Saturday, 19 March 2011

Equality in partnership

My admiration for Peter Tatchell knows no bounds! Anyone who can steadfastly stand up for the rights of (often ungrateful) complete strangers against injustice, bigotry, tyranny and prejudice the way he has for decades - often to his own detriment, being beaten up by Mugabe's guards, and violently assaulted by Polish police - can only be worthy of the accolade of a "hero". How many of us would ever be so much of a thorn in the side of the establishment?

And so it was that I had to go and see him deliver his talk Equal Rights: Are we there yet? to the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) at the terribly twee Conway Hall yesterday (Friday) night.

The theme of his speech was about the current "Equal Love" campaign, whereby Mr Tatchell, two gay couples and two straight ones have mounted a legal challenge to overturn the twin bans on same-sex civil marriage and opposite-sex civil partnerships. Their raison d'etre is that there should be equality for all, gay and straight.

He addressed multiple well-reasoned arguments why the situation is so incongruous in the UK, not least the fact that in law the two institutions (marriage and civil partnership) are so intrinsically similar - other than the fact that the sexuality of the parties involved is different in each Act of Parliament - that there is no reason why they should exist as separate entities. As he argued, if there were a piece of legislation that barred, say, Jewish or black people from entering one legal arrangement in favour of another seperately legislated one, there would be a huge outcry!

Supporting him in the legal challenge, he introduced one of the straight couples who eloquently added their personal perspective to the debate.

To resounding applause, he concluded: “The bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships are a form of sexual apartheid – one law for gay couples and another law for heterosexual partners. Two wrongs don’t make a right. In a democratic society, we should all be equal before the law.”

Excellent, as always. And in the question and answer session - facilitated by the rather scrummy Adam Knowles, GALHA Chair - several more revelations were made about the way the British establishment continues to marginalise gay issues. For example, our beloved HM The Queen - I didn't realise that she (nor any member of the Royal Family) has ever mentioned the words "gay", "lesbian" or "homosexuality", even when introducing the various Bills that refer specifically to us (age of consent, sexual offences etc) to Parliament. When three people were killed, and countless others were severely injured in the Admiral Duncan bombing, Her Majesty never even sent a word of condolence (as she has in just about every other similar situation involving a tragedy on that scale)! Shocking.

Referring to the recent controversial attempt to stage an "East London Pride" (in response to the gay hate stickers that have started appearing near gay venues) by a group that turned out to have dodgy links to the right-wing English Defence League, Mr Tatchell reiterated his dismay, and said that Muslim organisations and speakers should be invited to participate in any rescheduled Pride in the area. However, he was very revealing in his exposé of the double-standards that the police exercise when it comes to the different ways it deals with anti-Muslim hate and anti-gay behaviour, "for fear of upsetting the Muslim community". The Met apparently know exactly who is involved in the stickering campaign but have refused to do anything about it.

This was a brilliant evening, and one not to be missed for the world...

OutRage's "Equal Love" campaign received its press launch at none other than Halfway to Heaven (remarkably, as I heard nothing about this at the time, despite being a regular there):

Read all about the "Equal Love" campaign

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