GAY TIMES November 1996

According to Peter Tatchell in The Guardian last month, the gay community has become feckless, amoral, trivial and without substance. This month, according to other papers, it seems all we want to do is take on the responsibilities that heterosexuals are anxious to be rid of – marrying, settling down and having 2.4 children.

Progress towards these goals in this country is negligible when compared with what is happening in the USA. There a titanic political and moral battle has been set in motion by two modest Hawaiian gay men called Pat Lagon and Joe Melillo.

Pat and Joe have been together for 19 years, and they decided, according to The Independent on Sunday (September 8th), that the time had come to get married – not pretend married, but really married. Needless to say, the Hawaii Department of Health refused their request for a marriage certificate, and the two men took the state to court “to argue for the right to become spliced, not as man and woman, but as man and man”.

According to Republican senator Charles Canady, the case has since become an argument about “nothing less than our collective moral understanding – as expressed in the law – of the essential nature of the family, the fundamental building block of society”.

If the Hawaiian case is won, then it is almost certain that gay marriages conducted in that state will eventually have to be recognised in the other 49 states, despite several of them trying to rush through legislation banning same-sex matrimony.

President Clinton then further betrayed his commitment to gay rights by signing the Defence of Marriage Act which encourages individual states not to recognise gay marriages and ensure that gay couples are denied any federal tax benefits extended to heterosexual couples. The Act defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

If the Lagon and Melillo case is won – and there is optimism that it will be – then each state will have to justify any refusal to recognise marriages that will have been legally performed in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, in this country, consternation was expressed by The Jewish Chronicle (September 27th) that Rabbi Elizabeth Sarah, a director of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, was planning to conduct a “lesbian wedding” in Sussex. When she announced her plan at a synagogue in Bushey “many congregants walked out” and the synagogue chairman was quick to distance himself from the plan, saying: “It is not a policy we wish to be identified with.”

All the same, there is some hope of change in the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain. Its chief executive said that the whole matter had been referred to an “assembly of rabbis” who will “look at the issue in relation to Jewish tradition and report back to us early next year”. He said: “As a movement, we are pledged to find room for all Jews who feel a commitment to Judaism, regardless of their social, political or sexual differences.”

Others remain implacably opposed. For instance, Barbara Amiel wrote in The Daily Telegraph (September 19th) that gay weddings would be the “last nail in the coffin of marriage”. She conceded that “some homosexuals couples have spent years together, paying mortgages, supporting each other emotionally as well as financially in committed relationships that make many of our own heterosexual unions seem rather flimsy” and yet still she thinks that marriage should be denied them. Her reasoning? “The institution of marriage has a specific purpose – to procreate and raise a family. That reason is unaltered by the fact that some people marry for purely economical reasons or that some marriages are without issue because of medical problems or personal choice.”

She says there is nothing stopping gays having deeply committed relationships with each other, “but they cannot create life”. Ms Amiel believes the real reason that some gay people are agitating for marriage is not because they feel strongly about the institution, but because they want “to achieve the legal obliteration of any distinction between the normative sexual behaviour of society and the neuropathology of homosexuality which affects a figure estimated at about five per cent of the population.”

Barbara Amiel, of course, is well qualified to comment on the sanctity of marriage, having been wed four times herself.

Another marriage veteran, Elizabeth Taylor, also had some words of advice to the gay community on the topic. In an interview in The Advocate she was asked to endorse the idea of gay marriage. Her response: “I would say to you all: ‘You’re crazy. If you want to be stupid, go ahead, but I don’t want to hear about any of your tears.” Sour grapes or hard-won words of wisdom?

Indeed, human beings being what they are, divorce is the inevitable shadow that dogs the steps of any marriage. It will be no different for gay people. The ending of legally binding relationships will be as messy and painful for us as it is for them. Especially if children are involved.

A little taste of this was given to us on Dyke TV (and subsequently in The Daily Mail) when a Scottish lesbian couple who were raising a child together decided to split up. A custody battle in court then ensued, and nobody came out of it smelling of roses.

Apropos of this, the Reverend Bill Wallace of the Church of Scotland was quickly on hand to tell The Daily Mail that “I think same-sex relationships do not have a good track record for stability.”

Has Mr Wallace seen the heterosexual divorce statistics recently?

Taking on the responsibility for raising children is a serious decision and I am all in favour of it being made difficult. Nobody, straight or gay, should undertake parenthood without first having to think carefully about it. Straight people often have children by accident, children which they resent and don’t want. Gay people have to go to great lengths to achieve the same end. Artificial insemination, adoption or surrogacy all need careful planning, not just a careless night of passion. But that does not stop the outcry from the tabloids whenever a child is brought into a gay relationship.

The Daily Express tried its damnedest to make the surrogate baby conceived in America on behalf of Bill Zachs and Martin Adam sound like a scandal, but the participants in the drama wouldn’t co-operate. The paper eventually tracked down the mother of the child, Andrea Gibson, but she was adamant that she had carefully thought about what she was doing, didn’t regret it and had the child’s best interests at heart. She thought little Sarah Clare would have a loving and privileged life with the two men.

This did not stop anti-gay propagandist George Gordon – The Daily Mail’s American correspondent – from trying to turn the positive into the negative. “My torment, by mother who sold baby to gays” was the headline over his piece (September 7th). He tried to convince us that the two gay men had somehow exploited the woman and that she now regretted her decision, but there was no evidence to back up his assertions, and despite his wishful claim that the government were about to “set up an urgent review into the case” no such review has been forthcoming, and none is planned.

The Right’s objections to gay parenting are familiar by now. Fiona Webster in The Daily Mirror expressed one of them: “A gay couple who have ordered a baby from America – in the same way you might order a toy from a catalogue – say they don’t want any embarrassing fuss… If these suddenly ‘shy’ parents want to learn anything about fuss and embarrassment, all they have to do is go into the school playground on ‘their’ child’s first day at school.” The other point made is that children brought up in a same-sex relationship will inevitably “become” gay themselves.

Some of these issues were explored in an article in The London Evening Standard, “Living with Gay Parents” (September 6th). Children who had been raised by gay parents were allowed to tell their own stories. One, Derby Davenport who is now 25, told how, at the age of twelve, she had confided in a friend that her mother lived in a lesbian relationship. “[The friend] told everyone in my class and I immediately became an outcast and all the children would whisper to each other as I walked down the hall. I never wanted to go to school again. That’s how it was for most of my teens.” She admits that eventually the experience made her stronger and more understanding, but it was terrible at the time. She is not gay herself, and neither are any of the other people interviewed in The Standard, although one young man said that he had been troubled about it for a while.

When Dan Katch discovered that his father was gay, he became terrified that he, too, would become homosexual even though he felt no attraction for men. He went to a therapist who assured him that his father’s sexuality had no influence on his own and from then on “I felt overwhelmingly relieved. The realisation that I wasn’t necessarily going to be gay just because my father was meant that I could stop being afraid of it.”

And that’s half the problem – people being afraid. If those who oppose gay child-rearing continue to peddle untruths about the nature and functioning of gay families, then progress will be slow indeed, and totally unnecessary fears will be planted in the minds of young people.

It is not gay couples who are harming the children in their care, it is the preachers and pseudo-moralists who do the damage. As a correspondent to The Daily Express’s letters page said: “Today many children in so-called normal families are abused, neglected and deprived without any public outcry. It is the quality of love and care given a child that matters, not who provides it.”

***

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

Oscar Moore, the Guardian columnist who lost his long battle against Aids in September, wrote a last essay which could stand as his epitaph: “It is perhaps the inevitable, but certainly the fabulous irony, that the threat of death has led to a heightened sense of life, for me personally, and for the gay community in general.” (The Guardian)

“Please, George, do shut up and be sensible. Do refrain from pontificating on a subject, that of homosexuality, of which you, as a happily married man, appear to know pathetically little. I don’t remember Our Lord commenting on it. Are you not being a little presumptuous? In the world to which you look forward, you will not be judged on your sexual proclivities, but rather on the love and compassion you have shown for your fellow men.” The Rev Dr Robert de Massey’s advice to the Archdeacon of York, the Venerable George Austin (The Observer)

“From watching the porno channel in New York, I find that one of the biggest turn-ons for men is to see two women having sex together. I would feel very uncomfortable if, in the name of sexual liberation, I was actually being used for the opposite – sexually oppressing women,” was the reason given by Prime Suspect star Helen Mirren on why she will not be doing a lesbian sex scene in her new TV movie in which she plays a housewife who finds love with another woman.

That Eastenders kiss has got ‘em going. Take self-confessed “middle-aged housewife”, Ann Jones, who wrote to the Radio Times: “It is time television woke up to the fact that a sizeable number of the population are gay. It is far less offensive to watch a gay kiss than a heterosexual couple ripping each other’s clothes off.”

Real men don’t wear support hose. Let Leonardo di Caprio explain, talking to Premiere magazine about his new film he said: “Our Romeo and Juliet is a little more hard-core and a lot cooler. Because I wouldn’t have done it if I’d had to jump around in tights.”

Fran Landesman, the 60-something poet and lyricist, was asked on Desert Island Discs what luxury she would take with her: “Cannabis seeds,” she replied.

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