Labour's shameful record: queer rights vetoed 15 times!
Tony Blair wants our votes. Labour's scare-mongering election adverts in the gay press feature photos of Baroness Young, William Hague and Anne Widdecombe. A truly frightening homophobic trio!
But why should we vote Labour out of fear of the other lot? Just because the Tories are awful, does that mean we are duty bound to support Tony's mob?
It is true that William Hague would be a disaster for queer human rights. His party refuses to support any form of gay equality. On every issue, the Conservatives endorse discrimination. We saw their rabid homophobia during the campaign to repeal Section 28. Scary indeed!
What about Labour? Government spin-doctors promote the idea that Labour is the gay-friendly party. On two issues, it has made some positive changes: immigration rights for the foreign partners of British lesbians and gays, and criminal injuries compensation for the surviving partners of queers killed in crimes such as the Soho bombing.
While these reforms are welcome, they are dwarfed by the massive scale of Labour fudges, u-turns and betrayals on other issues of importance to the lesbian and gay community.
Not once, not twice, not three times ... .but 15 times since May 1997, Labour has blocked queer rights and endorsed homophobic discrimination:
AGE OF CONSENT - Labour did not willingly legislate equality at 16. Initially, it did nothing about equalising the consent laws. Parity at 16 was forced on the government by a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that declared the discriminatory age of consent unlawful. Moreover, Labour MPs were allowed a free vote. They were permitted to vote for or against equality - whichever took their fancy. But Labour never has a free vote on black and women's equality. Why the double-standards? And why did Labour include the'abuse of trust' amendment in the age of consent Bill, thereby implicitly linking homosexuality with paedophilia?
HATE CRIMES - Prior to the last election, Home Secretary Jack Straw pledged swift action against homophobic hate crimes. In 1998, however, just months before the Soho bomb, he vetoed an amendment to the Crime & Disorder Bill that would have extended the tough new penalties for racist attacks to all hate crimes, including homophobic violence.
SECTION 28 - Straw also said Labour would promptly repeal Section 28. But the government stalled for two years. It was only after the Scottish initiative to repeal Section 28 that Tony Blair was bounced into following suit. Even then, the repeal Bill was mischievously introduced by Labour in the Lords. This meant that the Lord's vote against abolition could not be over-ruled by MPs - thereby scuppering repeal.
MILITARY BAN - Before 1997, Labour promised to lift the ban on lesbians and gays in the military. Once elected, however, Labour ditched that pledge. It fought two cases - one in the European Court of Justice and the other in the European Court of Human Rights - to maintain homophobic discrimination in the armed forces. The ban was eventually lifted only because the European Court of Human Rights ruled it illegal.
PROTECTION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION - In 1998, Labour vetoed an amendment to the Human Rights Bill, which sought to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Only one Labour MP - Jeremy Corbyn - defied the Labour whip to support this amendment. All the left-wing and openly gay MPs either abstained or voted against protecting the queer community.
EQUALITY AT WORK - Labour three times blocked legislation to stop discrimination against queers in the workplace. It dismissed the Sexual Orientation Discrimination Bill in 1997, and in April and July 1999 it thwarted similar amendments to the Employment Relations Bill. In other words, Labour defended the right of employers to sack queer staff.
PARTNERSHIPS - Labour opposes legal recognition for same-sex partners, rejecting proposals to give gay couples next-of-kin, housing and inheritance rights. Justifying the government's opposition, the Home Secretary Jack Straw said: "Marriage is about a union for the procreation of children, which by definition can only happen between a heterosexual couple. I see no circumstances in which we will bring forward proposals for so-called gay marriages".
SEXUAL OFFENCES - During the passage of the 1998 Crime & Disorder Bill, Labour resisted moves to scrap the criminalisation of gay sex involving the presence of more than two people. It also rejected measures to repeal the "gross indecency" law that was used to jail Oscar Wilde in 1895 (and which is still used today to arrest hundreds of gay men for cottaging and cruising).
SEX OFFENDERS ACT-Labour has repeatedly declined to end the homophobic bias of the Sex Offenders Act, which results in men convicted of consenting gay relationships with 16 and 17 year olds being branded as child sex abusers. Since equalisation of the consent law, the government has blocked attempts to remove from the Sex Offenders Register men who are on it because of a gay age of consent offence with someone aged 16 or 17 (now no longer a crime). This means these men are still required to register with the police and remain at risk of vigilante attacks.
PROSECUTION MORATORIUM - After the House of Lords overturned the vote by MPs for an equal age of consent in July 1998, Home Secretary Jack Straw refused to use his discretionary powers to initiate a moratorium on the prosecution of 16 and 17 year old gay men and their partners. He insisted that prosecutions and jailings must continue because it is "the law of the land".
PENSION RIGHTS - Labour rejected a proposal in October 1999 by Lady Turner of Camden to allow lesbians and gays to inherit pensions on the death of their partner. This has left hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples at a major legal and financial disadvantage, compared to married heterosexuals.
These are 15 concrete, specific instances when Labour had an opportunity to overturn homophobia, but chose to maintain discrimination. Labour talks a lot about equality, but rarely delivers. When it comes to the crunch, the government seems more interested in appeasing the homophobes of Middle England than in enacting rights for queers.
Think before you vote. Don't be fooled by scare-mongering about the Tories and by Labour's phoney claim that it supports lesbian and gay rights. Look at the record of the government. It is not a pretty sight.
There are alternatives to the greater and lesser of two evils. Compared to Labour and the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Scottish Nationalist Party, Greens, Scottish Socialist Party, Sinn Fein and the Socialist Alliance have much better policies on queer issues.
Some of these smaller parties stand a chance of election; others (because of our undemocratic electoral system) do not. Never mind. They are still worth supporting.
A vote for any of these seven pro-gay parties is a poke in the eye for Tony Blair and William Hague. It will show them we are no longer prepared to choose between two different varieties of political homophobia.
Tatchell Talks 19, Rainbow Network website, 23 May 2001
Copyright Peter Tatchell 2001. All rights reserved.
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