Lobbying the Lords

This lunchtime I went and posted letters to several members of the House of Lords asking them to support the marriage bill. As it has it’s second reading in the Lords on Monday, it couldn’t be more important than now to write to some Lords and encourage them to support the bill.

You can easily contact members of the Lords via WriteToThem, and for some inspiration I’ve included my own missive below:

Dear Lord X,

I wanted to take the opportunity to write and ask you to support the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. I could make a deeply personal and emotive appeal to you – marriage equality would mean a great deal to my partner and I – but I’d like to focus instead on the benefit to society.

This debate has demonstrated how important marriage is to society. The commitment that marriage entails doesn’t just strengthen individual relationships, but society more broadly. It fosters stability and is a public demonstration of love and commitment. As marriage makes society stronger, it follows that allowing all couples to marry, regardless of their gender, will make it stronger still.

By backing the bill with such a sizeable majority, the House of Commons sent a signal to LGBT men and women that they are valued and accepted. This message matters. Attitudes towards homosexuality have undoubtedly progressed enormously, but the effect of the prejudice that remains is severe: gay and bisexual men are 7.5 times more likely to attempt suicide for example.

This untold tragedy is the consequence of a society where homophobic language is endemic in schools and LGBT men and women are implicitly told that they are lesser. This bill triumphantly declares that this is untrue. By legally recognising that same- and opposite-sex relationships are equally valid, we will open the door to visible, committed same-sex marriages that reinforce this message.

I can’t ignore the topic of religion; it’s clearly important to respect religious belief. The Church of England has said the so-called quadruple locks ‘do what they are intended to’, i.e. protect religious groups from being forced to marry same-sex couples. But it also allows groups who wish to marry same-sex couples to do so.

The voices of religious group in support of marriage equality have been drowned out by a very vocal minority; we cannot allow the religious freedom of one group to trump another’s. I use the term minority advisedly. Polling consistently shows that a majority support marriage equality; YouGov’s most recent poll shows 54% support and 37% opposition. This support rises as high as 74% among 18-24 year olds.

Opponents of marriage equality argue that we shouldn’t redefine marriage. In reality, marriage is an institution that has always evolved to reflect society. Polling shows that society’s definition has and continues to expand to include same-sex couples. The time is right for our legal definition of marriage to reflect that.

I urge you to support the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at its second reading on Monday 3 June.

Yours sincerely,
Will Knock

Update: Rushanara Ali and equal marriage

So, I haven’t received a response to my email yet, but Rushanara Ali has replied to someone else on Twitter:

“@E3Bloke: you are not on the list supporting Equal Marriage I’m surprised. Must be out of date. Count me in.

Good news then! I’m still looking forward to her full response to my email, but it’s great to know that my MP will be voting in favour of marriage equality. Can’t help but wonder though how the news will go down in some parts of the constituency….

Email to Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow

I’ve finally done something I’ve been meaning to do since I moved in June and have written to my new MP about equal marriage. So, an email is winging its way through cyber space to Rushanara Ali, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow whose support or otherwise for marriage is currently unknown. (See the Coalition for Equal Marriage support page).

The text of my email is below if you’re interested, and I’ll look forward to posting an update when I’ve received a reply.

Dear Ms Ali

I’m writing to you today to ask how you intend to vote on the issue of equal marriage.

As a gay man in a long-term relationship, my partner and I would like to celebrate our commitment to one another through one of our oldest and most important social institutions: marriage.

For me, the introduction of Civil Partnerships was one of the great achievements of the last Labour government and they were clearly an important step in the right direction. I believe though that maintaining a separate legal institution for same-sex couples implies that my relationship is not valued as highly. Put simply, separate but equal is not equal.

I also believe that legislating for equal marriage is an important step for religious freedom. Many opponents of marriage equality argue that it will undermine religious freedoms. To argue as such is to ignore the religious freedoms of the many groups that wish to perform same-sex marriages, for instance the Quakers and Reformed Judaism. To maintain marriage inequality is to deny these groups their own religious freedom.

The government’s proposed safeguards will ensure that no religious group is required to perform a same-sex marriage. Marriage equality will grant religious freedoms for these groups without impinging upon those of any others.

Polling shows that there is majority support for marriage equality within the UK. Two polls by YouGov in December 2012 found 55% support  for ‘changing the law to allow same-sex couples to marry’. To claim that a majority of the public are against equal marriage is disingenuous and inaccurate.

I believe that equal marriage is a good thing for our country. The majority of people in the UK are in support of it and it will extend religious freedoms.

Above all, marriage equality is important to me because the state will finally afford my partner and I, and countless more couples in Bethnal Green and Bow, the same respect and recognition as any opposite-sex couple. Words can’t express how much that would mean to me.

I look forward to receiving your response.

Yours sincerely,

William Knock

The political mandate for gay marriage

One of the points that the Coalition for Marriage is keen to make, is that there isn’t a political mandate for introducing same sex marriage. This isn’t something that rang quite true when I heard it, so I decided to do some digging.

What I came across, and remembered from the time of the 2010 election, is the Conservative Contract for Equalities. Now, admittedly, this is not the party manifesto (as the Coalition for Marriage is technically accurate, if some nit picking to point out), but it is a supplement to  the manifesto, and is regardless a commitment that was made during an election campaign:

Now, at the end of the campaign, we are setting out our side of the bargain: what we will do if we win the election. […] And we are saying clearly in this contract that if we fail to make progress in these areas, if we do not deliver on our side of the bargain, then vote us out in five years time.

So it certainly sounds like this contract is to carry the weight of a manifesto commitment, which is good, given what it says about same-sex marriage:

We will also consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage.

So far, a clear mandate then for a Conservative-led government.

Now, as neither of the other main parties made such a commitment, you might think there’s scope for saying this mandate is incomplete in a parliament where the Conservatives do not have a majority. But the government is only seeking to legislate for same-sex marriage in England and Wales, as that’s all it has the power to do. And if we look at just England and Wales, we see that the majority of MPs are Conservatives (305 out of 573).

So the majority of MPs in England and Wales belong to a party that during the election promised to consider changing the law to introduce same-sex marriage in England and Wales.

If that isn’t a political mandate, then I’m not sure what is, and that is a question that I’ve politely asked the Coalition for Marriage to answer.


Lord Carey’s own goal

This internet has been abuzz today with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey’s article in the Daily Mail about gay marriage. Writing to coincide with the launch of the Coalition for Marriage, he sets out his stall for why same-sex marriage should not be legalised.

As is so often the case from gay marriage opponents, he makes three fundamental errors, that can only help the cause of those of us who believe in full marriage equality:

  1. Claiming allowing same-sex marriage ‘fatally weaken’ marriage as a whole. This will always sound like what it is, utterly ridiculous.
  2. Focussing on a supposed lack of public support, despite the evidence (in particular polling by Populus which showed 66% support for gay marriage). Furthermore, he bizarrely claims it is undemocratic for our democratically elected government to enact legislation.
  3. Having a homophobic tone that goes beyond just that issue of marriage, You just need look at his argument that marriage is an essential cornerstone to society, but that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry. The implication is clear: homosexuals can’t be part of the cornerstone of society.

I for one am very happy to see such obvious mistakes continuing to be made by Lord Carey. The only effect his words can truly have is to win the hearts and minds of the tolerant to full marriage equality, who will see his article for what it is: full of hate and without any logic to it at all.

Let’s treat the gay community like adults

I thought long and hard last night about whether I should blog about Ken Livingstone. I’ve always been keen to keep my party political views separate from my blog, and with that in mind I decided against it.

I’ve always had the greatest of respect for Attitude magazine for seemingly doing the same; keeping party political leanings out of their editorial style. Particularly in the lead up to 2010’s general election, when they featured interviews with all three party leaders, I was proud that the UK had a gay magazine willing to treat me like an adult, capable of making up his own mind.

So what has this got to do with Ken? Well, this morning I’m disappointed that while the magazine remains politically balanced, the companion twitter feed seems not to be. Yes, they decided to weigh in on Ken:

Ken Livingstone is probably the most longstanding pro gay UK politician in history. Don’t believe the twisting of his bad choice of words

I for the record am willing to admit Ken’s pro gay record. At the same time, I’m willing to express my concerns at his association with Yusuf al Qaradawi and his support for Lutfur Rahman, and I think any balanced commentary would be wise to point out the good as well as the bad.

More than that, I believe that words matter. The journey towards LGB equality is about just that now: the debate over the use of the word marriage; the unacceptability of using the word ‘gay’ as a playground insult. To dismiss Ken’s ‘bad choice of words’ without expecting an apology is party political.

We read time and again about the damage done by words that aren’t intended to be homophobic; about tragic suicides that result from homophobia, whether it’s intended or not. That more than anything shows what effect words can have.

I don’t want the young LGBT population of London to be able to read that word riddled, without knowing that Ken has put his hands up and apologised.

Before my comments descend into a mass of quotations of Boris, I want to say this. Yes, what he said in 2001 was foolish and thoughtless, but he has now become unashamedly pro gay marriage. That for me is enough to show that he believes he was wrong to think how he once did and to send that message to Londoners.

I hope I’ve successfully walked a tightrope this morning and treated my readers like adults who are capable of making up their own minds. I’m disappointed that Attitude didn’t seem to even bother trying last night.

Sentamu for Canterbury? You must be joking….

Fraser Nelson at The Spectator, someone whose opinions I normally have a great deal of time for, has got it into his head and onto the front page of his magazine that John Sentamu (Archbishop of York) should be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s not so much the suggestion itself as his reason that I find ridiculous:

if Britain is to have a figure who epitomises our country’s inherent tolerance and open-mindedness I’d pick Sentamu above anyone else in public life.

Tolerant and open-minded? Perhaps Fraser missed this at the weekend:

Don’t legalise gay marriage, Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu warns David Cameron (Telegraph)

In which, of course, Sentamu compared the PM to a dictator for his movement to legalise civil gay marriage. How tolerant and open minded of him to suggest that politicians should ignore majority public opinion.

Doubting how far we’ve come

There are times when I can see the reality that LGB equality has come a long way, and then there are times when I’m still shocked and surprised by the narrow-mindedness of some people. Today seems to be a day that is a combination of the two.

It’s disappointing, but not surprising, to see that Anne Widdicome has written for the Express about helping those who aren’t glad to be gay. She argues that psychotherapists should be able to offer conversion therapy to those who want it without the fear of being struck off. It’s easy to see what I’ve found infuriating.

What’s particular infuriating is her suggestion that any professional should just accept someone’s priorities without trying to alter them. If I go and say I’m deeply unhappy being gay, they shouldn’t help me to come to terms with my sexuality, but should help me stop being gay.

I’m particularly struck by the contrast today, as LGBT History Month gets underway. After all, let’s not forget that one of the most significant moments in our community’s history, and that we celebrate each year on IDAHO (the International Day Against Homophobia, 17 May) is the removal of homosexuality from the WHO’s international classification of diseases.

My sexuality is not a disease; it is not something to be ‘cured’ by a therapist. For that reason is right and proper that no-one offering such a cure should be allowed to practice as a psychotherapist or, at the very least, offer their ‘cure’ in that capacity. To do so is to give it a stamp of medical authority, something it clearly does not have.

We have come so far, and that’s something I hope to reflect on this month as my own contribution to the celebration of LGBT History Month. But articles like Anne Widdecombe’s are often a sobering reminder that the case for equality has not been universally accepted. We may be living in the 21st century, but the opinions of some people seem more medieval.

Britain’s Gay Footballers: Revealing A Code Of Silence

I’ve just finished watching Britain’s Gay Footballers on BBC Three, a documentary that was at times both immensely moving and troubling. Moving because of Amal Fashanu’s personal journey of discovery about her uncle’s story; troubling because of the seeming code of silence about homosexuality around football.

It seems utterly remarkable that the biggest triumph of this programme was for Amal Fashanu to secure an interview with a top footballer. I’m personally astounded that that should be significant enough to be considered a breakthrough. This is particularly contrasted by the openness of the Rugby world as Gareth Thomas and other recent retirees sit and discuss his sexuality and how big a non-issue it is.

Given this seeming reluctance to talk, I’m no longer surprised by this blood boiling, narrow-minded and homophobic article about the documentary that appeared on Football365 yesterday. Let me pick out one particularly flabbergasting quotation for you:

What is not considered here is that maybe there are almost no gay footballers. Maybe they’re put off early or don’t fancy it. The old canard about “one in ten people being gay” is trotted out, but is there really any reason to suppose that any profession should have a representative proportion of gay participants?

Or, to put it another way, let’s just pretend there aren’t. As my brother (a statistician who recently completed his Ph.D.) put it on Twitter last night, ‘The idea that there are no openly gay players because there are no gay players is laughable in the extreme’.

This code of silence seems to extend beyond the players. The programme’s researchers managed to find a gay official who was willing to talk to the programme, but pulled out because the Professional Game Match Officials Board wouldn’t allow him to talk to the media.

Furthermore Amal managed to meet with someone at the FA, none other than their equalities manager (why not someone more senior?). What pray tell did she have to say, well apparently they have a four year plan (no details were given of what it actually entailed) and they’re focussing on the grass roots where ‘millions of people play the game’. It’s so nice to know they’ve decided to focus their efforts on where millions play it, rather than where billions watch it. After all, the Premier League reportedly has a global TV audience of 4.7 billion every year.

As John Amaechi pointed out (and I did too in a post a couple of days ago) British football has the resources to solve the problem of homophobia if they so choose. The fact of the matter is that they don’t as is perfectly evident by both their paltry efforts thus far and the reluctance to engage with the issue or this programme.

The tragedy of Justin Fashanu’s suicide is that 15 odd years later nothing has changed. The UK does not have an out professional footballer, and even more disgracefully there’s no evidence that anyone really seems to care.


If you missed Britain’s Gay Footballers, it will be available on iPlayer until next week.

We won’t rid football of homophobia with a poster and DVD

The Mail on Sunday reports exclusively today on a new campaign started by the Professional Footballers’ Association against homophobia. This apparently entails every Premier and Football League club being sent a poster and educational DVD to raise awareness of homophobia in football. This comes with the official backing of the FA, Premier League, Football League, League Managers’ Association and the Kick It Out campaign.

This sounds like something you couldn’t make up, but indeed it’s true. It’s almost 25 years since Justin Fashanu, the one and only out professional footballer in the UK leagues, committed suicide. Yet all they seem to have come up with is a poster and a DVD.

What seems even more baffling, is the response of the chair of the Gay Footballers Supporter Network:

Chris Basiurski, chair of the Gay Footballers Support Network, is glad to see the initiative after what, he believes, was a lack of urgency by the Premier League and Football League to address homophobia in football.

‘The leagues have not done anywhere near enough on the issue. They haven’t shown any sign that they are willing to take the issue seriously.’

The big question is where is the condemnation? The message I would give to the PFA and FA would be much more like this:

While I do of course welcome this exceptionally small step toward addressing homophobia in football, the PFA and the FA can and must do much more if they want to demonstrate that they are serious about tackling this issue. 92 posters and DVDs can hardly be a proportionate response for addressing homophobia in an industry with an annual revenue of almost £2.7 billion. Until the FA, PFA and clubs put their money where their mouth is and come up with a campaign that doesn’t sound like it was put together by a primary school pupil I will refuse to believe that they’re serious about tackling homophobia on the pitch, the terraces and in the changing room.