This is the sixth referendum campaign I’ve taken part in. I’ve also been to the count centre after every general and local election since 1997. I was emotionally invested in the result on each occasion. I have both great and difficult memories from those count days. Yet I will watch the results come in on Saturday with more trepidation than ever before. This isn’t normal politics, whether in the distribution of resources, or arrangements of political structures. This referendum is about me, and others like me, a political decision on our lives and relationships, and our place in Irish society.
It is the natural step in the decline of animosity and the growth of empathy towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Ireland and elsewhere, that we would have the same opportunity to marry as anyone else. Slowly at first, and then in rapid succession, other countries and territories have come to view the limitation of marriage to heterosexual couples as an unjust exclusion, and changed their laws to reflect this new insight and understanding.
We have seen since the beginning of this year in particular what a Yes vote would mean to so many people, what a difference it would make. Those who were quiet for decades about this part of their lives, silent even to themselves, who felt compelled to speak out. And felt so much better for it. And we can think of young people, beginning to realize their difference from their peers, how wonderful the effect of a Yes vote would be for them, how devastating the effect of a No vote.
Being gay is not a small part of who I am. It doesn’t feel right to say that I just happen to be gay. It is not an incidental feature like height or hair colour, but a distinguishing feature of one of the relationships most important to me. From when I properly realized that future romantic relationships would most likely be with other men, it was something I could not but see as an important part of who I am. Indeed, it was before then, though I did not yet fully realize it. It is important because of where we now stand in society. A successful result will allow us each to determine its significance for ourselves. I look forward to the idea that my romantic life will no longer be a political issue.
This isn’t about any need for validation, but a commitment that society should treat us all with equal concern and respect, and that where the state is involved in our lives, our laws should recognize our equal dignity. With civil partnership and family law reform in place, to withhold marriage is such an arbitrary and needless act of discrimination.
When I attended a wedding service of two friends of mine earlier this year, something that stood out is our part in that. Not only did they commit to each other, for better, for worse, but we, the community of friends and family gathered there, also pledged to stand by them. The vote this Friday is that moment writ large. It is a chance to say clearly that when two people choose to make this commitment, we will stand by them, and hold their relationship as something to value.
So vote Yes. Be part of what should be a great moment for so many of us. Plan your trip to the polling station on Friday, and make sure others you know have done the same. Every vote will send a message, and every Yes vote will help secure a more equal Ireland.
Coming more than 36 hours later, I’m not going to claim to present Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech on Tuesday on LGBT rights as news. It was a great speech though, and well worth watching if you’ve only read the text.
Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren’t thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity.
This recognition did not occur all at once. It evolved over time. And as it did, we understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather than creating new or special rights for them. Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.
It is wrong to make legal distinctions, prohibitions against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people because no one should be subject to any special exception from human rights. It is not about creating exceptions, but ending them. Culture and religion can be no excuse for an infringement on human rights.
As I posted on Facebook, she didn’t start being great on Tuesday. This speech consciously mirrors her speech in Beijing at the Fourth World Conference on Women. This is a speech should be read again now by all those inspired by her speech on Tuesday,
It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights.
These abuses have continued because, for too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words. But the voices of this conference and of the women at Huairou must be heard loudly and clearly:
It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.
It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed — and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated.
It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.
It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.
It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes by their own relatives.
It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.
It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.
If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard.
The problems she refers to are unfortunately as alive today as they were 16 years ago, and we must continue to scrutinize our approaches to human rights issues around the world to ensure that we do not place the right to life and personal autonomy of any individual on a lower scale for any reason.
It’s not. But if it were, the balance would lie with Israel, the most liberal of states in the Middle East, whether in civil liberties or in fostering a strong economy. While there is no process of civil marriage for any couples in the state of Israel, marriages performed by others are fully recognized, whether those married by religious authorities within the state, or by other jurisdictions, and since 2007, this has included gay couples. While the United States is still pondering the consequences of allowing gay men and women to serve in the army, the Israeli army now has a good record of acknowledging its gay soldiers. This week as ever, Tel Aviv held its annual gay pride parade. There are a few openly gay members of the Knesset, Israel’s popularly elected parliament.
Which is why the decision of the Madrid gay pride parade to ban a delegation from Israel is highly questionable. A spokesperson for Tel Aviv, Eytan Schwartz, comments “We invited the organisers of the gay pride event in Madrid to join a march this Friday in Tel Aviv, the only place in the Middle East where you can be gay in public. They would be able to talk to Arab gays who travel here secretly because they would be murdered at home if they revealed their sexuality.”
It’s not that the good record of Israel on this and certain other issues should exempt them from criticism, in either their international actions or other internal policies, but I find some in the gay rights movements conflate their grievances on different issues. At the recent protest here, Labour LGBT marched against Israel’s actions. Even aside from the irony of their flag being captured near that of Hamas, organizations that shares few values in common, I wonder why they would not have marched simply as Labour, as Labour Youth or on behalf of an international committee of the party.
This was a disappointing election for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. As David Schneider tweeted, “Was the whole LibDem thing something I dreamed in the shower?”. With 63 MPs at the dissolution of the Commons on 6 May, they returned with only 57. These included a few high-profile losses, such as Lembit Öpik in Montgomeryshire, one of the safest seats for Whigs and Liberals since the 17th century, and Dr Evan Harris in Oxford West and Abingdon, who was possibly my favourite MP, a strong voice for a clear scientific understanding of policy, a defender of free speech, and a clear advocate for of gay rights, beaten by Nicola Blackwood, a Tory who apparently has creationist beliefs.
But they also have a great opportunity, as no government can be formed without their support. They have a choice now between supporting a government led by David Cameron, or one led by a probably David Miliband, also supported by the SDLP, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and Sylvia Hermon. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that as someone who has in political allegiances has gone between the Progressive Democrats and Fine Gael that I would favour the former option. I see this as their best chance of affecting change in both policy and in the dynamics of party politics, as long as they ensure a place in cabinet rather than simply supporting the Conservatives in a confidence and supply arrangement.
The Conservatives are reluctant to move much at all on the question of electoral reform. This would be the best reason the Lib Dems would have to collapse negotiations, if they cannot secure a firm commitment on this. However, they should consider two things. The first is that a referendum proposed by a rag-tag slump coalition of Labour, the Lib Dems and a selection of regionalist parties would not be guaranteed to win. The second is that a successful and stable coalition agreement would seriously impair the Tories’ argument against proportional representation, whereas they could point to a Lab/LD/SNP/SDLP/Hermon coalition as exactly the kind of thing that would occur frequently under PR.
The change to the Tories
This leads onto the change they could affect in the party system. As referred to by Declan Harmon, Fianna Fáil eventually abandoned their core principle of opposition to coalitions. In 1989 the Progressive Democrats had had a poor election, falling from 14 to 6 seats. Its members were mostly composed of those who had a deep antipathy to the politics of Charles Haughey, who they were now supporting as Taoiseach. By doing so, they altered the presumptions everyone had about election outcomes and the formation of governments. The Tories know the importance of a stable government as a signal for the markets, and would likely not seek to collapse the arrangement over any frivolous matter. After a year of coalition, they would henceforth slowly begin to think less adamantly in favour of single-party government only.
I was talking to a friend this morning about the coalition who reminded me that they’re Tories, not conservatives. Of course there’s a difference, and there are many issues that I couldn’t trust Tory instincts on, be it Northern Ireland, their approach to families, or their commitment to gay rights (whatever about the optimism of Nick Herbert for his party and his likelihood of being a cabinet minister, there have been too many Lewises, Lardners and Strouds over the course of the election for my liking). But these tendencies would be less of a concern in coalition, and without them, the Tories would be in danger of regressing towards their
In government with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats could ensure that they follow through with their claimed commitments to civil liberties. They could force them to confront more quickly questions like biometric ID cards, the national database, and the level of CCTV coverage in Britain. On immigration, they would propose the amnesty for long-standing residents proposed by the Lib Dems, but neither they pass the stringent caps proposed by the Tories. The Tories would continue for opt-outs on social provisions of the European Union, while not being as obstinate in practice as they might otherwise be. The social conservative wing of the Tories are pushing for a cabinet position for Iain Duncan Smith in return for agreeing to any deal with the Lib Dems. Fine, so long as in the next year or so he is whipped to go through the lobbies voting in favour of some measure on gay rights.
So yes, the Liberal Democrats will suffer some initial drop in support in they enter coalition with the Tories, just as the Green Party did here after 2007, both because of their government partner and the inevitable cuts to government spending. But in the long-term, because of the change they would make to British political culture, both by normalizing c0alition politics and making electoral reform easier to pass, and putting pressure on the civil-liberties-focused wing of the Tories, I think it would be the right thing for them to do.
I will give credit to Brenda Power for agreeing to give an interview to Gay Community News, having invoked anger from many gay people with here opinion piece in The Sunday Times last year, “You can’t trample over the wedding cake and eat it”. However, I find fundamental flaws in some of her arguments against allowing gay people become parents.
For example, she says that, “if there is an unhappiness in your life that you are trying to fill by acquiring a child, then you should really think about your motivations”. The interviewer rightly picks her up on this, that for no more than anyone else, gay people want to raise families because it is a natural human desire, rather than to fill a void in their lives.
Something which I think the interviewer let pass, and needs to addressed in this argument, is the idea that a child should have a mother and a father so that they have two role models. There is no clear reason given why these two role models should be of opposite sex. Growing up, role models are important for children for their character formation, but not ultimately for their ideas of sexual and gender identity. Any two people will have different characteristics and traits, to give the children they are raising guidance and example. The values children learn from their parents, from personal integrity to respect for others are not exclusively male or female.
Of course, Sigmund Freud considered gender identity to be a product of the relationships we have with our parents, but in this much he has mostly been discredited. That the children of single parents generally grow up perfectly balanced indicate that the lack of a mother or of a father do not per se affect child development. This is not deny that children in single-parent families might find themselves with more problems, but this is not a rule, and there is no reason to think that this is because of the lack of a particular sex in one of their parents, rather than the time their parents can devote to them. That perfectly many stable heterosexual couples have gay or transgendered children should further lead us to question the idea that having a mother and a father is important for children as role models.
In a recent article “Sins of Admission” in Commonweal, a American lesbian writes of her experience, as a Roman Catholic, where her local parish priest that there would be no question but that she could send the two children she had adopted with her partner to the parish school. She writes of how she had read of the plight of orphans, and how her motives in seeking to adopt them are considered suspect because of her sexuality.
This will sound hopelessly lefty, but the truth of the matter is that at the age of thirty-three I sat one Sunday morning reading the New York Times in a coffee shop a block away from the Newman Center where I had just been to Mass. The Magazine cover piece was “What Will Become of Africa’s AIDS Orphans?” Alone at my table, I murmured, “I could take one.” I read the piece through until the end and had the feeling that I was living the first day of the rest of my life. My partner and I had dated and maintained separate households for four years, but were set to begin our committed life together in a few months, and we had talked enough about adoption for me to know that she was open to it. We fished out the Times article from my files nearly two years later, contacted the agency mentioned in the piece, and — after much soul-searching and research and home studies and whatnot — we eventually welcomed two small boys to our family.
Of all parties, the Liberal Democrats would be the party in Britain I’d feel closest to. Of course, this is not the 1920s, this is not a three-cornered contest, and there is no immediate prospect of any Liberal Democrat becoming prime minister.
So it is between David Cameron and Gordon Brown for prime minister. I would not always naturally support one of Labour or the Tories over the other. At the moment, I do feel that after thirteen years in which they oversaw the onset of recession, a slow recovery and a deterioration of public finances, the Labour Party do not deserve another five years in office, and certainly not under Gordon Brown. But in any case, this election campaign has not been as exciting as perhaps it could have. Despite the dissatisfaction with the government, there has been no strong public wave behind the opposition, as there was in 1979 and 1997, in part because the expenses scandal hit both large parties in near equal measure.
But there are cultural reasons I’d be cautious to support the Conservatives. I think their decision to leave the Group of the European People’s Party, the European Parliament group of most conservatives and Christian Democrats like Nicolas Sarkozy or Angela Merkel, to form the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, was misguided. They confined themselves to an alliance that does not blend well with David Cameron’s attempts to portray the Conservatives as a more modern party, with parties with reservations about homosexuality. I don’t doubt that the Conservatives have changed as a party, on this and other issues, but the votes of their MEPs show the dissonance within the party and how Cameron himself has difficulty maintaining the more progressive image.
Having said that and despite his previous adamant opposition to repeal of Section 28, which forbid promotion of homosexuality in schools, I don’t believe gay people have any serious reason to concern from a Conservative government under David Cameron. I would not consider it the most unlikely thing if legislation to allow gay couples to marry was introduced by the Conservatives. On the most recent gay issue in the campaign, I would actually have to agree with the substance of Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling’s comments. I think there is less freedom in the country if a private B&B owner is told he must rent his rooms out to a gay couple against his wishes, even if such an owner shouldn’t be let anywhere near a major party ticket.
As The Economist wrote a few weeks ago, the Conservative approach to social issues is misguided and often presumes the most dire and exaggerated situations. Their marriage incentives seem well intentioned, but the wrong approach; it is true that children generally fare better if their parents are married, but funding married couples, including many who are financially secure, seems a strange waste of resources, and it discriminates against those children who have had the misfortune to be born to parents who have since moved apart. It was a small mistake in the course of the campaign, but the fact that the party got the figure of teenage pregnancies wrong by a factor of ten earlier this year shows how out of touch they can be at times.
On the North, the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force banner has come to little, with Ladbrokes currently predicting no Tory or Ulster Unionist candidate to be elected (The Times is using their predictions in each constituency on a great gadget on their site). Their strongest chance is in Strangford, the seat left vacant by Iris Robinson, but even there they give the DUP’s Jimmy Spratt a 50% chance of victory. And in Fermanagh–South Tyrone, both Unionist parties stood aside in favour of an independent, Rodney Connor, ending David Cameron’s hope of a Tory-backed candidate in every constituency. Overall as yet, Ladbrokes predict no change in Northern Ireland. Depending on the balance of the major parties in Westminster, the seats here could be of importance.
In his memoirs, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable talks of trying out the various parties when in Cambridge. Of the Conservatives, he writes, “Whilst there was a liberal veneer, I knew, because I had seen it first-hand, that their activist base depended on the energies and prejudices of bigoted people like my father, whom they were only too happy to use.” This is still true of the Conservatives. They appear more nice and friendly, but there is still the lingering tolerance for groups like the Young Britons’ Foundation, as long as they stay in the background.
A tight Conservative majority would give inordinate power to such fringes of the party, as John Major found after 1992, so I think if they are to have a majority, better it be higher than the four seats currently predicted on the Times site. But I would still look forward more to a hung parliament, where the Liberal Democrats could exert influence in their more sensible social policies and approach toward the European Union. Depending on their strength, they might even manage to secure electoral reform, which Gordon Brown talked of this week, presumably in the hope of their support. Which party should lead, will then depend very much on the division of seats.
On Wednesday, the Cato Institute, a US libertarian think-tank, hosted a talk, “Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?”, with Nick Herbert, Conservative MP and Shadow Environment Secretary, Andrew Sullivan, blogger with The Atlantic, and Maggie Gallagher, President of the National Organization for Marriage.
Though I’m fond of Sullivan’s arguments and can understand his perspective, he can seem a little angry at times, even if justifiably so. In any case, Nick Herbert’s speech (audio here) was certainly the highlight of the event, laying out a vision of the Conservative Party that would treat sexuality as a completely unexceptional in how it governs. He talked of how there could be more openly gay Conservative than Labour MPs after the upcoming general election and how allowing gay people to enter an institution such as marriage fitted in nicely to a conservative vision. He finished his speech strongly: