Gordon Brown's sexual apartheid
The prime minister should not be boasting about his gay-friendly credentials when he supports the ban on same-sex marriage
By Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner
The Guardian – Comment is Free - London – 2 July 2009
I am not surprised that Gordon Brown has turned down an invitation to march on Saturday’s Pride London gay parade. Downing Street is claiming that “security considerations” prevent the Prime Minister from attending. This is a poor excuse. Doesn’t he have bodyguards and a flak jacket?
More likely, he is not marching because he fears he would be booed and jeered, like he was at the D-Day commemorations. His government is not as pro gay rights as it claims. He has angered many people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community by blocking full equality on issues like civil marriage and protection against homophobic harassment, which is explicitly excluded from the current Equality Bill.
Nevertheless, Gordon is sending to the parade, in his place, his delightful wife, Sarah Brown. She will be marching with us. Presumably the Downing Street security people have deemed that, compared to her husband, she is less of a protest target and less likely to be the victim of an assassination attempt. I see. Put the woman in the frontline. Hmm! Isn’t this a wee bit sexist and cowardly?
Never mind, I look forward to marching with Sarah. Her participation and support – even as a substitute for the PM - is much appreciated.
I won’t embarrass her. I will be on my best behaviour. But I do plan to remind Sarah that she and Gordon were able to get married, whereas gay couples cannot. Her husband supports the ban on same-sex marriage. He won’t give lesbian and gay partners the same right to marry as he and his wife have enjoyed.
I hope Sarah will be persuaded that the time has come for marriage equality, and that she’ll have a word in Gordon’s ear, urging him to legislate equal marriage rights, when she gets back to Downing Street after the parade. Perhaps she can influence Gordon is a progressive direction just like Carla Bruni has allegedly persuaded her husband, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to temper some of his more right-wing policies.
What’s all the fuss about gay marriage, some people cry. Don’t we already have it? No, civil partnerships are not marriage or equality. They are a form of sexual apartheid: gay couples cannot have a civil marriage and heterosexual couples cannot have a civil partnership. Call me ungrateful, but I think it is wrong to have different laws for gays and straights. In a democracy, the law is supposed to apply equally to everyone. This means marriage equality for all.
I argue for legalising same-sex marriage, even though I don’t much like the institution of marriage and it’s often less than noble history of subjugating women. Although I would not want to get married myself, I oppose marriage discrimination and defend the right of other same-sex couples to get married if they wish.
In March this year, at a Downing Street reception for gay community leaders, from which I was excluded, Gordon Brown condemned the way Proposition 8 in California outlaws gay marriage. Isn’t this a tad hypocritical, given that his government also outlaws same-sex marriage?
According to an anonymous tip off I received on Monday this week, Gordon Brown has ensured that I am not on the invite list for this Saturday's Gay Pride reception at Downing Street, which he will host. The reception is being held for “prominent gay campaigners.” The official excuse for not inviting me, according my tip-off, is that I am “not prominent enough.” Well, yes, I am not exactly a household name. But are any of the other invitees?
Does my exclusion have anything to do with the fact that I have criticised the government's ban on same-sex marriage and gay blood donors, and its refusal to give asylum to gay refugees who have fled homophobic persecution in countries like Uganda, Iran, Nigeria, Iraq and Belarus?
I also understand that Mr Brown is still angry that I heckled him over his government’s war on terror and its erosion of civil liberties, when he opened the Taking Liberties exhibition at the British Library late last year. Perhaps he fears a repeat embarrassment?
I have been campaigning for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights for 40 years, since shortly after the 1969 Stonewall Riots. I was one of the group of people who helped organise Britain’s first gay pride parade in 1972.
I don’t do my human rights work to win awards, titles, honours or invites. It doesn’t matter to me that I haven’t been invited to Downing Street. What angers me is the principle - the way the Prime Minister invites and fetes mostly pro-Labour loyalists in the LGBT community; ignoring all other campaigners. It is a manipulative divide and rule tactic by an insecure government that knows its record on lesbian and gay human rights is not as glorious as it claims.
Instead of remedying the remaining aspects of homophobic discrimination, Gordon Brown seems more interested in isolating and excluding gay voices who continue to insist on full LGBT equality.
The Labour government’s many commendable gay law reforms over the last decade are no excuse for its stonewalling on the abolition of these lingering aspects of homophobic inequality. Perhaps the Prime Minister should concentrate less on boasting about his gay-friendly credentials and spend a bit more time delivering the polices that will complete the quest for LGBT human rights?Click here to return to the Politics Index