So Cameron supports gay marriage not despite being
a Conservative, but because he is a Conservative. No shit,
Sherlock. The speech, at the Conservative party conference, has
drawn predictable gasps and splutters from the Church, the Daily
Mail and the right wing of the party. But Cameron's declaration is
much less radical than it appears for two reasons. The first is
that, for those who see gay marriage as a benchmark of progress in
the battle for equality, it doesn't go far enough. A public
consultation is a long way from a commitment to legislate, and the
proposals extend only to civil, not church, ceremonies.
But the second, more fundamental, reason is that
the issue is really a Conservative no-brainer - which is why I've
never really understood why gay people are so desperate to be
allowed to get married in the first place.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for romantic
declarations of love and commitment, and I want my relationship to
be as valid as those of my straight friends in the eyes of the law.
But let's not kid ourselves that marriage is anything other than an
essentially conservative institution, licensed by state and
sanctified by church to protect property (including, historically,
women and children) and inheritance rights. As the Spectator
magazine wrote this week in response to the announcement: "[T]rue
conservatives should welcome gay marriage. For its increased
acceptance across civilised countries represents not the making gay
of marriage but the making conservative of gays."
The other big announcement Cameron has just made,
on cutting foreign aid to homophobic governments in Africa and the
Middle East, is to be welcomed. Let's hope it will at least focus
the minds of law and policy makers in the 76 countries in which
homosexuality is still criminalised, including the handful which
still uphold the death penalty for homosexual acts and those, like
Uganda, which might yet introduce it.
It seems that LGBT rights are finally being
recognised as human rights across the UK political spectrum, and
such a seismic cultural shift is to be applauded - although, given
how long LGBT human rights campaigners have been shouting, possibly
with more of a slow hand clap than a rousing ovation. Let's not
forget that it is only because of the sustained and painstaking
work of LGBT human rights campaigners that the UKBA's guidance on
how it deals with sexuality in asylum claims has recently changed.
And that even if a gay asylum seeker does now win the long struggle
to be recognised as a refugee in the UK, he or she will be trying
to start rebuilding their life in a country where 60% of refugee
services have just been cut.
In fact almost every political and economic
initiative in the last year has attacked the most vulnerable in our
society and will undoubtedly make life for many LGBT individuals
and communities much, much harder. Gay people are very rarely just
gay people. We are also asylum seekers living in destitution, women
escaping domestic violence, gay men living with HIV, teenagers
getting bullied out of home and school. We are young, old, poor,
homeless, ill. Almost all of the services we need to help us deal
with these issues, both specialist and generic, are being cut; and
while our government champions human rights abroad, our home
secretary ridicules the framework of human rights protection we
have at home.
Two such apparently progressive announcements in
the space of a week might blindside us into thinking that Dave
wants to be our friend, that he's really a gay-friendly guy down
home with the homos. Don't be fooled. Yes, gay rights are human
rights - not just in the registry office, not just abroad, but in
every aspect of our lives, every day. Yes, we need gay equality -
but without social equality it is meaningless.