says he will vote for gay marriage, but we need to win over the undecided MPs. So let’s sign the petition, let’s write to our MP and get involved in the government’s consultation. You can do both online. As Dr King said, the time is always right to do the right thing.
For more information, check out c4em.org.uk, and please, please, please make sure you fill out the consultation.