Saturday, 3 December 2011

Daily Mail's Disingenuous Spin On Marriage Equality

There was some late, but good, news last night on the current religious freedom question regarding religious civil partnerships. 

Further to attempts in the Lords, and then in the Commons, to overturn the new religious civil partnership regulations the Church of England made an announcement. The premise of the criticism of their Lordships to the proposals was the possibility that provisions in the Equality Act might force all organisations carrying out marriages to also carry out civil partnerships regardless of whether they wish to or not. 

Groups including the Christian Institute, CARE and the Evangelical Alliance have made submissions to the Committee which suggest organisations will be required to register under a broader obligation on public authorities to eliminate discrimination, despite a specific provision in the regulations and the Equality Act 2010 designed to prevent this. 

The Committee published an opinion given by Mark Hill QC, an honorary professor at the Centre for Law and Religion, Cardiff University, which said the new regulations may fail in their aim to avoid obligation by not providing protection from the “all-pervading public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010″.
However lawyers working on behalf of the Church of England last night stated that this was not a concern and based on this advice have today said they will not be sanctioning religious civil partnerships in any of their churches. (Whilst also giving a nod to fact civil partnerships and marriages AREN'T the same thing, thanks CoE!)

An analysis distributed by the Church says because civil partnerships and marriages are separate legal concepts, it is “clear” the Equality Act 2010 cannot be invoked to force a religious institution to perform both. 

The Church says: “A gentlemen’s outfitter is not required to supply women’s clothes. A children’s book shop is not required to stock books that are intended for adults. 

“And a Church that provides a facility to marry is not required to provide a facility to same-sex couples for registering civil partnerships.”
This should take the wind out of the sails of the Westminister politicians trying to derail the civil partnership regulations by foul means. 

However it bodes ill for the prospects for religious marriage equality in the future. The Equality Act could be used to force unwilling ministers to perform same-sex marriage if religious marriage equality ever came into being. This is a very serious matter and obviously clearly puts a hurdle in the way of future reform unless the Equality Act can be reformed to protect religious freedom whilst ensuring liberty for religious organisations wanting to perform such marriages. 

And this is where we come to the Daily Mail's rather disingenuous spin on the news. Let's get one thing straight; the upcoming consultation on marriage equality is not about whether religious marriage equality should be brought in. Nor is it about whether civil marriage equality should be brought it. It's rather pathetic remit is simply to discuss how CIVIL marriage equality should be implemented. 

The Daily Mail choose to state, based on a small note about the dangers of marriage equality overriding religious freedom by the Church of England's lawyers,  

"Church 'may have to offer gay weddings' if Cameron's plans given go-ahead"  

David Cameron and his Coalition Government currently have no plans whatsoever regarding religious marriage equality.  This claim by the Daily Mail, based on quite understandable concerns regarding religious freedom, is nothing but a lie. Not a misunderstanding, but a lie. And it's all done to scaremonger among the religious thus harming the chances of constructive debate between religious organisations and LGBT campaigners in the hopes of ensuring neither must give up their liberties for the other.

I'm not going to say there aren't LGBT campaigners out there looking to force churches to marry them. There are. There's even a Tory MP who thinks the same! But that's not the majority opinion and even we are to regard religions as private clubs I've no problem defending their right to refuse to marry a same-sex couple. The rhetoric on this from the right wing MPs, Lords and anti-marriage campaigners is not helping defend religious freedom but serving only to stop some much needed discussion on these important matters.

Poor show from the Daily Mail. As always.

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Friday, 2 December 2011

Two Front Attack On Equal Partnership Rights Continues

In Scotland we have the announcement from the Church of Scotland (although almost certainly not "official" given the lack of oversight from their conference) that they will oppose marriage equality. Hardly a surprise, but another sign of the faithful joining forces to oppose religious freedom for other churches and individual freedom.

Below we have a video of Wednesday's Scotland for Marriage rally, featuring some bizarre arguments against marriage equality. It seemed almost to be just a lot of talking for talking's sake.

There are claims in the video that marriage equality will be destructive by putting off opposite-sex couples from marrying or making those already married feel sullied. To be frank, if your marriage is reliant on the "wholesomeness" of other's marriages then you may as well get divorced now. If your marriage doesn't stand on it's own merits, it doesn't stand at all!

It's a long set of hateful, intolerant ranting without logic or sense. At around 12 minutes we get the polygamy argument again! BINGO!


South of the border at Westminster, further to this month's action in the Lords, Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough has put forward an Early Day Motion with the same aim of scuppering religious civil partnerships. Yet again I must ask: if your aim is to protect those who don't wish to carry out such civil partnerships then why not put forward an amendment to the Equality Act rather than to try and scupper religious civil partnerships in general? No this is another wrecking motion put forward dishonestly by those who do not have the courage of their convictions to proclaim their homophobia (and hatred of civil partnerships in general) out loud. Cowards as well as homophones. There is a surprise. Here's the list of the usual suspects supporting the EDM so far.

Bone, Peter Conservative Party
Brazier, Julian Conservative Party 
Bruce, Fiona Conservative Party
Dorries, Nadine Conservative Party
Jackson, Stewart Conservative Party
Leigh, Edward Conservative Party 
Pritchard, Mark Conservative Party 
Robertson, Laurence Conservative Party
Turner, Andrew Conservative Party

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Thursday, 1 December 2011

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. Take a minute of your day today just to think about whether you partake in any risky behaviours that might lead you into contact with HIV/AIDS and think about how you can protect yourself and others.

AIDS is not unstoppable. It just requires effort to erradicate it. We can live in an AIDS free world if we want to. 

For information on World AIDS Day, HIV/AIDS in general or on ways you can help, check out the Terrance Higgins Trust.


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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Scotland For Marriage's Anti-Marriage Equality Campaign Begins Today

Today saw the launch of a new anti-marriage equality campaign in Scotland, backed by a number of Christian organisations.

They've launched a website, and held a rally outside the Scottish Parliament. As well as generally opposing individual rights, they also wish to ensure those rights are dealt with by a referendum rather than through Parliament.

The typical "slippery slope" arguments are available on their website's front page proclaiming marriage equality might lead to (cue shocked hush) POLYGAMY! Of course why whether someone wants one partner or several is any of their business is not discussed.

Given that such an organised campaign is now in motion against marriage equality in Scotland, I've done my bit and donated £5.00 to their opposite numbers at Equal Marriage. I urge you to donate to them and, even if you don't live in Scotland!, even more strongly urge you to respond to the Scottish Government's consultation using their rather handy form. Whilst a majority of negative responses may not have any effect on the Governments response (as per this response in Westminster to receiving a majority of negative responses to the relgious civil partnership consultation), it can't hurt. The more positive the response the stronger the argument, so get typing! Individual responses will be even better.

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Sunday, 27 November 2011

It's Time: The Best Marriage Equality Ad Yet

Every time I watch this ad I'm reminded of exactly why marriage equality is so important. 

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Religious Civil Partnerships: Group Rights Versus Individual Rights

On December 15th, the question of allowing civil partnership ceremonies to have a religious character will be debated in the House of Lords. Baroness O’Caithan and her allies state they wish to protect religious organisations from being forced to hold civil partnerships under equality laws. And to do this they will attempt to ensure religious civil partnerships cannot go ahead.

I'm no fan of religious civil partnerships and I find equality laws often do more harm than good, but I can't feel even a modicum of sympathy for this political maneuver in the Lords. It's fairly obvious that if the problem is equality law making it more likely some churches will face legal action for not holding civil partnerships then the simple thing to do is to amend those laws offering them an even clearer opt-out than has already been suggested. This is yet another wreaking motion from O'Caithan and the other homophobes in the Lords designed not to protect religious freedom but to fight LGBT freedom at every turn.

Here we have a clear case of group rights (for the LGBT community) that are protected by law being used in a way that was unintended but pretty predictable. The individual members of the LGBT community suffer. Religious freedom and sexual freedom needn't be mutually exclusive, but sadly the Equality Act appears to be forcing a choice of one over the other. So let's amend it, and make sure people who want their civil partnerships blessed by Thor or any other diety can do so without forcing any religious organisation to do something that goes against their beliefs.

We already have one religious impediment to marriage equality (the implications for the Church of England mean religious marriage equality is extremely unlikely whilst it remains our established church), but if the Lords overturn religious civil partnerships we'll have another major issue to overcome when the consultation begins in March. Let's hope the Lords see sense and throw out this blatant attempt to undermine religious freedom and LGBT equality next month.

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Thursday, 17 November 2011

It's Been A Long Time (For Prop 8 Too!)

It's been a month since my last post, and no it's not just you political folks I'm ignoring. I've suddenly gone off blogging across the board. It happens, I've been blogging for over ten years and there are times when one just cannot be bothered, and other times of frenzied activity. I no longer worry too much about it, but apologise for being away! Don't expect this to be my come back either...

Whilst the British marriage equality fight is currently in a "consolidate the forces" phase as the Holyrood and Westminister consultations begin to get going, in California the long stalled Proposition 8 trial is back on today. The opponents of marriage equality have been given the right to defend Prop 8 following the state authorities decision not to do so.

If they hadn't have been granted this right, Californian same sex couples would've been able to marry without further rulings. This might sound like this move is thus a defeat for marriage equality but it actually means this moves the subject one step closer to the US Supreme Court. Now that will be a battle worth fighting.
Here in the UK, whilst all might seem peaceful, the Catholic church is preparing for the fight. After a few opening salvos in Scotland, they are preparing "the message" ready for the big fight in the first few months of the new year. Next week there is a event entitled "Gay Marriage and the Common Good" to help keep everyone on message. They are getting ready. I do hope you are too.

I think LGBT people need to prepare to feel the full wrath of the Church, with every news story on marriage equality quoting offensive stuff about how unnatural and evil we are. We might think we are used to this thanks to the sort of things you see in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. But the Catholic Church takes marriage equality very seriously indeed, and shall make sure their nasty views get into all sorts of media outlets we would normally not expect to see them in. Just think of how bad Sunday Morning Live is, and then imagine that sort of stuff on BBC Breakfast, Channel 4 news, every radio current affairs shows and even on Comment is Free. That's what we've got to look forward to in 2012.

Fun times lie ahead.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Marvel Team-Up #1000000: Tea Party & #OWS

We really need to get the Tea Party folks and the Occupy movement together. They might not agree about much but the central issue of bailing out the banks, and the financial services industry having too much power over our Governments is one they can both agree on and fight against.

I have to say I've found it amusing to see people who were so dead against the Tea Party suddenly gushing over the Occupy *Insert Place Name Here* crew. I find both movements a little unsettling, but I suspect that's just my typically British dislike of confrontation which all protest is at heart. Both are movements that represent the frustration that is being felt across much of the Anglo-Saxon world; that disillusionment with Government and politics in general that helped propel Barack Obama to such heights and gave Nick Clegg a brief moment in the limelight. 

Whilst I think the #OccupyLSX protesters are just the same leftie, big Government types that were protesting against student fees last year, I can't help feeling a little sympathy with them. They might not have solutions to our problems with which I agree, but at least they've recognised there is a problem and are doing something about it.

Our entire financial system, the dodgy PFI and PPP's so beloved of New Labour, and the relationship between corporations and our Government needs a complete overhaul. The left might think that means more Government control, the right might think it needs less. But both are starting to realise something radical needs to change. Perhaps if the two sides started working together rather than sniping at each other, things might actually get done.

The people behind the Cleggist Uprising, were left unsatisfied by the results of the 2010 election and it's aftermath. Did we really think they were going to go away? The Occupy movement might fizzle out and disappear. But something else will just come in it's stead. The people are unhappy, and I don't think they'll stop until something truly fundamental changes.

Where's the UK's version of Ron Paul when you need him? 

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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Real Marriage Equality Battle Has Begun

The Scottish consultation on religious civil partnerships and marriage equality makes the Westminster version look positively backward. Whilst Westminster has categorically stated what can and cannot be involved in the consultation, the Scottish Executive has been a lot more open in allowing a more frank discussion on FULL marriage equality.

And this means that the opposition, that dark conservative grouping of Telegraph journalists and Catholic priests and all the miserable souls in between, has moved from grumbling to action.

For years the fight has simply been to get marriage equality on the agenda. The Stonewall controversy, the lobbying of politicians, the endless debates with civil partnership fanatics; these were all just about getting everybody singing from the same hymn book. Now the real battle has begun in the north, and the opposition of the Catholic Church ironically makes it far easier to argue the case for marriage equality. Now the weak links in the LGBT rights cause will have to toughen up and start fighting back. Thank you Archbishop Mario Conti!

You can read his full statement from the weekend here, but one thing that interests me, as a libertarian leaning sort, was this particular statement:

However the question would not be asked were it not for the increasing acceptance, wittingly or unwittingly, of a particular ideology which considers all structures and ethical systems as inimical to human freedom.  It places personal autonomy above even physical realities so that, for example, the very determination of one’s own sex and gender is regarded as an issue of choice – even a supposed human right.

This is one of the telling differences between his world view and my own. Whilst the anarchist world view of no structures at all seems to fly in the face of the realities of the human condition, the idea that choosing how we wish to live our life, how our bodies look and how we describe ourselves is somehow wrong boggles my mind. Who does he think he is to tell others that they must live their lives exactly how he wants them to live and to not aim to improve themselves in anyway they wish? This authoritarian arrogance is the achilles heel of the opposition's case, and should be exploited as much as possible.

His plan to encourage the Catholic voters of Scotland to block vote is another sign of the Catholic Church's desperate desire for power over individuals and Government's. I suspect the Catholic voters of Scotland are more intelligent and independent than their Church leadership gives them credit for.

The basic premise of the argument against marriage equality is that "same sex advocates" are involved in a conspiracy (get those tin foil hats ready) to change the meaning of marriage and undermine society in general. As far as supervillian plans go, it seems very uninspiring. But that's the funny thing. Far from wanting to undermine marriage, most marriage equality supporters want to get join and thus support that very conservative institution of marriage. As Chris Ashford says in an article regarding a Telegraph hate piece:

Moore reminds us that the 'victories' of gay marriage/same-sex marriage are in fact about the incorporation of homosexuals to heteronormative institutions. These acts of 'progress' are not about a fundamental re-appraisal of the marriage construct, which remains inherently conservative.  As such, these attacks by the likes of Moore can act as a 'smokescreen', creating a reaction among LGBTQ activists to argue for same-sex marriage - if the nuts are against it, we must be for it.
It's time to get dug in and start the fight for marriage equality, for what is happening in Scotland is bound to be repeated here in the south. Scottish readers should respond the consultation, and the rest of us should begin a letter writing frenzy!

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Thursday, 6 October 2011

Liberals For Ron Paul: Bridging Troubled Waters

There is so much common ground on which Ron Paul supporters and leftie liberal types can stand on, that it boggles the mind that they haven't joined forces to move the United States in a direction they could both state was better than the current status quo. I've always said, my dream 2012 ticket would be Paul/Kucinich!

Item 1: Executing US citizens

I am aghast at the laid-back way many Democrats have accepted President Obama's decision to order the murder of an American citizen. The Salon puts it well in it's article "Execution by secret White House committee". It's almost unthinkable to think that any of the Republican candidates would have done differently with the honourable exceptions of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. With no serious challenge from the left, it's really a no-brainer that to get rid of this authoritarian administration (and not replace it with a worse one) then you need to support Ron Paul! Put your economic beliefs aside for now, this is about something far more important; the rights of US citizens to a fair trial and due process and their right to life itself! It doesn't get more important than that.

Item 2: Occupy Wall Street Both the people behind Occupy Wall Street and libertarians have missed a trick. Imagine if they had focussed the protests on the fact the US Government bailed out the corrupt corporations and continues to have unhealthily close relationship with the individuals and institutions at the top of the finance industry. The common ground could have made these protests into a truly huge event. Instead the Occupy Wall Street folks on the ground have made this an "us against them" argument about individual wealth and taxation and have brought in all sorts of demands only loosely related to the main issue (free college education etc.), putting off a large proportion of the middle-of-the-road US population. And libertarians, rather than pointing out the areas of agreement, have joined right in with the narrative and the name-calling and consider them all loony socialists. If Americans really want to stop the fat cats from getting subsidies and backhanders from the Government then they need to stop deluding themselves that President Obama is going to do anything about it and vote for someone who really will cut off the cash flow to the corporate vampires: Ron Paul! There's a cut the left and libertarians can support!

Item 3: Ending the military-industrial complex America is not a free republic. It's Government plays to the tune of various corporate interests. The billions of dollars it pours into it's military don't just go there magically, there's an entire lobbying industry working to keep America "strong" by getting public money spent on weapons. Ron Paul is the only candidate out there saying that, whilst he respects the work of the men and women of the US military services, he will scale back the extent of the bloated US forces and their international committments. Ron Paul is the peace candidate.

Since Obama took office, the left's opposition to violence and military spending has become strangely muted. Here's another issue on which they can revive their good principles and share them with opponents to the mutual benefit of both. A vote for Ron Paul is the only vote that's going to help kick the military-industrial complex out of America. There are so many issues on which leftie liberals and classical liberals disagree. Health care, social security, etc. etc. BUT these issues aren't going to be solved under the current administration. They need to be put aside whilst the basic rights of US citizens to life, to a Government of the people and to freedom are regained after the decades of erosion. Then both sides can get back to arguing over their pet projects and pet hates. Voting for Ron Paul is the only way to bring about a real change, and create a new status quo in the world's greatest republic.  

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Monday, 3 October 2011

Scottish Tory Leader Contenders On Marriage Equality

The Equality Network has helpfully provided some quotes from a Sunday Herald interviews with the Scottish Conservative Party leadership contenders on marriage equality: 

The Sunday Herald yesterday interviewed the four candidates for leader of the Scottish Conservatives. One of the questions was “Do you support the introduction of gay marriage?”

Jackson Carlaw said “Those churches which are content to hold gay marriage ceremonies should be allowed to do so. Those churches that do not wish to do so should not be compelled.”

Ruth Davidson said “I do support the introduction, but with a vital proviso: that faith organisations should not be compelled to perform ceremonies if they do not wish to.”

Murdo Fraser said “I support religious groups having the freedom to carry out same-sex unions if they wish. I support civil partnerships for same-sex couples, but am sceptical as to whether the definition of marriage should be amended to include these.”

Margaret Mitchell said “I’m fully supportive of civil partnerships. For me under the Christian faith, marriage is between a man and a woman.”
 I don't think that requires further comment... 

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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Misunderstanding Labour's Position On Marriage Equality

Last night there was a lot of confusion over Labour's position on marriage equality caused by a recent article by Peter Tatchell entitled "Why has Labour failed to vote for marriage equality?" 

This caused many on Twitter to assume Labour had voted against marriage equality. Now, as much as I dislike Labour and fear their conservative instincts on many issues, I can't see how anyone could imagine a situation where they would vote against such an obviously progressive measure. 

Of course they've been against marriage equality in the very recent past. Gordon Brown answered a question on this here:

In response to Downing St online petitions to introduce same-sex marriage, it was stated that the "government has no plans to introduce same-sex marriage", because it has to "balance the right to live free from prejudice and discrimination with the right to freedom of speech and religion". In what ways does same-sex marriage affect freedom of speech and religion? Andrew Archer
"At the moment there’s a distinction drawn between civil and religious unions, and when civil partnerships were being introduced they took the same form as a civil union which a heterosexual couple would have. We later made it illegal to discriminate on partnership status – so it is illegal to treat someone in a civil partnership different to a married person. That makes no practical difference in terms of rights and responsibilities, but does recognise that religious groups have the right to a certain degree of self-organisation on questions that are theologically important to them, including on the question of religiously-sanctioned marriage. So the provision of ‘marriage’ as opposed to the provision of same-sex or heterosexual civil unions, is intimately bound up with questions of religious freedom."
And Chris Bryant made his opinions on this very plain during the civil partnership debates

I do not want same-sex relationships to ape marriage in any sense—several people have used the offensive phrase—because they are different. Although the two share similar elements, they do not have to be identical, so the legal provisions should be distinct.
So there is a reason to be cautious over their approach but since the rather slow progress we made with Labour during the leadership elections last year it's become far more common to hear Labour politicians supporting marriage equality (well civil marriage at least). At last night's Stonewall fringe event at the Labour conference, Yvette Cooper also reiterated her support for marriage equality.

Given how undemocratic Labour's internal workings are, this is probably as close to policy as we're likely to get this side of an election manifesto. And we should be pleased Labour has managed to make this progress.

So no... Labour no longer vote against marriage equality. My only concern is remarks such as Cooper made last night suggesting she'd always fought for marriage equality, a statement I've yet to see backed up by any evidence whatsoever. It's great you're supporting it now, but please do not attempt to rewrite history just to cover-up Labour's complete lack of leadership on this subject.

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Sunday, 25 September 2011

I'm Just Waiting For The Anti-Miliband Protests

Last year in the run up to his election for Labour leader Ed Miliband said:

I’ve been interested to see that the government is giving serious thought to introducing a Graduate Tax, rather than raising Tuition Fees.

The issue is coming to a head as Lord Browne is due to report on University funding in the autumn — and it’s possible that he could recommend that fees rise to £7,000 or even £10,000.

But the Graduate Tax is a fairer alternative, and one I’ve been arguing for for some time.

This is an important matter of principle. The supremacy of the market has extended too far into areas that should not be defined by commodity and exchange. But it is also a practical question. As fees rise further, less well-off as well as part-time students will be even less likely to apply to more expensive universities and so damage their opportunities. That does not fit in with the values of this party or this country.

An important matter of principle, huh? One so important that yesterday evening Ed Miliband did a complete about turn and instead chose to support, in principle, higher tuition fees! In fact the Government, though setting the higher end tuition fees to £9000, had hoped universities would charge around the £6000 figure Ed Miliband now supports a cap at! 

I, of course, can't wait to see the far left and students groups marching through the streets of Liverpool protesting this "betrayal" and demanding Miliband's head (perhaps with some offensive execution placards and props) like they did over Nick Clegg's and the Lib Dems "betrayal" (note Lib Dems did not say they'd introduce raising fees if they'd gotten a majority in Parliament, unlike Miliband who is now saying exactly that). I suspect I may find myself disappointed. I'm sure those tuition fee Lib Dem defectors to the Labour party will be extremely happy to have made the move. 

Miliband's suggestion is, in fact, of little help to those in most need and of most help to those who don't need assistance. Sara Bedford lists the issues his ill-thought out policy throws up

Let's face it, this policy has been suggested as a headline grabber that doesn't do what it's implied to do (help the most needy) and instead hopes to hoodwink the desperate, the young and the disillusioned into supporting a party that is completely devoid of principled and different policies. It's same old New Labour spin, and doesn't bode well for the seemingly never ending Labour policy review's findings. I doubt progressives, liberals or lefties will find much to celebrate when more new policies are announced. 

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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

What The #LDConf Did, A View From Afar.

This post might be better known as "things that interested me at the Lib Dem conference". 

A Review Of Drug Laws

An excellent, sensible proposal was put to conference suggesting that a panel be formed to review our current drug laws and propose new ways forward. This might mean the liberalisation of drug laws among other things. As someone who doesn't do drugs and who, as a child, lived through the experience of a drugs raid, you'd think I wouldn't be sympathetic towards liberalisation. But I believe, based on my feelings and on the evidence I've seen, that the current way of dealing with drugs is causing more problems than it's solving and if we are to deal with drug addiction as a society there are far better and more civilised ways of doing it than just a blanket ban. 

I was extremely please to see conference pass this. 

The Infamous "Ban" On Page 3 Girls

I think Andrew Emmerson said it best in his post stating clearly that yesterdays F26 motion doesn't ban Page 3 girls. As someone who reads more sensible libertarian publications such as Reason Magazine, I did find the knee-jerk horror of the libertarians on Twitter hilarious. Calm down dears, it's only a conference motion. 

However... I have major issues with the fuzzy, ill-thought out way the particular part of the motion in question was written:

“Tackling the projection of women as sex objects to children and adolescents by restricting sexualised images in newspapers and general circulation magazines to the same rules that apply to pre-watershed broadcast media.” 

1) Can only women be "sex objects"? Would this motion deal with sexualised imagery of men?
2) Restricting? How? Complete ban? Moving to the top shelf? Doing the same as what WH Smith did to gay mags recently? Totally unclear, which means it's open to the "Lib Dems Would Ban Page 3 Girls" accusations people have already been making! 
3) "same rules that apply to pre-watershed broadcast media" WHAT?? We are talking about very different media formats here and I cannot fathom what this might mean. The Sun can only be sold after 9pm? 

I've always found it bemusing that lads mags have, until recently, always been on one of the higher shelves in a magazine store whilst The Sun, the Daily Star and worse the Daily Sport were all on the floor where anyone could see them. I've found that inconsistent and you know how I dislike that. But I really don't see what this motion was trying to achieve. Pointless and should never have been passed. 

Science Not Stigma; Overturning The Blood Ban

Since I last wrote about the Government's stance on the blood ban, they have changed their mind and now brought their position to the point of only banning gay men who have had sex in the last 12 months. As you can imagine I find that just as ridiculous as the originally suggested 10 year ban! 

Thankfully today the Lib Dem conference voted to make overturning the blood ban for men who have sex with men completely. Despite the half-way house approach to LGBT rights that this Coalition Government appears to be taking (doing as little as they can get away with whilst still being considered better than Labour), the Liberal Democrats continue to move ahead of the pack when it comes to LGBT freedom. Good move conference. Good move!

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Monday, 19 September 2011

On Marriage Equality, Labour Is Still Following Rather Than Leading

After failing to even discuss marriage equality during their 13 years of power (and then playing catch up during last year's summer of marriage equality movement), Labour still don't appear to have learnt their lesson

Yvette Cooper says "“We have called for and support same-sex marriage and we welcome this shift in government policy." 

Hmm... when has Labour (as a party) called for it Yvette? It's still not even party policy. You may support the Government's recent announcement but did you really call for it?  

Yvette Cooper's, and thus I assume Labour's, issue with the announcement is not the fundamental flaws. Instead they just moan about how unreliable the Government is. Given the rather rapid progress we've made on issues such as LGBT asylum seekers and relaxing the blood donation ban under the Coalition, what nerve she has to cast doubt on this Government's commitment. 

My issue has never been the Governments commitment but instead with just what it is committed to. Labour have once again failed to grasp the opportunity to wound (or woe) the LGBT rights supporters in the Coalition by pointing out the flaws and declaring their support for a more sensible expansive reform of marriage law. 

Instead they just appear to be political point-scoring. And not even managing that particularly well. Who is advising Yvette Cooper on LGBT issues? Labour doesn't lead on LGBT issues any more, nor do they even seek to compare themselves to more "progressive" parties such as the Lib Dems or the Greens but instead they ape whatever half-baked compromise the Coalition proposes! 

Come on Labour. Even LGBT Labour's press release is a damp squib. Where's your vision? Your leadership? Are you really just going to moan from the sidelines as always? 

I've been deeply disappointed with Labour's LGBT record ever since they settled for civil partnerships and they aren't doing anything to make me feel confident they would do any better if we gave them another chance.

Thankfully we have our own champions leading on this, our ever present defender Peter Tatchell. At least he sees the real issues. 

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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Being The Marriage Equality Party-Pooper Is Never Popular

I hate feeling like the Cassandra (whether my prophesies come true or not!) of the marriage equality fight. With each positive step forward made, I'm there to piss off everyone else by saying "Well this simply isn't good enough". 

I suppose it stems from what happened when civil partnerships were introduced. I was simply horrified at the implications of such a separate but equal institution whilst everyone I knew was busy celebrating and moving on. The insults and abuse (and I'm not over-egging that, four letter words and all) I got from the pro-civil partnership side for daring to question why we didn't have marriage equality was intense.

Ultimately I feel (rather self-consciously) vindicated by the direction the debate has taken in the last two years. But now I can't let go of the fact that true marriage equality is within our grasp, and yet it constantly seems to be slipping away. 

Yesterday's announcement of a consultation regarding the legislation of civil marriage was a marvellous step forward (said through gritted teeth as always, sorry!), especially considering this is coming from a Government dominated by Tories. On blogs and Twitter there was plenty of a criticism from people who aren't me, which means at least I'm not alone in my opinions, and plenty of criticism of them for being such miserable bastards. I can understand the cries of "can't you just be happy?", I really can. There are practical suggestions as well such as this over the continuing ban on same sex religious marriage from Lib Dem Voice's comments feed: 

It is a realistic solution. Be imaginative. If the Unitarians want to marry gay couples then every few weeks they can designate their church to not be a religious venue for a few hours. Whatever. But fundamentally I don’t care about arguments between the religions about what should and shouldn’t be allowed in their respective temples. We have proper problems that we should be spending our time fixing, not that.
A work around! It makes so much sense, and then we don't need to bother with our silly little worries about equality, etc. 

The failure of this consultation is two-fold in my view and whilst there are always work arounds (hell, we could get a blessing and civil partnership now and then why bother with any further legislation?!), I think the failure is important enough for people to at least acknowledge it's short comings. 

1) the lack of scope to consider the future of civil partnerships (something last year's consultation on civil partnerships failed to fully do) leaves the transgendered communities concerns over legal continuation of partnerships after transition only half solved. The similar lack of scope on allowing religious communities to carry out marriage is almost criminal. This lack of scope does not feel me with confidence that this will be actual marriage equality but instead will be "gay marriage" under separate legislation as is the case in South Africa (where at least they have a tradition of different legal types of marriage to make them seem almost acceptable). 

2) the presentation of the announcement suggests to me this is where the line is now being drawn, just as with civil partnerships back in 2004 and that there's no planned further push in the Government's mind. Which leaves the question hanging for another few years at least. 

I think Lynne Featherstone summed up how "finalised" this all is in her speech yesterday when she, without sign of sarcasm announced:

I will be raising the issue with Governments all over the world and will continue to push everyone, from allies to adversaries, to recognise what we know is true:
That Gay Rights are Human Rights.
No excuses, no exceptions, no compromises.

Before announcing civil marriage for same sex couples in the very next breath which is quite obviously a compromise, an exception and I suspect the excuse will be "There are more important things to worry about" or "We're in a Coalition Government, we can't get everything we want". But she didn't even voice the concerns that there might be any issues. 

I know she listened to concerns at last nights LGBT+ AGM at the Lib Dem conference and said all the right things, which leaves me to think this was an omission she made purposefully rather than through sheer misunderstanding of the issue. I.e. playing politics with LGBT rights and selling us out for the sake of a barnstorming speech. 

I can be happy that some people's concerns are being addressed. But I have to be the party-pooper, I'm compelled to continue fighting for what I've always fought for. Because I truly believe in "No excuses, no exceptions, no compromises". And if I must bring upon myself the ire of my Lib Dem friends who just want me to shut up, be happy and get with the programme, then that I will happily accept. I might be miserable, I might be boring, I might be a broken record. But I think I'm in the right... and thus tomorrow I'll be drafting a letter to the Equalities department raising my concerns for consideration in this consultation (not that that's ever done any good before, even Lynne Featherstone's acknowledged my concerns and then moved on without addressing them). 

I persevere. 

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Gay Marriage To Be Legal: No I'm Not Happy!

I'm being forced to become a walking stereotype thanks to the Coalition. One of the "crimes" LGBT people are accused of by political homophobes is that we are never satisfied, that when we make one advance we always want more. The Government plan to legalise same-sex marriage, after yet another consultation, and yet I'm still not happy. I'm not pressing for more than I've ever demanded before, I'm just being consistent.

 A Home Office spokesman said that the consultation on reforming the marriage laws would only cover civil marriage for same sex couples and not religious marriage. Ministers have ruled out making it compulsory for churches or other faith groups to host gay or lesbian marriages. 

 The Home Office also made clear that one option that will not be included in the formal consultation on reforming the marriage laws is giving heterosexual couples reciprocal rights to civil partnership ceremonies
I used to say I don't know anyone who wants to force a non-cooperative church to carry out same-sex marriages but thanks to Mike Weatherley, a misguided Tory MP, I can no longer say this. It's certainly not something I've ever wanted to do.  However, I believe it's an important principle of religious freedom to allow religious organisations, who wish to marry same-sex couples, to do so.

I also think that given the mess made by the Labour Government over civil partnerships, it's important to open those up to heterosexuals just as we open marriage up to same-sex couples. 

The proposals by the Coalition Goverment are another step in the right direction. I'm sick and tired of steps in the right direction. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I try to be reasonable. But just how many steps in the right direction must we all endure before there is one marriage law for all in this country? 

This does not solve the problems faced by transgendered people and allow a legally continuous partnerships should they transition from one gender to another. It forces religious LGB people who want to marry their same sex partner to instead civilly partner them. It is simply a compromise too far. 

Lynne Featherstone and the Liberal Democrats will crow over this "advance" as it "goes well beyond the Coalition agreement". They may crow over abandoning equality before the law as a principle, I shall hang my head in shame instead. 

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Marriage Equality In Scotland

With the news of a delay in the Westminster marriage equality consultation, attention has turned to Scotland where there has been a pointless argument brewing.

It all began when a SNP MSP called John Mason put forward perhaps the most misleading motion in Scottish Parliamentary history:

"That the Parliament notes the current discussion about same-sex marriages and the Scottish Government’s forthcoming public consultation concerning equal marriage; further notes that while some in society approve of same-sex sexual relationships, others do not agree with them; desires that Scotland should be a pluralistic society where all minorities can live together in peace and mutual tolerance; believes that free speech is a fundamental right and that even when there is disagreement with another person’s views, that person has the right to express these views, and considers that no person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriages."

It all sounds reasonable enough and I can't think of anyone who'd have much of a problem with it. But that is the problem, for me anyway, it basically helps paint the picture that marriage equality supporters want to force every church in the country to marry same-sex couples. No one suggests this, this motion was created based on a false starting premise and that is what I find so wrong with it.

Patrick Harvie, a Green MSP, decided to add an amendment to the motion:

“notes that the balance between these views has changed substantially over recent decades, with the 2006 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey showing 53% in agreement with equal marriage and only 21% in disagreement, and a poll in 2010 showing 58% support with only 19% against; congratulates the Scottish Youth Parliament on the launch of its Love Equally campaign for equal marriage and civil partnership, a campaign it voted to select after consulting with over 42,000 young people across Scotland; believes that the Scottish Government is recognising this shift in public attitudes with its forthcoming consultation on equal marriage; recognises that allowing same sex marriage and mixed sex civil partnerships would in no way undermine the rights and freedoms of whose who do not wish to participate in them; and further believes it would be both right and popular for secular and religious Scots alike to be free to reach their own view on the legal status that is right for their own relationship, instead of being banned by law from having their relationships recognised on equal terms.”

A bit of a mouthful, I think Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie's amendment says it more eloquently:

That the Parliament notes the current discussion about same-sex marriages and looks forward to the Scottish Government’s forthcoming public consultation concerning equal marriage; aspires for Scotland to be one of the most fair and equal places in the world; supports the extension of legal marriage to lesbian and gay couples; and believes that, while there would be no mandate on religious organisations, those religious denominations who wish to celebrate marriages for lesbian and gay people should be free to do so.

So the accusations of homophobia flew, even from John Mason's own party, and nothing much has been achieved beyond some political manoeuvring. The only sign of hope is that only 3 MSPs have signed Mason's motion (all SNP) whilst 31 MSPs have backed Harvie's. They are 19 SNP, 9 Labour, 2 Lib Dem and 1 Green.

The Tories seem to be keeping out of the debate. Perhaps John Mason's motion was too liberal for them?

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Will #HackGate lead to real change or just more of the same?

I'd love to believe that the revelations about what the News of the World did lead to more significant changes than the closure of that one paper. We all know News International is not the only organisation tainted by the historically common dodgy practices of the media. It's just unfortunately the one bearing the weight of the scandal. Wouldn't it be wonderful for all the dirty laundry to be aired now so perhaps our media can move on to improving the way they work, what they report and the very nature of their business?

But alas I, being ever-increasingly cynical, believe that all that will happen is the politicians and media will bore quickly of the subject and move on to their next "bee-in-a-bonnet" issue. We only need to see what happened with the expenses scandal: a lot of MPs standing down at the 2010 election, a few scalps taken by criminal trials and... then we all forgot about it.

Do you remember how everyone in the country was said to be so angry about at all the expenses scandals? There was almost a feel of revolution in some of the media reports, as if the citizenry might rise up at any moment and overthrow the political class. Of course what was really the case was that whilst the chattering classes (including people like me) were all aghast, most people seemed to just shrug their shoulders, announced that all politicians were corrupt anyway and got on with their lives. Whilst the Coalition that followed the 2010 election was quite unique, the actual votes cast on the day hardly showed any huge backlash against the traditional power structure.

The same appears to be happening with Hackgate. Whilst the politically aware are arguing over Government interference in the media industry and the morals of hacking private individuals phones, the vast majority of the country has expressed a typically British mild disapproval along the lines of "Well that's just not on" and carried on buying their regular newspaper.

Whilst, like the expenses scandal, I expect this to have effects on individuals as well as particular newspapers and organisations, I really cannot believe based on past evidence and an almost universal lack of public anger that this story will change anything in the long term for the industry as a whole. In my opinion this will be just another storm in a teacup, dancing round the edges of a much larger issue.

I hope I'm wrong, and that this spirals into an earthshatteringly pivotal moment in the history of the media, British politics and our country where the way things are done gets better.  But I seriously doubt this will result in anything beyond cosmetic changes such as the News of the World being replaced by a seven day Sun newspaper.

Nothing to see here.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Two Books. Two Religions. One Theme.

Sorry I've been quiet recently. Mother-in-law has been for a visit, work intervened and I'm rediscovering my love of reading. Which is what I'm here to post about today.

As regular readers know I have obsessions with both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and with the Church of Scientology. I find both religions fascinating, inspiring and disturbing in equal measures. They have extremely similar backgrounds of charismatic prophets, tight control of followers, evangelism, mixing politics with religion and persecution.

Currently I'm reading Under the Banner of Heaven, which is both a concise history of the Mormon faith and the tale of a modern-day murder of a mother and her child by Mormon fundamentalists. The interposition of the two stories makes it a compelling read and a really good introduction to the faith for a non-believer.

What I find truly fascinating about the "Lafferty" murders is how Ron Lafferty (one of the murderers) used his religious beliefs to excuse the murder of his sister-in-law in his own mind when he had plenty of real-world reasons to do it. The human mind is a complicated beast.

The other book I'm very interested in getting is Inside Scientology. Whilst I already have a rather large Scientology library, my reading of this long excerpt shows this book may well prove to be one of the most well written and well researched critiques of the Church since Jon Atack's brilliant history Piece of Blue Sky.

Scientology is a very secretive religion, still in it's infancy and, like Mormonism before it, desperate not to show anything other than sweetness and light to the "wog" world (as they refer to non-Scientologists).  It's a particularly interesting time at the moment as whilst there have been "Free Zone" splitters before, we may well be witnessing the beginnings of a more successful schism in the Church thanks to independents such as Mark Rinder. Exciting times for us Scientology watchers.

On a related note there are two musical stories of late which I think need to be shared. Firstly the Book of Mormon musical has pride of place on my mp3 player at the moment. I am totally overly excited by the prospect of it being released on the West End next year. Check out All-American Prophet for a taster

The other piece of news is a bit late but none-the-less hilarious. A Scientology song. With David Miscavige singing! Priceless.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Thank You Lib Dems In Government

Given all the moaning I do here on this blog, I thought it was time to say something positive. And on this particular subject I can offer nothing but praise; the lowering of income tax. Since the change came about in April my pay packet is healthy enough for me to be able to buy an extra 5 days off of work a year, and still have a few extra pounds left over each month on top of what I was earning in the last tax year!

The extra time off allows me to enjoy life a little more, and doesn't affect my budget. For this I shall be eternally grateful. Given the range of good Lib Dem policies implemented by the Government so far, it's hard to choose a favourite but this one has got to be up there... Thank you!

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Labour Has A Solution For Folkestone's Economic Woes: Make Charities Pay!

The Folkestone Labour party asks "Do charities cause poverty and unemployment?".

Before we jerk those knees (but do keep them on standby) there is a real issue at the centre of the argument: Folkestone's empty shops and the competition our large number of charity shops present to local businesses. Both are serious matters of concern to every resident.

The problem: the charity shops don't need to pay, and I quote, "Taxes, Insurance, Wage Costs, interest rates and Payroll Tax." which (as well as not necessarily needing to pay even for the goods they sell) makes them formidable competition to small businesses such as second-hand bookshops.

Of course there are ways to help the businesses that exist already and to encourage new ones to take over the empty shops and office spaces in our town centre. Lower the taxes and reduce the business rates. If the business rates are lowered just in our area, isn't that likely to encourage local business creation and movement of small businesses from other parts of Kent to Shepway? That way no one is being forced to do something by the local/national Government, but they are getting an incentive to do business here. Of course it'd involve some budgetary changes in the council but then again the gains might be worth it.

But that's not Labour's approach. Instead they would force, in Folkestone or throughout Shepway, all these charity shops to take on at least two employees. So instead of the willing volunteers (who have given up their time through a passion for fund-raising and helping the community) they currently get helping them, they'd need to give themselves the same shackles as currently faced by the small-businesses Labour claim to want to protect (i.e. wage costs, payroll taxes etc.). That's like seeing one child with a sweet and one without and confiscating the sweet as the one without felt sad! It's petty and authoritarian and it's a plan designed to punish the goodness in people.

And the idea that, aside from the central issue of the new Oxfam bookshop, most of the charities earnings go to fund head offices, overseas work and staff costs is a little heartless. Oh there is some truth there, sadly charities have become more and more like businesses (so how treating them LIKE businesses helps I don't know). But to say charity shops like the one in my street (the Rhodes Minnis Cat Sanctuary shop, who Labour probably thinks puts the cat in "fat cat")  or the British Heart Foundation shop, or the Cancer Research Store don't benefit local people and simply create poverty is to cast them in an unfair light. To say  no one in Folkestone benefits from the work of the YMCA, British Heart Foundation, or Cancer Research is a cruel lie.

Let's help businesses in ways they'll find useful, not punish charities just to create some sort of fake "level playing field". Next we'll need to ban local eBayers or boot fairs for undercutting the second-hand book and furniture shops! That way madness lies.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist