GAY TIMES April 2001

Terry Sanderson’s autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

Although Labour politicians are keeping their fingers crossed that the demands of gay rights campaigners are on hold until after the election, the struggle to establish “the right to a [gay] family life” continues unabated.

Although most “traditional” families usually start out with a marriage – wedding bells, confetti and the vicar maundering on – it’ll be a long time before we’re welcomed into our local church to tie the knot. Nevertheless, individuals keep pushing at the boundaries. Neil Morris and Mark Jinks, for instance, had their relationship blessed on a Valentine’s Day edition of the Richard and Judy Show by ersatz bishop Jonathan Blake.

The ceremony may have brought a tear to the eye of Judy Finnegan, but it brought sick to the throat of many viewers if the following day’s reaction was anything to go by. “Fury as Gays Tie Knot on Richard and Judy Show” bellowed The Sun. It claimed that “telly viewers were gobsmacked” by the sight of the “gay wedding”. Apparently “dozens of outraged fans called The Sun to complain”, but only one was quoted – “mum” Ann Carter of North London. She opined that, “It was totally over the top. It was really creepy.”

Her opinion was shared by Simon Heffer, one of the most barking of The Daily Mail’s resident huffers and puffers, who called the wedding, “this week’s most repulsive stunt”.

He was countered by Lorraine Kelly in The Sun who catalogued the failures apparent in heterosexual relationships before saying: “At least there was some love at the gay wedding. So despite the abuse and scorn heaped on gay couple Mark Jinks and Neil Morris, their gay wedding was strangely refreshing. I wish them all the best”.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was under fire for proposing to spend £100,000 of “taxpayers’ money” to set up “partnership registration” for any couple, gay or straight. The Observer reported: “When the partnership pledge was made, it was envisaged that the facility would be offered only to lesbian and gay couples. However, the Mayor’s advisory group on registration has agreed that the amenity will be offered to all couples.”

The Daily Telegraph reported that “The move is designed to give homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals and ensure that there are fewer disputes over inheritance, pension rights and tenancies of shared homes. But it is unlikely to have any formal legal standing.”

This is the crux of it, really. What is the point of spending your £25 registration fee for what will be, in effect, the privilege of having your picture taken outside the new County Hall and your worthless certificate signed by Ken. It’s not supportive gestures we need, it’s changes in the law.

Anyway, after you’ve made your vows in front of Ken, you will then want to pop along and start your little family. The Mail on Sunday reported that “Britain’s oldest children’s charity is recruiting gay foster carers to look after the most vulnerable young people in society.”

Apparently the Coram Family (previously known as the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children) is “offering annual salaries of £23,000 to gay men and lesbians to care for young people between 11 and 18 with ‘challenging behaviour’.”

Actually, they are offering £23,000 salaries to all their carers, gay or straight, who are prepared to take on this arduous task, but let’s not get in the way of The Mail on Sunday’s little porky.

The paper admits that the selection procedure – which goes on for six months – is very strict. It includes police checks, home visits, training courses and many interviews. So, it is unlikely that these vulnerable children would end up in unsuitable homes with untrustworthy carers.

But here comes Valerie Riches, of Family and Youth Concern, to say: “Research has shown paedophilia is higher in the homosexual community than in the average male population. These children could be abused by the people who are supposed to be looking after them. Homosexuals may be able to give them the material benefits but cannot give children the moral background to develop emotionally and sexually.”

Over in The Guardian Weekend Magazine, Julie Bindel was saying: “One way the anti-gay bigots seek to poison minds against homosexual men is to label them all child abusers.” She thought that this was “clearly an offensive generalisation” but at the same time “gay men need to ask themselves if they are doing anything to fuel this argument.”

She trawls the archives to come up with evidence that gay men are reluctant to distance themselves from the proponents of “man-boy love”. To back up her case, she goes back as far as the late 70s when the Paedophile Information Exchange gained short-lived support within the gay community. Then she chastises Peter Tatchell for his advocating an age of consent of 14. She tells us that in the 80s some gay men working in social services got away with child abuse because everyone was afraid to challenge “members of the gay community” because of the ethos of “equal opportunities” that gripped local authorities.

She says that blaming gay men for child abuse gives a handy shield to the real abusers – “the jolly uncle or grandfather, using his place in the nuclear family to hide his foul activities.”

Ms Bindel concludes by issuing a challenge to gay men to distance themselves from child sexual abuse by joining forces with those who are actively fighting it. “But”, she maintained, “we cannot escape the fact that, so far, more gay men have attempted to explain the ‘erotic nature’ of intergenerational sex, or shown sympathy and understanding of ‘boy lovers’, than have joined forces with those of us who wish to see an end to child sexual abuse.”

Methinks Ms Bindel is a bit behind the times. Peter Tatchell’s arguments (for those who would listen) were a bit more sophisticated than she credits. He wanted the legal right for young people to have sex with each other, not for them to be abused by older men. So where are these apologists for child abuse within the gay community that she talks about?

Anyway, assuming you can convince the adoption agency that you and your partner are not members of the Sidney Cooke fan club, all you’ve got to do now is sustain and nurture the partnership.

But, just as love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, marriage and divorce go together like foot and mouth. And already gay couples are finding that splitting up is a much more complicated matter for them than for straight couples. Especially when children are involved.

The Sun reported the case of “A ‘divorced’ lesbian couple” who are “fighting a historic test case over their two-year old love child.

The two women, who had lived together for 12 years, paid £3,700 for one of them to have IVF treatment “believing that a baby would complete their happiness.”

Instead, the couple split up and the birth-mother banned her ex from ever seeing the baby again. Now the rejected partner – a nurse – is fighting in court for the right to see the child. Her lawyer says that: “The couple jointly decided to have the child, and our argument is that they should be treated like any man and wife. It is a very unusual situation, but we don’t see any reason why our client should be treated differently just because of her sexuality. More and more gay couples are having children and it’s a situation the courts will have to look at very carefully.”

There will be painful mud-slinging and recrimination when the case is heard. All very sad, but bound to become more familiar as gay relationships are taken more seriously.

And should you be unlucky enough to lose your partner as a result of murder or other criminal activity, you will soon be able to claim the same £10,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Agency that heterosexual partners can.

Until now, only parents, children, spouses or long-term heterosexual partners of those killed by crime could be compensated, because same sex couples were not recognised by the CICA.

This didn’t suit Norman Tebbit one bit. In the Mail on Sunday he claimed it was just another “favour” granted to Tony Blair’s “favourite people.”

“Same sex ‘partners’ will be given the same rights as married people to compensation if their ‘partner’ is killed,” he wrote. “Of course, brothers and sisters who share a home – but not a bed – will not be treated as generously as homosexuals. What a clear statement of New Labour’s contempt for marriage and family and Blair’s continuing love affair with homosexuals.”

And what a clear statement of Norman Tebbit’s lack of simple human decency and his continuing love affair with bigotry.

And finally, the National Viewers and Listener’s Association, founded in 1964 by Mary Whitehouse, has renamed itself Mediawatch UK.

Nothing to do with me, mate.

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