GAY TIMES January 2000

James Collard went to New York in 1998 to edit Out, one of the USA’s leading gay magazines. Now he’s back and he wrote in the Independent on Sunday about the differences in gay life here and in the States.

“Oh my Gaaad! You can show that on primetime TV?” one of Mr Collard’s colleagues exclaimed after seeing the tape of Queer as Folk. It seems that the country that invented gay liberation just can’t get over how much progress we’ve made and how far behind they’ve slipped.

“Perhaps,” Collard says, “the answer lies in what Britain lacks but what America must contend with – a powerful and highly organised religious right. Every step forward – a prime time kiss, a hard-won constitutional or legal ruling, a city council granting spousal benefits to gay couples, a move to include sexual orientation in a state’s ‘hate crime’ legislation – triggers howls of protest, concerted lobbying and reactionary ballot initiatives aimed at overturning gay-friendly legislation, all led by the religious right.

“The argument for acceptance isn’t just far from being won in the US – it may never be won. You just can’t debate with the Gospel truth… In America no matter how hard the gays shove, the Christians on the other side shove harder.”

Of course, we have our own religious right in this country, and although they may seem like a bunch of amateurs compared to the moral majority groups over the water, they are finding that they have increasing clout.

Since their success in sabotaging the age of consent legislation in the House of Lords, they have learned some valuable lessons in media manipulation. Let us not forget that Baroness Young is still in the House of Lords, ready to open the doors to her friends at the Christian Institute (as she did during the campaigns against the age of consent). She keeps up the pressure on the inside while they agitate on the outside.

The Christian Institute suddenly seems to be everywhere. If it isn’t issuing grossly defamatory reports with titles such as ‘Bankrolling Gay Proselytism’ it is, according to The Church Times, combing the ads in The Pink Paper looking for evidence that local health authorities are “promoting the most medically dangerous forms of sexual practice, facilitating criminal behaviour between homosexuals and engaging in homosexual proselytism.”

The Institute says it took three weeks to track down “£1 million of public money being spent on promoting homosexuality – including £675,000 in salaries for jobs advertised in The Pink Paper and £425,413 given to gay organisations by the London Boroughs Grants Committee.”

In The Daily Star, the Christian Institute claimed “schoolchildren as young as 14 are getting lessons in homosexual love and Sado-masochism. They are encouraged to try out being gay and how to pick up lovers in public toilets.” Ian Bainbridge of the Institute is quoted as saying “This is SHOCKING! Most parents will be appalled. This kind of teaching has no place in our schools.”

He’s absolutely right, and I’d be outside the school gates protesting with him – if it were true. But, I’m pleased to say, it isn’t. However, the Christian Institute doesn’t let small things like truth or accuracy get in the way. It knows what newspapers want and it gives it to them.

The Institute has mastered the art of exaggeration, elaboration and prestidigitation and take a perfectly innocent story and massage it until it seems like the end of the world. Once they’ve hooked the media’s interest (and slandering homosexuals is an almost guaranteed entrée into some papers), the journalists will then take over and inflate the Christian Institute’s little white lie into twenty-point bold.

Brenda Harrison of the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians, made her point about this in The Church of England Newspaper: “Surely as Christians we are called to be people of truth and not bearers of false witness against our neighbours.”

Health authorities have been accused of spending tens of thousands of pounds of public money on promoting homosexuality,” reported The Daily Telegraph. And who were the accusers? Why, the Christian Institute, of course.

“Taxpayers fund the Internet guide to gay ‘cruising’,” announced The Times. On whose say-so? Again, the Christian Institute.

“Thousands of pounds of public money is being spent on a website which gives gay men a step-by-step guide on how to engage in sex in public places,” reported The Daily Mail (source: Christian Institute).

“Pupils asked to act out gay roles in class,” trumpeted The Daily Telegraph. And who says so? You guessed it.

By this constant hammering away of public perceptions, the Christian Institute hopes to create the idea that homosexuals are gobbling up half the taxes that lovely, normal people pay in order to fund perverted, child-abusing lifestyles.

Indeed, one of the constant themes that the Christian Institutes poisonous propaganda dwells is that homosexuals are not to be trusted with children.

But I came across this little statistic in The Church of England Newspaper which I don’t think the Christian Institute would be quite so anxious to put about. “Of the 100,000 people in Britain convicted of sex offences, 25 per cent were regular church-goers.” These figures were produced by the Free Churches Council – but then, it’s easy to ignore or hide the truth, especially when it doesn’t fit your argument.

And it is not only the Christian Institute that is willing to peddle untruths in order to uphold the Christian message. The Church of England Newspaper carried a letter from the Rev Philip Foster of Cambridge. It advised readers that “careful studies among the gay community and the straight community” have come up with some familiar statistics. Such as? “Those who undertake gay lifestyles” can expect their life expectancy to be reduced by 25 years. And that loss of life expectancy is reduced by two years for those men who are in “stable, long-lasting relationships”.

Mr Foster also claimed that “homophobia is an invented condition or ‘crime’ by the gay lobby and attempts by association to be likened to racialist hatred.”

Fortunately, Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement was on hand to slap down the Rev Foster (as well as the editor of The Church of England Newspaper). He told the paper that he was already familiar with these statistics, having seen them quoted ad nauseum in “reports put out by the Christian Institute, Christian Action for Research and Education and Education Intercessors for Britain and Family and Youth Concern.” He says that his own researchers have exposed these “facts” as nothing more than frauds.

One had hoped that these bogus figures, ridiculous as they are to those who know about these things, had been effectively dealt with but, like the Christian Institute, they just keep popping up.

More economy with the truth was to be found last month a little closer to home.

In The Guardian, a bitter argument has been raging over a letter written to the editor by Michael Cashman, former actor and Stonewall activist and now a Labour MEP.

In the letter, Mr Cashman takes a stand on who should represent the Labour Party in the forthcoming election for London mayor.

He said: “Diane Abbot’s assertion that Ken Livingstone’s GLC policies on equality are popular today fails to recognise the struggle or the reality. Furthermore, Livingstone’s token politics and lack of political nous actually gave the Thatcher Government an excuse to introduce Section 28… The right-wing tabloids joined forces and entered a decade of homophobia. It has taken us years to undo the appalling gesture politics of Livingstone’s reign at the GLC. We do not need him again.”

This infuriated those who had been around and fighting against Section 28. David Blood wrote: “So, if you stand up for something you believe in and there is a bigoted backlash, it is all your fault. Perhaps this is why the famous gays of New Labour have been silent about repealing the Section themselves.”

Since he is a New Labour loyalist many of his critics thought Michael was re-writing history to please his new boss, Mr Tony. The only place Mr Tony wants Ken Livingstone to have in London is at the bottom of the Thames with a large stone tied to his leg.

Then came Paul Patrick and Sue Sanders, who had been teachers in London at the time of the battle over Section 28. They recalled a meeting in the nightclub Heaven in which the resistance was being planned by a group of “famous but closeted lesbian and gay people.”

The pair talked about some of the education work they were doing around the issue of sexuality as part of the GLC and Inner London Education Authority initiative. “We were pleased to be asked to that meeting, which Cashman attended,” they said. “We remember his presence very well, as he continually expressed his joy at, and support for, the work we described. He was also much impressed that this GLC/ILEA initiative, under Ken Livingstone’s leadership, had been so well structured and sensitively run that none of its work made it into the tabloids at a time when they were at the height of their anti-gay hysteria.

“It is somewhat ironic that a campaigner like Michael Cashman, who knew the extent to which the campaign to put Section 28 on to the statute book depended on the re-writing of reality, should join with his Milbank friends in doing precisely that. We thought he had become politicised around the battle against Section 28. It would be a shame if his only contribution to gay rights was the right for a man to become a Blair’s babe, too. We thought better of him,” they continued.

Ah, ambition, ambition, how easily it can rob us of our memory – not to mention our dignity and loyalty.

GAY TIMES February 2000

Once again the topic of gay parenting has been exercising the narrow minds of our newspapers. The complications surrounding the birth and ‘importation’ from America of the twins fathered by Barrie Drewitt and Tony Barlow has prompted the latest flurry of interest.

Depending on your opinion, Messrs Drewitt and Barlow might be using their new babies as “some sort of fashion accessory” (Simon Heffer, Daily Mail) or they may be “the best qualified parents I can think of” (Chris Bellamy, husband of Rosalind, who acted as surrogate for the gay couple). Either way, there is now a legal battle under way to gain British citizenship for Saffron and Aspen. Latest signs indicate that it will succeed.

The hysteria was ratcheted up a couple of notches by the announcement from Stephen Gateley of Boyzone that he too was anxious to be a dad. The 23-year-old star told The Sun that he and his boyfriend Eloy de Jong “long to settle down and bring up a baby together”. Stephen is quoted as saying: “If there was a way open to adopt, I’d do it. I’d love to give the kids an opportunity.”

Of course, there’s nothing to stop Stephen applying to adopt. The British Association for Adoption and Fostering say he could put in his bid tomorrow, although only one of a gay couple could be the legal parent.

Then came Michael Barrymore and his boyfriend Shaun Davis. They told OK! TV that they’d love to have children, too. “When the circumstances are right, then yes, I would adopt” Michael told the programme. “The child would be loved, it would be given all the opportunities it would not normally have.”

And as if to make sure everyone realised that he was serious about family life, Michael and Shaun went off to Hawaii and “secretly married”. According to the Daily Mail, the couple see “the private ceremony as a key step towards adopting a child”. It also said that the phenomenally popular entertainer had “talked about refugee children from Eastern Europe or the war in Chechnya”.

Mr Barrymore made his case more extensively in an interview with The Sunday People. There he told of a close relationship he had formed with a 9-year-old boy called Damon Laffere who had appeared on his television programme, but who had subsequently died while waiting for a heart and lung transplant. Barrymore said: “I do a lot of work with kids but this little boy was special and I got more involved than I have ever done… After he died, Shaun and I went to his funeral and I was terribly upset for his mum, Debs.”

Prompted by this experience, Barrymore than took 100 disabled children on a trip to Lapland, where they were pictured having a great time.

Although this could be interpreted as a cloyingly sentimental approach to children, there are times when sentiment and fun have a place. Whether Barrymore, with his rather unstable history, could ever be a suitable parent would be something for the experts to decide. And when I say experts, I mean social workers, not right-wing extremists like Norman Tebbit. Although he has no expertise whatsoever in this area, Tebbit felt qualified to write in The Mail on Sunday: “What a sick society we live in. Michael Barrymore, the entertainer with a history of alcoholism and drug dependence, wants to adopt a child. … A child in the Barrymore household would have less chance than a puppy given at Christmas might have of happiness.”

Mr Tebbit is not alone in his reservations, of course. There has been a lot of comment about the “selfishness” of gay people who want to raise families of their own. It’s unnatural, goes the argument, or cruel in that the children will be taunted mercilessly at school. Or they will be unsure of their sexuality because they won’t have a “normal” male and female role model.

But is this true, or is it just the frightened bleating of people unsettled by the undoubted changes that are occurring in our society? We know that Norman Tebbit is afraid of change – he wouldn’t be such a committed Conservative if he weren’t – but what about Harry Coen? Mr Coen was once a vice-chairman of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and describes himself as “a fully paid-up gay man”, yet he shares Norman Tebbit’s misgivings. He wrote in the Express about the Drewitt/Barlow case: “Parenthood is not a God-given right – nor a duty – for anyone. I have never understood the urge felt by many gay men to breed. Most of us feel ourselves lucky to have been saved this burden and are content, especially at Christmas, with the joys of unclehood.” He opines that the surrogates “do the gay cause no good” because they “play straight into the hands of the bigots”.

Sorry, Mr Coen, but if we allow the direction of our lives to be dictated by the demands of bigots, we’d still be living in the Dark Ages.

And while we’re on the subject of bigots, Richard Littlejohn in The Sun couldn’t resist this particular bandwagon. “No matter how much the noisy gay lobby insists there is no difference between homosexual relationships and what they like to call ‘straight’ relationships, nature proves otherwise. Men can’t have babies. Full stop.”

Mr Littlejohn says that there will be plenty of gay activists and proselytisers ready to “back up” Drewitt and Barlow’s demands for citizenship for their children. However, the fact remains that “when it comes to bearing children, heterosexuals and homosexuals can never be equal” because the “vital female role has been airbrushed from the record.”

He seems to have forgotten about those gay people who have had straight relationships that have borne children, but we’ll not get in the way of his propaganda by bothering him with facts.

I don’t think, either, that we’ll be seeing mention in Mr Littlejohn’s column of a piece of research conducted by Dr Gill Dunne at the London School of Economics. According to The Guardian: “She has produced a study based on interviews with 100 gay fathers and would-be fathers. It suggests not only that gay fathers are choosing to have children and to look after them, but also that their family relationships could be a model for the future.”

The fathers in the study had come by their children in a number of ways – some from straight relationships, some from surrogacy, some from adoption and some from IVF arrangements with lesbian friends. Although a number of the living arrangements were rather complicated, the consistent feature of these new-style families was that they were organised around the children. A quarter of Dunne’s sample was working less than 30 hours a week in order to devote more time to their children. The Guardian said that: “These gay dads contrast strongly with most British fathers, who work more hours and do less child care, and half of whom – if they get divorced – lose all contact with their children within two years.”

It was not all sweetness and light in this study. Many of the sample were lonely, finding it difficult to integrate into gay social circles because of having children in tow, and into toddler groups because most of the other members were women.

Nevertheless, Gill Dunne thinks, “young gay men in Britain increasingly feel fatherhood is within their reach, to the extent of anticipating a ‘gayby’ boom.”

Lots of people consider all this to be a dangerous social experiment, and that if it all goes horribly wrong the losers will be children. But Gill Dunne is optimistic. “Historically we have grown up in extended families…but now… these [gay fathers] offer us some very interesting models about how men can be parents. They are men who are proud of being men, who are in the forefront of change. We can learn from them.”

And maybe they can learn from lesbian parents, too, who have been at this “pretend family” lark for a whole lot longer than men. The story of one such female couple appeared in the Times magazine under the headline “The New Happy Families.”

Collette Whitefield and her partner Diane Butterfield have been together ten years. They have a seven-year old daughter, Emma, and two-year old son, Todd, both conceived by IVF at a fertility clinic. They live in Rainham, Essex. They confound all the stereotypes and undermine all the right-wing fears. “As well as having lesbian and gay friends, they enjoy good relationships with their heterosexual neighbours and close relationships with several of the parents of Emma’s friends. There have been a few awkward moments, but Collette and Diane are adamant that they have experienced little prejudice in a community not known for its tolerance of difference.”

They are both actively involved in their daughter’s school, in the PTA and as governors. Their (straight) next door neighbour is so fond of the family that she insisted on coming to the hospital with Collette when she was about to deliver Emma.

So, are there any thorns in this idyllic tale of family life in the heartland of Essex, traditional home of the British bigot?

Diane says: “We probably are a bit different. There are less strictly defined roles as to who does what and when. Things are more blurred on that front than they might be with a man and woman. We are probably also more aware of bigotry than a lot of heterosexual parents and the importance of teaching our children never to judge people by their gender, race or sexuality.”

Now we know why Norman Tebbit doesn’t approve. With a few more gay parents we might end up with a tolerant, compassionate and thoughtful country. And he wouldn’t like that at all.

But perhaps Keith Fleming in Granta (reprinted in The Guardian) described the most touching example of gay parenting. Keith was 16, when he was “rescued from a psychiatric ward by his uncle, the writer Edmund White.”

Edmund White, is of course, the author of many classic gay books including My Beautiful Room is Empty and The Joy of Gay Sex.

Keith Fleming’s account of life with his unconventional Uncle Ed in New York’s wild gay 70s is a love story in the truest sense of the word. Fortunately, although he is heterosexual, he was able to appreciate that luck had dealt him a winning hand when the relentlessly gay Edmund White pulled him out of the psycho ward. Now, according to this moving essay, Keith has developed under White’s tutelage into an admirably rounded man. Edmund White taught his eager charge how to appreciate art, literature and music, and better still, how to enjoy people.

What better start in life could any young man ask? And all courtesy of the dreaded gay parent.

GAY TIMES March 2000

Two clapped-out institutions in this country are hanging on to their existence by the slenderest of threads. One is the church and the other the Tory party. Both have tried to revive their fortunes by using prejudice against gay people as a means of getting their irrelevant voices heard by an indifferent populace.

Seeing Cardinal Winning’s apparent success in claiming the moral high ground north of the border, the archbishops and rabbis and mullahs and their yapping dogs at The Daily Mail lined up for a spot of very enthusiastic – but, of course, “morally necessary” – pervert bashing.

The language they employed was typical. Cross a weasel with a snake and what do you get – a fork-tongued Church of England bishop, perhaps.

To prove my point, the Bishop of Liverpool wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph under the heading “There is a difference between homophobia and moral guidance”. Take this tit-bit for starters: “This brings us to the nature of the (homosexual sex) act. Kant said we should test the ethics of an action by applying to it the maxim: acts as if this were to be the law universal. If homosexual practice were to become such, the species would not be in a position to recreate itself.” He then extolled the virtues of celibacy: “Young people in our schools need to hear from single and celibate people, gay and straight, who live fulfilled lives without any sexual intercourse.”

Is it too obvious to say that if Kant’s maxim were applied in a similar way to celibacy, the human race would equally cease to exist?

But what of Bishop Jones’ own past record in the days when he was a humble teacher and not a weasel? A former pupil of his wrote an open letter to The Daily Express, reminding the bishop of an incident that occurred in his classroom twenty-five years ago. “As you rolled over the blackboard that morning, there in capital letters was a message written by someone unknown saying that I was a ‘queer’. It was days after my 12th birthday. You rubbed the legend out and went cheerily on as though nothing had happened… That episode in your classroom was the beginning of the most terrifying year of my life. … What wounded most of all was that teachers like you did nothing to stop it.”

I thought at first that the Archbishop of Canterbury had read this when he entered the fray by saying: “there must be adequate safeguards to protect children”. From whom, exactly? From the imaginary armies of gay proselytisers that we hear so much about but never see? Or from the lousy bullies – and sometimes their teachers – who make gay children’s lives intolerable?

Next in with his size nines was the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. He landed a hefty kick in the groin of gay people with his pronouncement that “homosexuality is forbidden in Judaism”.

He had the grace to admit that: “…homosexuals were sent to Auschwitz just as Jews were. Therefore, if our society has become more tolerant, that is a good thing.” If it’s such a good thing, why is he trying to make it less tolerant? “There is a real danger,” he said, “that the repeal of Section 28 will lead to the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle as morally equivalent to marriage.”

But your holiness, suppose someone had come along and said, “Jews are not Christians, and therefore their marriages are only pretended” what would you say? Such thinking has been carried through into action and was rightly crushed in a World War. Now the people who were the victims of that intolerance seem happy to practise it against others. And just like Bishop Jones, someone from Mr Sacks’ school days appeared to let him know that homophobic bullying is not some fanciful invention of gay propagandists but was happening right under his nose. In this case it was my own partner, Keith Porteous Wood, who told The Times that he had been driven from school by incessant taunting by pupils and teachers alike – while in the same class as Jonathan Sacks. Mr Sacks said he didn’t remember anything about it. How convenient. Or maybe how complacent.

Then came the mullahs and the imams. The Muslim Council of Great Britain said it opposed the Section’s repeal. “We do believe that the repeal of Section 28 will expose our young children, even at a very tender age, to immoral values and practices. Any teaching which presents homosexual practices as equivalent to marriage or in a morally neutral way is profoundly offensive and totally unacceptable.” The Hindus, in the shape of the National Council of Hindu Temples, didn’t want to be left out of the gang, and opined: “Homosexuality is an unnatural state which must be discouraged.” And the Sikhs? “We do not recommend these gay activities at all so we do not think Section 28 should be repealed,” a spokesperson for the Network of Sikh organisations told The Daily Telegraph.

So, at last, religions are united in what they do best – persecuting people. It’s a pity that the same unanimity cannot be extended to the Spice Islands of Indonesia where Muslims and Christians are slaughtering each other by the thousand. Or to the Middle East where Jews, Muslims and Christians kill each other with mad abandon. Much easier to give the gays a good kicking, at least the “faith communities” can agree on that.

Meanwhile, Yasmin Alibhai Brown, The Independent’s liberal Muslim columnist (the only one in the known world), admitted that homophobia was rife in the ethnic communities in this country. But, she says, “hardly anyone wants to admit that racism and Islamophobia exist within the white gay community.”

I will readily admit that racism exists within the gay community -as it does in the wider community – but never in all my years in gay life have I ever heard anyone make an anti-Islamic remark. It just doesn’t figure in people’s calculations. Although, God knows, if anyone is entitled to be ‘Islamophobic’ it is gay people. Some leaders in the Muslim community in Britain regularly call for the death penalty for homosexuals. And in those countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia that have Islamic legal codes, executions of gay people are quite common.

And it isn’t just the official preachers that tried to raise their profiles by inciting hatred against us. The dreaded “committed Christians” in the House of Lords, the ones who actually assassinated the repeal, were given another opportunity to parade their sad, dirty little minds.

Take Lady Janet Young, for instance. She revelled in her moment of glory, giving interviews here and there, and making stirring speeches about what was RIGHT and what was WRONG (not right and wrong in her opinion, mind you, but absolutely right and absolutely wrong). She gave two almost identical interviews, one to The Times and the other to The Telegraph. In them it emerged that Baroness Young, although a thrusting woman, didn’t actually practise what she preaches as far as family values are concerned. Rachel Sylvester in The Daily Telegraph wrote: “She was the first female director of NatWest, the first woman to lead the Lords and now the first female chairman (she would never call herself chair) of the Association of Conservative peers. … She left her children at home while she climbed the career ladder, something which was, in her words, both ‘very unusual’ and ‘controversial’ at the time. ‘People said to me, do you think you should be doing this? I said it’s up to me how I manage my family’.”

No Lady Young – what you did to your children, leaving them in Oxford while you lived in London, communicating with them only by telephone and letter – was the very antithesis of the family values you are so fond of foisting on others.

Another adherent to the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do persuasion is David Mellor. Writing in The Sunday People under the headline “Protect our kids from the clutches of this gay mafia”, Mr Mellor said that repeal was “another attack on the idea of ‘family’”. I hardly need remind readers of this column – although I will take some pleasure in doing so – that Mr Mellor was chucked out of the last Government for his adultery and fornication – while dressed in Chelsea football strip – with a woman called Antonia de Sanchez. Methinks gays are not the only ones that children need protecting from.

Meanwhile, The Daily Mail was obsessively screeching about the evil of homosexuality. Every day for weeks it carried two-page spreads putting the case against repeal. It organised a write-in, polls, and sought opinion from every shade of the religious divide. It even managed to get a gay Uncle Tom to write an anti-repeal piece for them. Every day a new editorial would appear, each one more hysterically self-righteous than the last.

It seemed that gay people were being dealt a hefty blow by the righteous brigade. Reading the papers you would imagine that the whole world had turned against us. The hatred issuing from the correspondence columns as well as the editorial columns was fearsome.

But then the forces of liberalism suddenly got their act together. In The Guardian, Peter Preston discussed his twin daughters, one straight one gay. Of his gay daughter he wrote: “She isn’t some notional stereotype invented to scare elderly cardinals. Nor is she a visitor from an alien place… This is our flesh and blood; part of us, a reflection of us. We don’t have to say she is equal, she IS equal. And no drizzle of incomprehension, no fear fostered in ignorance, no puny section, can alter that. It isn’t tolerance we need. It is knowing what makes our heart beat.”

Andrew Marr in The Observer railed against the “myopic fools” in the churches and Lords. But he also pointed out that the debate over section 28 had become something much more than a mere spat over gay rights. It had become a battle between liberal, plural Britain and reactionary, narrow Britain. “In their campaign against an unused but symbolic piece of legislation, a law which essentially says that gay people are lesser, all these leaders have offended not only homosexuals but also the liberal order which is everyone’s main protection in a plural Britain. They are using their enemies’ sword, arguing in a way which, if turned against their own lifestyles, they would find jaw-droppingly offensive. They are silly fools.”

And so, was the small fortune that The Daily Mail spent on its campaign to incite hatred against homosexuals worth it? Had it created the climate of intolerance that it so fervently desired?

Not if the age of consent debate in the House of Commons was anything to go by. MPs were falling over themselves to state their liberal credentials and demonstrate their commitment to the noble virtues of equality and liberty. The backlash against the backlash had arrived.

The Daily Telegraph then commissioned a Gallup poll to show the state of play after the ballyhoo. It must have been dismayed to discover that “An almost universal tolerance of homosexual relationships now obtains in this county.” When asked whether section 28 should remain, 51% said yes, while 43% said it should be repealed and 6% didn’t know. Hardly the overwhelming majority that The Daily Mail has been claiming. 72% thought homosexual behaviour to be morally neutral and “simply a fact of life.” 53% said that both homosexual and heterosexual relationships were of equal value.

Seems that our ranting prelates, rabbis and cardinals have not only shot themselves in the foot, they’ve shot themselves in the head.

GAY TIMES April 2000

The churches, the Tories and the right-wing press must think that all their birthdays have come at once. The filthy reactionaries that we’d hoped were gone for good have made the biggest comeback since Dracula rose from the grave.

It was viper-in-chief of this poisonous crew, Cardinal Winning, head of Scotland’s Catholics, who started the hatred rolling. As Christine Odone wrote in The Observer: “As Winning has shown, there are many among the forces of conservatism who are spoiling for a fight. They burn to re-establish old moral certainties – men and women differ in the roles they fill, not just in their biological makeup; marriage provides the only legitimate context for sex; the nuclear family is the only family structure we should recognise. The blueprint of this ancien regimehas been readily available in the pages of the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph for some time; Winning’s Section 28 campaign has ensured the momentum to turn the blueprint into reality. His unapologetic stance, and the widespread support it has won him north and south of the border, have forced the Tories to embrace his cause.”

Ms Odone says that Winning and his ilk realise that Tony Blair is an “ideological lightweight” who can be easily manipulated by their machinations. She suspects that the conniving Cardinal is now seeking out other issues to load onto his unsavoury bandwagon.

The clerical conspirators have, as Ms Odone says, plenty of influential supporters in the right-wing press. The Daily Mail – which could curdle the milk of human kindness at a hundred paces – must have spent a small fortune on its ongoing campaign against the repeal of Section 28. Not a day goes by that the paper doesn’t manage to come up with some new homophobic angle. On 5th February it was “The gay rights campaigner with an OBE and her links to a group of anarchist bombers that you won’t find on her CV”. This related to Stonewall’s Angela Mason. It said nothing about her past that hasn’t already been said and was deeply dishonest in its presentation.

On February 14th: The Mail gave us: “Why wrongs don’t make gay ‘rights’”. 19th February: “Gay sex laws must stay now”. 21st February: “Catholic chief backs gay propaganda ban”. 23rd Feb: “Labour peers still defiant in battle of Section 28”. 29th Feb: “Church grassroots fury at gay law ‘deal’”. 5th March: “This sad betrayal of the family”. March 6th: “Let gays ‘cruise for sex’ say Norris and Dobson”. March 7th: “Moslem threat to boycott schools if Section 28 goes”. March 9th: “Keep Clause 28 Premier is told by majority of his constituents” and on and on, a relentless catalogue of distortion, invention and slander. It seems The Daily Mail will stop at nothing in its campaign against homosexuals, and it is becoming increasingly malignant.

Not happy with suggesting that we threaten the safety of school children, it now suggests that we are all – particularly the ‘discreet’ ones – secretly conspiring to destroy family life completely. The idea of a “Velvet Mafia” was resurrected in an article about David Geffen, the man who, with Steven Spielberg, runs the DreamWorks movie studio in Hollywood. A new book about Geffen gave The Mail the opportunity to write: “This man is the leader of an all-powerful cabal of wealthy gay men who now run Hollywood… they have a secret agenda to undermine family life…”

According to The Mail: “The prime example of the power of Geffen and the Velvet Mafia is American Beauty, nominated for eight Oscars this year. Many US critics see the film, produced by Geffen’s DreamWorks as a caustic attack on heterosexual family life.” The paper also cites Ian McKellen’s film Gods and Monsters which, it says, “pushed the notion that gay soldiers are the truest heroes in battle.”

The report concludes: “Geffen recently paid $2million for a black marble swimming pool at his Fire Island house in time for this year’s gay debauch – while turning out films and music designed to undermine our most important values.”

Another Mail columnist, Peter McKay, wrote: “We’re being battered into submission by gay self-pity. First it was Aids and the claim that the heterosexual majority was letting gays die rather than seek a cure for the disease to which their sexual habits make them vulnerable. Since this is no longer tenable, we are harried about their status and right to have sex in public places… the drip-drip-drip Chinese torture of gay propaganda results in new laws and ‘rights’. Yesterday we were told that Culture Secretary Chris Smith, who is gay, phoned Education Secretary David Blunkett to say he and others were anxious that any Government promotion of marriage did not ‘implicitly denigrate homosexuality.’”

In an editorial, The Mail opined: “Now New Labour appear to be considering putting homosexual partners on the same footing as married couples over inheritance tax…. In effect, the people who will be paying for this latest extension of homosexual rights will be widows and widowers – and later, in many cases, their children. So much for a Government that repeatedly proclaims its support for marriage and family.”

The Mail omits to mention that for centuries gay people have been paying top-rate taxes for which they have received far less benefits than heterosexuals. But then, The Mail is ace at omitting what is not convenient.

Not that The Daily Mail is alone in its propaganda war against gay people – it’s just that none of the other papers are quite as obsessive about it, or prepared to devote quite so many resources to pursuing the vendetta.

The Daily Telegraph is obviously following the religiously correct line, although not quite so skilfully. One of its own columnists, Tom Utley (who was a respected journalist before he took up propaganda), produced one of the most ridiculous, stupid and ultimately sad pieces I can remember for a long time. “A Christian Church must come out for Section 28” was the headline, and at first it seemed like the standard anti-gay rant. He was making the point that the Church of England had a duty to oppose repeal because homosexuality is condemned in the gospels. “If the Scriptures and Christian tradition are clear about anything, it is that homosexual acts are wrong. This is extremely tough on people who, through no fault of their own or anybody else’s, are attracted to members of their own sex. But there it is… to be a Christian means to believe that sodomy is wrong.”

Any Christian worth his salt must obey these rules, he argued, which include fighting to retain Section 28. Bishops have no business scheming with the Government to broker a deal that would allow the Section to be junked. “We have long grown used to the worldliness of the CofE,” he wrote, “but this is taking worldliness to the point of seediness: ‘Psst! It’ll be fine by us if you let local authorities teach that sodomy is a good thing, so long as you suggest that marriage is fine, too.’”

This seems standard right-wing fare. But Mr Utley has not finished yet: “I write this as no great champion of Section 28. It strikes me as a silly law – not only because it is badly drafted, but because I do not seriously believe that children can be taught to become homosexual if they are not that way inclined. It also gives unnecessary offence to some of my homosexual friends, and for that reason alone I will not much mind if it is repealed.”

So, Mr Utley despises Section 28, thinks it foolishly drafted and feels sorry for the damage it does to his friends. Yet he also wants the Church of England to “stand on the rock on which it was founded” and crusade for its retention. Can you make sense of it?

Much more sinister than Tom Utley’s confused rambling was something written by Richard Ingrams in The Observer, a supposedly liberal paper. He was commenting on the latest sex scandal that had been uncovered at a children’s home in Wales. “In all the thousands of words that have been written about it, one word has never been mentioned. That word is ‘gay’. This omission ought to strike us as odd, to say the least, considering that nearly all the people convicted or accused of gross indecency with boys over many years were homosexual men. It is even odder when you consider that nowadays the daily bulletins invariably contain an item of ‘gay news’… However, it seems that when gays are shown to have engaged in acts of dreadful cruelty and depravity, they are invariably described as paedophiles, a term which denotes those (male or female) who are sexually attracted to children (also male or female) and therefore have no specifically gay or even male connotations.”

Ingrams say that the use of this “euphemism” lets gay men off the hook and allows us to continue demanding that the age of consent be lowered. He suggests those men in Wales acted in the way they did because they were homosexual, but that political correctness precludes anyone pointing it out. This is a straightforward restatement of the idea that all gay men are paedophiles.

The trouble with this logic is that thousands of little girls are raped and tortured each year. It may be an uncomfortable fact for Mr Ingrams to accept, but the perpetrators of these crimes are heterosexual men. Their sexuality, too, is never mentioned in news reports.

I’m sure Richard Ingrams doesn’t feel that he is in any way responsible for these abuses simply because he shares the same sexual orientation as the monsters who carried them out. Yet it seems Ingrams holds all gay men responsible for what happened in Wales.

So where is all this leading? Has society reached the limits of toleration as far as homosexuality is concerned? Richard Littlejohn certainly thinks so.

Writing about the Soho bomber’s court case in his Sun column, Littlejohn says: “Hysterical politicians and left-wing columnists tried to pretend that there was a vast network of neo-Nazis deeply embedded in British society. They seized on the bombing as a golden opportunity to advance their own agenda. They were demanding new laws and tougher powers for the police… It was a drive to paint this country as racist and intolerant of minorities… I know from my postbag that most people are sick and tired of being labelled bigots, racists or homophobes, whatever the hell that means. This is a decent country. But decent people are being cornered. There will be a backlash. Unless we are very careful, the smear-mongers will one day get the society they like to pretend already exists. David Copeland [the Soho bomber] should be seen as a warning, not an opportunity.”

Richard Littlejohn might just like to ponder the topic of toleration a little. As a citizen born in this country – who happens to be gay – I am not here under sufferance. I will resist being subjected to laws that do not apply equally to all my fellow citizens. Do you understand this, Richard Littlejohn?

Maybe the great American orator Robert Ingersoll can make it clearer: “For one man to say to another ‘I tolerate you’ is an assumption of superiority, and it is not a disclaimer but a waiver of the right to persecute.”

GAY TIMES May 2000

Barebacking has been this month’s buzzword among the finger-wagging elements of the press, and what a gift for the unthinking sensation-mongers it has been. And what a challenge to even our most liberal supporters.

The dizzying moral debate started when the Radio Four presenter Nigel Wrench wrote in The Pink Paper about his sexual adventures as an HIV-positive gay man. Part of those adventures involved having anal sex without a condom (“barebacking” as our imaginative American cousins have dubbed it). “Barebacking is happening at a sauna or backroom near you, without fanfare or announcement and often without words,” wrote Mr Wrench. “I know because I’ve been there and I know because I’m one of those who’ve done it.”

Shock, horror and condemnation were the immediate reactions. But Nigel Wrench is not a malevolent monster, out deliberately to infect his unsuspecting partners. He is always, he says, honest about his status and will always use a condom if his partner requests it.

This did not placate those who were outraged at the very concept of barebacking. Such irresponsibility, they cried. Such downright evil!

Or, as Wyn Evans wrote to The Guardian after it had taken up the debate: “The pernicious claptrap purveyed by Nigel Wrench in defence of barebacking is an insult to the intelligence, although I can applaud the fact that the article advertises to a much wider audience the current thinking amongst a deluded section of the gay community. So it’s OK now, is it, to spread AIDS to the community at large as long as it’s done as ‘the ultimate expression of intimacy’?”

Nigel Wrench’s fellow Radio 4 presenter, John Humphrys then entered the fray with an article in The Sunday Times. He took Nigel up on his claim that “Barebacking can be warm, exciting and involving” and therefore was legitimate among consenting adults, even if some of them are HIV positive.

“Surely,” wrote Mr Humphrys, “the moral issue is clear. Wrench tells us that since he was infected he has had unsafe sex ‘more times than I remember, often with men whose names I could not tell you’ although not with a lover who was unaware that he was infected. But how can it be right to pass on a deadly virus to someone, even if he or she has chosen to take the risk? It is difficult to see how even the most informed and profound debate could jump that hurdle of moral certainty.”

Mr Humphrys then warned: “The danger is that this sort of thing can be exploited by people who want to condemn a little more and understand a little less.” And, indeed, within days his prediction had come true. The Mail on Sunday decided to go big with it. They approached The Pink Paper for permission to publish Wrench’s article. Permission was denied on the grounds that the article would be used out of context. The Mail on Sunday used it anyway, confirming The Pink Paper’s worst fears about “decontextualisation”. (I understand a complaint has been made to the Press Complaints Commission.)

“The article reprinted below will no doubt appal most readers of The Mail on Sunday,” said the paper, before using it to launch into a wide-ranging attack on gay rights. “One issue [the Government has] under consideration, following a submission from the homosexual rights group Outrage!, is to relax the law on gay sex in saunas, clubs, public lavatories and so-called ‘cruising’ areas such as Hampstead Heath in North-West London. Over the last few weeks, a growing campaign to end the legal ban on gay sex in public places has gathered strength, with London mayoral candidates Frank Dobson and Steven Norris backing calls for police to turn a blind eye to such activities… We therefore decided we should publish the article… we believe that the general public should be given an opportunity to raise their voice before being presented with proposals for changes in the law which they may find horrifying.”

In an editorial, The Mail on Sunday said it found The Pink Paper’s reluctance to allow it to reproduce the article “disturbing”. “What can this indicate other than the wish to keep the population at large ignorant of the next set of demands for ‘rights’ from the gay lobby – ‘rights’ the vast majority will simply see as licence of the most appalling kind?” the paper asked.

The following week, the letters column was decorated with the predictable litany of horror. “As a gay man I would never put myself at risk or the health of others in sexual acts described by Nigel Wrench. The sordid and dangerous practice of sex in public places is sad and almost impossible to stop… Mr Wrench you are a disgrace.”

Ms L Awad thought Wrench “thoroughly reprehensible and irresponsible”.

But after the hysteria, what about the debate Mr Wrench had so earnestly sought? Even those who pride themselves on their support for gay rights and gay people found themselves bewildered by this one.

Obviously, some people don’t see the need for any further discussion. Barebacking is wrong, irresponsible, wicked, they will say, and that’s all there is to it.

This may be the more comfortable approach but the issue can’t simply be dismissed that easily. Barebacking isn’t going to stop – any more than gay sex of any kind is going to stop – simply because people think it’s wrong. Bringing it into the light and discussing it is the only way to find out what is going on. After all, it isn’t an unusual practice. According to a study in San Francisco, of 3,000 gay men between the ages of 15 and 25, 41 per cent had recently participated in unprotected sex.

Nigel Wrench tries his best to remind people that having sex is always a two-way transaction (outside of rape, of course). If an HIV positive man is going to be sexually active on the gay scene he has the option of being open with his partners (which might result in him becoming a pariah and outcast) or he can tell himself that the other person is responsible for his own protection. That is to say, both partners in this sexual transaction have the right to say either: “stop”, “go” or “use a condom”. If you are going to permit a stranger to fuck you – or even a friend whose sexual history you aren’t entirely sure of – then the responsibility to produce a condom rests as much with you as with him.

There can be no doubt that so long as the sex is consensual, responsibility is equally divided. If you offer up your arse to a hunk, and you’re worried about getting HIV, then it’s your responsibility to insist he has a condom on his dick before he shoves it in – whatever your assumptions or his reassurances about HIV status. Melodramatic talk of people being “deliberately” infected by evil HIV-positive monsters will not wash. We cannot escape our own responsibility to protect ourselves.

And because this issue is all tied up with those pesky but powerful feelings we call love and lust normal rules of common sense don’t always apply. There are complications galore, not least of which are the inhibition-destroying effects of alcohol and drugs that often accompany this kind of sex.

Psychotherapist Alan Pope pointed out some others in The Guardian: “Gay men who are HIV negative can feel excluded by their status. This is particularly so for the bereaved or those with positive friends. It makes them feel that their identifications are with those who are different from them. To belong means you need to get infected. Additionally some gay men are caught up in the guilt of the survivor.” This may be difficult for some people to take on board, but that doesn’t make it illegitimate.

There is also the question of people in long-term monogamous relationships who know that they are both HIV positive or both HIV negative, and for whom, therefore, barebacking is not an issue. But then comes the added complication for those who are both HIV positive of re-infection with another strain of the virus that might be resistant to drugs.

All this must be a nightmare for health professionals working in the area of HIV and AIDS. In the early days “safer sex” was easily explained – “just say no” or “use a condom every time”. It’s obvious now that these messages aren’t sufficient. A whole generation of young gay men have lived their whole sexual lives in a world where HIV is present, but where death from AIDS is a rarity. The development of protease therapy has removed the edge of fear that previous generations of gay men lived with. We no longer see the horrific images of emaciated young men clinging on to a life of repeated infection and hospitalisation, and therefore the barriers begin to crumble. Complacency develops.

A new approach must be found that will convince young people that AIDS still has the potential to kill them and is something to be avoided at all costs.

In the meantime, gay men – because they are human beings – will continue to sometimes behave irrationally, even suicidally, in their sexual lives. And the heterosexual majority, as well as a good number of gay people, will continue to condemn them for it, and resent the money that their care takes out of the NHS. As Wyn Evans wrote to The Guardian: “The cost to the exchequer for keeping an AIDS patient alive for one year is of the order of £15,000 at least. Perhaps the real debate should be whether those who contract AIDS voluntarily should absolve the state from responsibility for their welfare.”

Mr Evans might, at first glance, seem to have a point. But let’s not forget that, for the first time, the number of people becoming HIV positive from heterosexual sex is higher than that of gay men. And the rise in the incidence of gonorrhoea and syphilis among straights is an indication that condoms have gone out of fashion with them, too.

Perhaps, then, to carry Wyn Evans’ point to its logical conclusion, anyone who acquires a sexually transmitted disease should be excluded from health care at the public expense. Or perhaps Mr Evans wouldn’t want to go that far. Perhaps he thinks only gay young men behave irresponsibly and so only they should be penalised.

I think that’s called discrimination.

As far as Nigel Wrench is concerned, the cost of honesty has been a heavy one. According to the London Evening Standard, the BBC has bowed to public outrage and announced that Mr Wrench is being “rested from his presentational duties”

GAY TIMES June 2000

According to the old wives tale, if you corner a rat it will go for your throat. And with this in mind, we move on to the subject of William Hague.

You will remember that soon after he was elected leader of the Conservative Party, the glabrous northerner promised that he would remodel the Tories into a party of tolerance and good will. There would be a place for everyone in Mr Hague’s new party, be they black, white, straight or gay.

Liberals applauded this volte face, but the unpleasant rump of the part – the arsehole of Little England, you might say – shook their blue-rinsed heads in disbelief. “What is this young whippersnapper saying?” they asked. “No more hanging or flogging? No more paki-bashing and homo-hating? This must be stopped.”

Sensing the unease, the traditional Tory rags The Mail and The Telegraph, swung ever further rightwards. The reactionaries reacted. Mr Hague was eventually left with no alternative but to listen to the baying voices of the hateful old bats who pay his wages, and the foaming journos who reflect their opinions.

And despite the pleas of gay Tories such as Ivan Massow, William Hague has turned from being a pussy cat into John Bull’s attack dog. Liberalism is once more a dirty word in Toryville and its inhabitants feel much better for it.

Of course, old-time Tories like Baronesses Young and Blatch have never wavered from the hate-is-a-family-value position. They never had truck with this new-fangled equality rubbish, knowing that in the end the Party would return to its roots.

So now that he has decided to swing to the Right, Willy is making a good job of it. He seems to read the reactionary papers from cover to cover and accept every word as law. Or, as David McKie in The Guardian put it: “Thrashing around for a lifeline, Hague has seemed increasingly ready in recent weeks to take his cue from the leader and letter writers and columnists of The Telegraph.”

First in the firing line were asylum-seekers. The Daily Mail and The Sun led the way, whipping up a storm of prejudice against them. Abetted by Anne Widdecombe, Mr Hague then came in to kick the filthy foreigners while they were down.

After he’d bashed the “bogus” asylum seekers he moved on to the issue of “self-defence”. A man who shot a 16-year old burglar in the back and was convicted of murder was more or less canonised by Mr Hague.

“Let my people go,” became his theme tune. It shouldn’t be the householder in prison but the burglar. Which is fine, except for the fact that the burglar in this instance is six-feet under. The delightful Ms Widdecombe then appeared to be promising to legalise something akin to lynch law.

Strict Willy received strong signals that the British people were right behind him in both campaigns. Fired up with the much-vaunted tolerance for which they are so famous, hundreds of thousands of them rang the The Sun’s hate-lines – sorry, hot-lines – to say that they thought Mr Hague was right. They also wrote in their thousands to tell him that he was right about keeping Section 28, another example of the new Tory Party’s right-wing populism.

Mr Hague was the only Party leader to accept an invitation to speak at the Spring Harvest Conference of evangelical Christians at Minehead this year. As The Church of England Newspaper reported: “Eighteen months of listening to Britain’s churches has convinced the Conservative leader that far from being dead, the church in Britain is very much alive and advancing in many parts of the country.”

You remember this is the same Mr Hague who once said he would rather got for a walk in the Yorkshire Dales than go to church. However, he now seems to be born-again (and again and again) and his speech was carefully crafted to fit the event. Many people at the Spring Harvest feel as violently antipathetic towards homosexuals as do the Tory rump, so naturally Mr Hague was pleased to make encouraging noises about the current Christian obsession with Section 28 (which has become a by-word for more generalised homo-hatred). Mr Hague told his pious 8,000 strong audience: “It is vital that parents have confidence in the values taught in schools. Section 28 should stay.”

Ruth Gledhill, the religious affairs correspondent of The Times, wondered if Mr Hague was trying to emulate the Republican tactic in the USA of affiliating with the religious right. Is he, in fact, trying to create a Bible-belt of his very own? She quoted the Archdeacon of Northolt, the Ven. Pete Broadbent, who admitted to being a card-carrying member of the Labour Party: “William Hague pressed all the right buttons. The evangelical movement is growing in confidence but some sections of it are also growing in arrogance.”

He questioned whether Mr Hague realised exactly what a dangerous lot he was courting in his desperation for votes. “Some of the stuff being produced by the conservative evangelicals at the moment is a bit over the top,” said the Ven. Pete. Anyone who has seen the anti-gay material being circulated by these groups will think that an understatement. Ruth Gledhill wonders how much longer other party leaders will be able to ignore the rapidly-expanding evangelical movement.

“A number of festivals similar to Spring Harvest take place throughout the year,” she revealed. In July, the black-led churches meet in Brighton in an event organised by the African-Caribbean Evangelical Alliance. The Methodists have their own Easter People get-together. House churches such as the Surrey-based Pioneer Group meet over the summer. American preachers are often flown over to address the crowds. Millions of people are involved At Spring Harvest alone, more than 50,000 committed Christians turn out over the three-week break.”

At all these events, gay-bashing is high on the agenda. The “committed Christians” have convinced themselves that gay people are their mortal enemies, a threat to their future and an insult to their God. They’ll go to almost any lengths to derail our push for equality and Mr Hague has shown that he is ready to help them. But although his rightward tilt might get him some easy headlines and appearances on the Nine o’Clock News, the populism he espouses is shallow and dangerous. Following the herd, particularly when it is stampeding, is not the mark of a sound politician. We want them to consider the issues fairly and thoroughly and then make informed decisions on our behalf.

Mr Hague and Ms Widdecombe will eventually realise that when people have considered all angles they will realise that nothing is quite as simple as the Tories make out. The instant a visiting Jehovah’s Witness is shot in mistake for a burglar is when the tide will turn. As Voltaire said: “Once people begin to reason, all is lost.”

Indeed, the backlash has already begun. Satirising Mr Hague as a Pokémon (or Toréman in this instance) Brian Reade in The Daily Mirror asks: “What exactly are these Toréman? What do they do? And how low will they stoop to win seats at the election? Well, I have recruited someone who is being targeted by Toréman. Someone who understands exactly what they are about. A man with the mental capacity of a seven-year old called The Bar-room Bigot.”

According to Mr Reade’s consultant: “Homosexuality will be banned. As all Toréman know, God gave us our backsides to talk through and nothing else.”

Meanwhile, Katherine Raymond of The Daily Express wrote of her contempt for Anne Widdecombe, who is on the telly almost the instant a suitable story breaks. “As soon as there is a groundswell of popular opinion about anything, out comes the instant press release, the knee jerk solution, the Widdecombe sound bite promising to change the law to suit the circumstances of a particular story. That is not how law should be made. You need to engage your brain first.”

Although the Tories have no chance of winning the next election (and they have admitted as much themselves in a leaked document) they can, like the cornered rat I spoke of at the beginning, do a lot of nasty damage on the way to defeat. Their rabble-rousing on gay issues is harmful, creating hatred and fear where there need be none and trading on lies and stereotypes.

So, what is the alternative? Now that Mr Blair has failed so dismally to deliver on his promises of reform, are we in for another decade or two of waiting and hoping? Mr Blair will never again be such a strong position in the House of Commons. At present he can do whatever he likes. As Tim Haines wrote in The Times: “The Government’s real obsession now is with a second term, not with sex.”

They cannot afford to upset the bigots anymore because even bigots have votes and they’ve already been pushed to their limits by the furore over the age of consent and Section 28 (and now gay adoption). But, asks Tim Haines, “What is the Labour Party for if not civil rights?” The answer seems to be self-preservation.

“Despite a huge Commons majority, the Government is terrified of what a partisan press might do to whip up public opinion,” Mr Haines comments, “it has been outflanked by the scorched-earth campaign particularly associated with The Daily Mail., the essence of which is that New Labour wants to hand out Gay News (sic) with the history homework. Tony Blair has condemned this as ‘hysterical’ but has been unwilling to confront The Daily Mail’s argument that homosexuals have already got equality, what they want now are ‘special rights’ which, in the elegant prose of the paper, are to be ‘vociferously promoted’ – at public expense – in the classroom.”

Mr Haines chides the Government for its gutlessness on the whole gay rights issue. “For all the fuss and fury over Section 28 and the age of consent, there is little chance that ministers will be recalled for the courageous manner in which they took on the press and the peers or reshaped public opinion. They will not have presided over a shift from qualified to unqualified equality. Mr Blair’s Government has taken very few risks and imposed little change – not much of an epitaph, really.”

GAY TIMES July 2000

Reason has triumphed over bigotry! That’s what we thought last year when concerned citizens banded together to torpedo a proposed alliance between the Bank of Scotland and the bouffanted televangelist Pat Robertson.

The bigots are on the run, we imagined. But we’ve been rudely awakened from that pleasant dream by the protracted campaign of homophobia conducted by Cardinal Winning and Brian Souter, culminating in what was laughingly called a referendum.

Souter’s referendum in Scotland became a classic example of how rich men can buy the political process.

For weeks before the voting slips were distributed, Souter was decorating billboards around the country with messages of hate. Together with his Catholic cohort, Souter succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in creating a panic about Section 28 – not only in Scotland but in England, too, much to Tony Blair’s astonishment.

The so-called referendum on Section 28 was such a mess that it was easy for liberals to dismiss. As Magnus Link in The Times wrote: “The result suggests that anyone with enough money to fund a poll on this scale can pick their own subject – be it capital punishment or barring refugees – and effectively by-pass the democratic process.”

But, as Hugo Young said in The Guardian: “The Souter referendum may also set an example for a pattern that begins to gather pace. When Mori asked last year whether referendums should be obligatory on Parliament on the petition of, say, 1 million electors, 77 per cent of the British said yes.”

It’s easy to understand why. On the face of it, referenda seem like the perfect expression of the democratic will. With a referendum, the people truly speak and what the majority wants is what the law will become. What could be fairer than that? It doesn’t take much thought to see what dangers referenda pose to minorities. The Souter exercise was unofficial, illegitimate and unbalanced.

As Jenny Ferguson pointed out in The Daily Telegraph letters page: “Brian Souter’s opinion poll was not a referendum in the true sense of the word. In a true referendum there are strict limits on campaign spending to make sure it is fair and balanced… this poll was organised after three months of one-sided propaganda.”

But let us not delude ourselves. Even if the referendum had been officially recognised and properly conducted, it was unlikely to have gone our way. Repeated research has shown that if the country were to be ruled by referenda, gay rights would soon fly out of the window.

Magnus Link again, in The Times: “Tis, one might argue, the modern equivalent of mob rule, the masses pouring out into the streets shaking their pikestaffs and throwing their rocks…”

In America, some states frequently resort to referenda over contentious issues. In California, in March, Proposition 22, which rules that gay marriage can never be introduced in the state, was carried overwhelmingly after a vitriolic campaign by religious groups and the political Right.

Other referenda on gay issues have also ended up retarding our progress, sometimes quite drastically.  As the religious Right has found there, and is increasingly finding here, it is very easy to create the image of the sinister homo in a culture that is deeply ignorant on the topic.

There is no law to stop you saying whatever you want about gay people, however nasty and defamatory. Other minorities may have protection against hate-mongering. We have none. All that is needed is the money to disseminate propaganda, a few newspapers willing to frighten the punters and the referendum result is in the bag.

And each time a referendum on gay issues is lost, equality is pushed further from our grasp and our public image is irreparably damaged. Those citizens who had previously been on a “live and let live” frame of mind suddenly find themselves taking an active anti-gay stance.

They have become convinced – often by malevolent and dishonest advertising – that their children are at risk or that society is going to be damaged in some way by homosexual. Tolerance rarely figures in these campaigns.

Souter’s cohort, Cardinal Winning, was pushing his own nasty agenda throughout all this and was a willing accomplice in these weeks of consistent distortion, exaggeration and scare-mongering.

The Daily Record, too, became an organ of hostility, using its power to promulgate a totally one-sided version of the debate. Sham or not, before we dismiss Souter’s referendum, we should take a warning from it. For as Hugo Young informed us in The Guardian: “There are politicians who want to enrich and expand the referendum culture… Lord (David) Owen along with Lord Healey and Lord Prior, is promoting an amendment to make referendums obligatory before any measure of ‘first class constitutional importance’ can become law.”

They have since gained support from William Hague. These politicians do not make clear how this would work. They propose perhaps leaving it to the Speaker to decide what qualifies. Although the proposals are really an attempt to interfere with any further integration with Europe, it is a step in the direction of the referendum culture. You can be sure that if the Christian Institute or the Conservative Christian Fellowship have any say in it (and they seem to have an awful lot of say in Parliament these days) referenda will soon be extended from constitutional issues to those of social reform. Especially homosexuality.

But now, it seems, it’s money that talks. Souter has created a precedent in Britain that is well established in the USA. There, as Nick Cohen said in The Observer, business men who want to control public policy, for whatever reason, can use their fortune to push themselves into public life. He cites Rodd Perot and Steve Forbes as examples.

Souter’s ambitions are inspired by the Church of the Nazarene, a fundamentalist American sect based in Kansas City. “Although it takes a hard line on all things sexual, it allows him to get on with business,” said Cohen.

Meanwhile, Trevor Royle, in The Guardian tells us that the unholy alliance of Souter and Winning “sent Scotland into such a spectacular spin that the Parliament seems incapable of controlling it. Between them and their media advisors they have thoroughly unsettled Scotland by placing moral fundamentalism at the heart of mainstream politics. Indeed, so confident does Souter feel about imposing his own standards on the country that there is talk of him funding candidates to stand against politicians opposed to his views.”

It may be that when Souter and Winning engage with the Parliament on other issues that are on its agenda – namely reforming divorce laws, changing the status of illegitimate children and better contraceptive care for teenagers – the Scottish public might not be so eager to go along with the gruesome twosome. After all, these issues will affect far more people than just an unpopular minority that can be easily dismissed.

I’m hoping the Scottish people will see sense and give this evil pair their marching orders.

But, as The Guardian reported: “Last week a group of scholars and politicians met in Aberdeen to study the links between Scotland and Ireland. As one representative put it, given the predicament within the country, the comparison might be better made with Iran.”

Buoyed by what he sees as his great triumph, Souter will be eager to further bash the underpinnings of the democratic process with his chequebook. Who needs politicians when you’ve got money in the bank and God in your heart?

Much as we may disagree with our elected representatives in Parliament, at least we can expect them to make decisions on our behalf after looking at the issues in detail, examining the evidence and discussing them at length.

In the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament there is genuine debate in which all voices can be heard, and MPs and MSPs will be held accountable for their decisions at the ballot box. Mr Souter got his result by exploiting ignorance and by-passing debate.

In the world of the referendum, the winner is likely to be the one with the loudest and most expensive megaphone. Appeals to prejudice are easy in such circumstances and minorities, however innocent and right they might be, don’t stand a chance.

But, in the end, all democracies must be judged by how they treat their minorities. As Earl Russell tried to explain to the readers of The Times: “The question of the limits of the rights of a majority in a democracy is a real one. The essential obligation of the majority is to get the consent of the minority. Without that the majority is useless. Experience has shown that getting the consent of the minority is conditional on their right to equality before the law. Were there to be a clear majority in favour of allowing citizens the right to refuse to sell their houses to Roman Catholics, I would have no hesitation as a legislator in over-ruling that majority. Without this equality, consent disappears, as we have seen in Northern Ireland.”

On a lighter note, and also in The Times, Miles Fothergill wrote: “I know only one or two heterosexuals, so I have no idea what goes on – except for a rather peculiar image created by the media: child-molesting, abusing their own children, rape, divorce – all very sordid. I hope no-one sends me a form asking me to vote as to whether these antics should be promoted in schools. I think I would probably vote that I don’t think they should. But then, I don’t really ‘know’ this type of person very well, so perhaps I’m a ‘don’t know’ and more than a little ignorant.”

***

The latest Christian excuse for homophobia is a corker and comes from the same mould as “God Moves in mysterious ways”. It goes like this: Jesus was hated for his opinions and told his followers that they would be hated, too. Therefore, whatever Christians say, however foul and disgusting, it must be OK because those they are attacking come to hate them for it and being hated makes them more like Jesus.

Being hated is good, so let there be no restraint. I heard it from Anne Atkins on the R4 programme Why People Hate Christians and Cardinal Winning repeated it in a slimy article in The Spectator. It’s worth seeking out as an example of the frightening fanaticism that is such a threat to our rights,

GAY TIMES August 2000

Holy, holy, holy – who is saintlier this month, the Rev Tony or the Saint William of Hague?

It’s the rush to make a favourable impression on religious voters, our leader and would-be leader are making noises that are very bad news for gay people.

Mr Blair has given in to demands from the Christian Institute that he amend a European employment directive that would have given gay people employment protection for the first time. Now, if the religious lobby have their way, religious organisations (church schools, church charities, church hospitals and care homes) will have the right to deny employment to homosexuals. That’s thousands and thousands of job opportunities fenced off from us, just like that.

At the same time Mr Hague is trying to outdo our pious Prime Minister. As The Times reported: “William Hague has launched an audacious plan for Britain’s religious vote by promising strong support for social work programmes of the churches and other faith communities.”

The article revealed that “Mr Hague’s moves are a carefully co-ordinated attempt to attract the votes of religiously inclined people who tend to be socially and politically aware but not party political. He believes that he can show on issues such as the family, abortion and Section 28, the Conservatives should be their natural home.”

Things came to a head when Mr Hague had a meeting with a far-right American religious ideologue called Marvin Olasky. Mr Olasky sought to advise Mr Hague on how to transfer welfare provision from the state to religious charities.

You might think this is a reasonable thing for a Conservative politician to consider – until, that is, you look a little more closely at Mr Olasky.

Olasky runs a magazine called The World in which he spells out his ideas. He is, naturally, poisonously anti-gay. He’s written in glowing terms about the ex-gay movement – that bunch of crackpots whose homophobia is so extreme they want to eliminate homosexuality by turning gay people straight (with the Lord’s help, of course). “Homosexuality is a practice not only wrong, but not inevitable,” wrote Mr Olasky. “The success of Exodus [an ex-gay group] and other ministries to homosexuals shows that those sunk in this particular sin can change, just as people who have gotten stuck in welfare can change.”

Olasky talks of the “success” of Exodus and other similar outfits. What success is this? I wonder if he saw the Channel 4 Witness documentary last month, which took a close look behind the scenes of one of these gay-cure ministries. In fact, they didn’t “cure” anybody, all they did was make insecure people more confused, and unhappy people even more miserable.

As I watched the programme, it dawned on me what motivates the ex-gay movement. It is not a desire to help homosexuals at all, it is about bringing comfort to religious fundamentalists. It’s about making Mr Olasky and his ilk feel better that they are “doing something” to eliminate the source of their fear and loathing.

Despite the talk of compassion, they are unconcerned about the consequences for the people they are torturing with their madcap “therapies” and Bible-bashing lies. Schemes like Exodus provide a justification for the ceaseless gay-bashing that is emanating from religious sources.

Mr Hague was unrepentant about consulting Olasky, who advocates that faith-based organisations should take over social services. As the Texas Observer noted: “Olasky would prefer that government stop providing social services, such as drug treatment centres and homelessness shelters and for faith-based organisations to take its place.”

Can you imagine our social services – including Aids treatment centres and hostels for homeless young people – falling into the hands of some of the religious organisations that are currently agitating strongly against homosexuality? Let’s not forget that Mr Olasky wants religion to have a free hand to proselytise among the socially deprived and even restrict services only to those who are prepared to embrace religion.

A Guardian editorial was quick to chide Mr Hague on the company he is keeping. “By meeting Marvin Olasky, the ultimate Christian right-wing evangelical from Texas, the Conservative leader signalled a flirtation with the harsher face of religiously-informed politics. Mr Olasky is close to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush. He also blames poverty on the poor and describes women as fit for public office only when there are no men available. Mr Olasky’s politics are reactionary and ugly: by sitting on his knee, Mr Hague has cast a shadow over his praise for religion – and made it little more than another move towards the intolerant right.”

In an interview with Rachel Sylvester in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hague says that he believes in tolerance. “I am very tolerant of people living in whatever way they like, so long as it doesn’t impinge on the rights of others. I believe in being tolerant about different sexual orientation…”

Regrettably, actions speak louder than words and Mr Hague has forced his party into implacable opposition to the repeal of Section 28 and the lowering of the age of consent. It doesn’t matter what he says, it’s what he does that really counts.”

To be fair, not all Christian groups or individuals buy into the Hague philosophy. Belinda Shaw of west London wrote to The Times: “I, like many others, watched in sorrow as the ‘new morality’ of the Conservatives brought havoc to British society over two decades, with policies that gave many the impression of ignoring poverty, unemployment, homelessness and the resulting destruction of many families. I am alarmed by the implication that Mr Hague seeks to gain support from the intolerant religious right of whatever faith. The civil rights of many people, and poor women in particular, are threatened by those zealots.”

Mr Blair, meanwhile, his doing his own bit of evangelising among the “faith communities”. He spoke to a gathering of black evangelical churches in Brighton, and it became clear that he is unlikely to want to upset this particular demanding lobby again. And so our rights in the European Directive I mentioned at the beginning are likely to be sacrificed to prove that he really does take religion seriously.

But how can he take it seriously when it throws up nincompoops like Monsignor Michael Buckley, who writes an agony column for the Catholic weekly The Universe. Msgr Buckley was going on recently about “understanding homosexuality” and helpfully explained to his readers the difference between “gay” and “homosexual”.

“Just as every heterosexual, for whatever reason, does not engage in sexual activity, so also there are homosexuals who lead chaste lives. What really hurts them deeply is the assumption that they are sexually active and immoral… Genuine homosexuals are loath to talk of their condition because of the false assumption that this would classify them as perverts who could be other than they were if they really wanted to… Just as we have pilloried homosexuals because of our ignorance and prejudice, so the gay movement has gone on the offensive. It demands that t be recognised as an alternative society with the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals… not all gays are homosexuals and not all homosexuals are gays.”

So, I hope that has made it clear. You’re OK if you keep yourself pure (i.e. don’t touch anything below the belly button – ever), and evil if you follow your instincts and try to find love in the way that makes you happy.

And these are the people Mr Hague wants to take over our welfare provision. And Msgr Buckley is not alone in his opinions within the Catholic Church. He is only repeating the papal party line.

Over in Rome, the Vatican had been crusading fiercely to stop or restrict World Pride. The Guardian reported that the Vatican is receiving support for its efforts from the Italian “fascist community” – (is this a sub-division of the “faith community”?). On the day that the celebrations began, there were noisy demonstrations by neo-Nazi groups – together with further denunciations from the Vatican. It seems they make natural allies.

In Israel, gay pride in Tel Aviv prompted an article in The Independent on Sunday. Once again almost all the aggro is coming from religion. The ultra-Orthodox Jewish “faith community” demands not only rights but privileges for itself. It is organising politically and trying to force its rigorously biblical way of life on to the whole country. Needless to say, there is no room for homosexuals in the Orthodox view of the world.

Israel has, at the moment, a liberal secular majority that is resisting incursions from the religious right. But on the day before the pride parade, the Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, had, according to the IoS: “Saved his coalition from collapse by persuading Shas, a party run by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, to remain in government. That followed his two agonising weeks of coaxing and cajoling the rabbis, caving in to one demand after another. In the end he was forced to sacrifice three ministers from the left-wing Meretz party, giving victory to the Shas, a party with a leadership about as sexually enlightened as Saudi Arabia (sentence for cross-dressing: 2,500 lashes). High in the Shas hierarchy is Shlomo Benizi – Israel’s health minister, no less – who has described homosexuality as a sickness and suggested that gays should be committed to mental institutions.”

Just as the Church of England is likely to be torn apart by homosexuality, the issue could also lead to civil war in Israel. The threat to peace is now more pronounced from the Jewish religious right than it is from the PLO.

And just to show that we are slow to learn our lesson, we go to the United States where The Church Times informs us that All Saints Church in Beverly Hills is running an Alpha Course for gay people. A spokesman for the church said that Gay Alpha was a course designed to introduce people to Christianity based on the well-known evangelical material produced by the Holy Trinity Brompton in London.

But isn’t that the same Alpha Course that preaches against homosexuality? Isn’t the Rev Sandy Miller, the man who invented Alpha, the same man who wrote to the heads of local political party associations ahead of the Kensington and Chelsea by-election, urging them to seek as their candidate someone “who is eager to uphold Christian standards”? And wasn’t this a direct attack on Michael Portillo, who had admitted earlier homosexual encounters?

Gay Alpha, unless it abandons the evangelical fervour of the British original, will require its participants to refrain from having sex. And, in that case, is it really any different to the ex-gay movement?

If it arrives in this country, give it a wide berth. It has nothing to offer but unhappiness.

GAY TIMES – September 2000

The European Court of Human Rights has judged that Britain’s legal restrictions on gay sex are incompatible with the European Convention’s guarantee of the “right to a private family life”. The judgment created the predictable furore among the small-minded Little Englanders that make up the Tory party. The Daily Telegraph (slavish mouthpiece of the Tories) said that the decision was no business of the Human Rights Court. “It is not for foreign judges to decide whether or not Britain’s sex laws are fair to the people of Britain”, the paper thundered. “That is a job for our own Parliament.”

And this is the core of the right-wing argument: we don’t want foreigners telling us what our laws should be. Even though we signed up to the European Convention of Human Rights in the fifties, it seems that it is only now that the European Court is giving out reasonable judgments in favour of traditionally oppressed minorities that The Daily Telegraph decides to squawk about it.

Of course, soon we won’t have to ask foreign judges to treat us with dignity and fairness. In fact, there is only a month to go before the European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into our own law and our own judges will be making decisions in its light.

Naturally the Tories don’t approve. They have now found themselves in the invidious position of having to rubbish the very concept of human rights, simply because this legislation has its origins in Europe.

They have already created scare stories saying the HRA will make it illegal for teachers in boarding schools to stop their pupils having gay sex and that gay couples will be demanding the right to white weddings in Westminster Abbey. The propaganda has only just begun.

First in the ring to condemn the Human Rights Act was Ann Widdecombe, the shadow home secretary, who declared that it will be a “disaster”. “Clever lawyers are going to be crawling through this legislation to find cases to bring,” she told the Daily Telegraph, “Common sense seems to have taken a back seat.”

The London Evening Standard – from the same stable as the Daily Mail and rapidly becoming indistinguishable from it – editorialised: “Now that it will be easier for petty criminals to allege that they have been subject to the illegal use of force, or for any sixteen year old delinquent to claim that their right to engage in sex has been curtailed, a large number of time-wasting, vexatious cases can be confidently expected… There is a real danger that some legal decisions, while technically justified under the Convention, will collide with common sense.”

If we look closely at what the Standard is saying, we see it for the distortion that it is. Why shouldn’t petty criminals be protected from police brutality? Aren’t they human? And why shouldn’t sixteen-year olds (delinquent or otherwise) make the case for their right to have sex if they want to – surely even teenagers are human? Human rights must be universal or they are meaningless; the idea of some people being more equal than others is a contradiction in terms – and deeply conservative. Yet this notion of “partial equality” is precisely what opponents of the HRA seem to be advocating.

Take Melanie Phillips in the Sunday Times. Writing about plans to give gays a better deal in law, she says the whole debate is now driven by the message that “homosexual behaviour is equal in every sense to heterosexual.” “Indeed,” she wrote, “the whole gay rights agenda is based on the premise that homosexuals merely want to be treated equally to anyone else.” She concedes that it is reasonable that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their sexuality, but then spoils it by saying that it is an error to believe that “tolerance must entail approval, when it means we must put up with things of which we don’t approve.” A second mistake, she says, is “to confuse tolerance of individuals with acceptance of their behaviour.”

She proceeds from the assumption, of course, that her own behaviour (presumably as a conventional married heterosexual) is the “norm” from which everything else is an aberration. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Ms Phillips how breathtakingly arrogant this thinking is. The idea of a plural society, where everyone is not required to be the same, but where diversity is seen as desirable, seems beyond her comprehension.

We have to get to the end of her piece to find out what her real beef is. “Our society has been degraded by its obsessive reduction of sex to a casual experience with no meaning beyond physical sensation. All public sex is an affront to human dignity. If such encounters are an integral part of the homosexual lifestyle, they remain such an affront.”

There is an interesting debate to be had here about the different meanings sex has for men and women, but Ms Phillips has reduced it to the over familiar moralising of the Christian authoritarians.

Anyway, whatever the Right says, the Government is going to have to change the law so that gay men are not arrested, humiliated and punished for something that actually isn’t very important, and which heterosexuals do with impunity. And all thanks to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Whatever else Mr Blair may (or may not) have done, he can congratulate himself on introducing the Human Rights Act. He has given ordinary people the opportunity to correct glaring injustices in their lives without having to spend years hauling through the European justice system.

But, of course, every reform that this Act brings will result in another attack from the conservatives. The Daily Mail has already called for the HRA to be abolished before it has even come in England and Wales (it is already operating in Scotland). The paper commissioned Martin Howe, a barrister and QC “specialising in European law and constitutional affairs” to say: “Of course our laws should protect human rights. But there are British ways of doing so, which can be based firmly on our own history and traditions going back to Magna Carta. It is high time we exercised our option and abandoned this damaging and fundamentally un-British Convention.”

The British way of protecting human rights is obviously inadequate. Of all the Governments who are signatories to the Convention, Britain’s has one of the highest numbers of judgments against it. The “British way” with human rights presumably means The Daily Mail way. And that would mean a regression to the dark ages of mean-minded, narrow, bigoted, compassionless, nasty and unjust legislation. But hopefully the HRA is going to free us from all that. Never again will it be possible to legalise prejudice and discrimination, such as happened with Section 28.

Naturally those whose prejudices were best served by the old system (the one that goes back to Magna Carta, remember?) won’t be best pleased by this modernisation.

In The Daily Mail – which is in high gear over this whole issue – wheeled in Anthony O’Hear, a professor of philosophy to write: “There is no third way between the traditional values of the family and the ideology of political correctness underlying the proposed reforms [of sexual offences]. For that ideology, based on gay and feminist dogma, is profoundly hostile to the concepts of family life and heterosexual sexuality which, for centuries and for good reason, have enjoyed a privileged status under the law.”

But there is more bad news on the way for those who think human rights are just another frivolous expression of political correctness. Another initiative is emerging from Europe – this time a proposed Citizens Charter – that will give even more power to the people. It will guarantee, among other things: “The right to the equality of opportunity and treatment without any distinction such as race, colour, ethnic or social origin, culture, language, religion, conscience, belief, political opinion, sex or gender, marital status, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, age or disability.” It will complement that Convention on Human Rights and move into the area of employment, which the HRA doesn’t cover.

Anything that seeks to include everybody – but everybody – is anathema to conservatives. Their whole philosophy revolves around privilege and special treatment (so long as it is they who are receiving the privileges and special treatment). So, we can expect to see strong and sustained resistance to this Charter, although the Christian Institute had better get its skates on because it is hoped to adopt the final version at the summit of EU leaders in December.

There are some surprising dissenters, though. One is Richard Littlejohn of The Sun, who unexpectedly came out in favour of the European judgment. Over his piece stood the headline “Why I’m backing Europe over gay sex orgies”. He admits that he doesn’t generally have much time for the European Court of Human Rights, calling it “that ridiculous quango”, but in this case he thinks they’re right to rule that what people do in the privacy of their own homes is their business, not the state’s. “If four or five men want to spend the evening playing choo-choo trains with the curtains closed, that is entirely a matter for them, not the local constabulary,” wrote Littlejohn… “In private, consenting adults should be allowed to do what they like. I’m convinced that the vast majority of people would agree with me. It shouldn’t be beyond the wit of the government to frame the law to accommodate that. Without any help from Europe.”

But that’s the point, Dicky. This government – and all its predecessors – have not framed the law in anything but oppressive fashion. And they did need Europe to make them stop persecuting homosexuals. If it weren’t for Europe, nothing would be happening and the laws would remain in force.

Of course, even on our own side there are those who don’t share my Pollyanna-ish optimism about the HRA. Nick Cohen in The Observer worries that British judges are not going to go along with the idea that the HRA will liberalise our constitution. He points out that our legal system has consistently thrown up a bunch of geriatric reactionaries on the bench, and we cannot guarantee that they will reach the decisions that we want them to. The HRA, Mr Cohen informs us, “is hailed as part of Tony Blair’s attempt to create a new consensus. A ‘liberal century’ has dawned, we are told, in which the anti-Tory majority will finally take charge of the country. The difficulty with this argument is that the times are anything but liberal. Hardly a day passes without Blair or Willy Hague proposing some new assault on fundamental freedoms. They know the Human Rights Act is coming in and the judiciary will be able to interfere with their plans, but they carry on without pause… You might reply that our leaders are idiots, who don’t understand what is about to hit them. It’s an attractive thesis, I grant you. On the other hand, they might have taken a harder look at the judiciary than the gibbering conservatives and gushing liberals and concluded that it won’t be too much trouble.”

Well, I go with the gushing liberals. I really feel that the HRA is going to make a difference, and that the Citizens Charter will reinforce it.

Although we may feel devastated at the moment about what happened to Section 28, we can allow Lady Young her moment of glory. Let the old witch cackle while she can – her victory will be short-lived. The European steam roller is on the way, and hopefully it will crush her and her monstrous ilk once and for all.

Gay Times October 2000

Although we still have the insulting Section 28 hanging around the statute book like a bad smell, events last month made its crude references to “pretended family relationships” look particularly dated.

The bandwagon started rolling at the Liberal Democrat Conference. According to The Independent, Susan Kramer gained rapturous applause when she “appealed to the British public to support legalised gay partnerships because the current law was simply not fair. Surely Middle England would agree that such discrimination before the law is not fair.’” The conference accepted her argument and passed the resolution.

The following weekend, The Sunday Telegraph reported on its front page that Mary MacLeod, the chief executive of a Government advisory body called the National Parenting and Family Institute, had said that it was “hard to argue against” the case for giving homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals. Ms MacLeod had opined, according to the Sunday Telegraph, that it was a human rights issue. The paper said that her remarks had embarrassed the Government, which had studiously tried to avoid the topic until now, fearing another debacle to rival Section 28.

At the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, the Home Secretary Jack Straw agreed that the advent of the Human Rights Act might force him to put the issue before Parliament, but that if he did so it would be as a free vote – and that he personally was unlikely to be voting in favour.

Then The Observer revealed that adoption agencies are making a special push to recruit gay couples as adoptive parents. And if, for you, other people’s children do not make a “real” family relationship, a scientific report was published claiming that it was perfectly feasible, in the light of the research into cloning, for two men to produce a child without the need for a female egg.

The potential for non-pretend – in fact, very real – gay families has never looked rosier.

Naturally, the normally cold blood of the reactionaries began to boil. In The Daily Telegraph, Tom Utley was writing that it had been “the most triumphant month for the gay lobby since December 1967, when Parliament legalised homosexual acts by consenting adults in private. It is a measure of the astonishing success of the gay rights campaign that politicians are so desperately anxious to please homosexuals, and so terrified of saying or doing anything that might upset them.”

(Which politicians can he be referring to? Surely not Ann Widdecombe, who said of the idea of gay marriage: “It is inappropriate and we will resist it. If this is another bit of chaos to come from the Human Rights Act then we will fight it.” And surely he can’t have meant Norman (Slobodan) Tebbit, either. The nauseating Tory has-been, wrote in The Sunday Telegraph: “If sodomites have the right to marry, would it not be ‘inevitable’ for paedophiles to establish their human right to child sex and ‘inevitably’ would follow those with a taste for bestiality.”)

Anyway, back to Tom Utley’s fantasy world, where “the battle for gay rights has entered the final phase which is not to persuade the Government, employers and the public to respect differences between human beings. It is to convince us all that homosexual love is exactly the same as the heterosexual sort, and that homosexual marriages are the precise equivalent of marriages between men and women.”

But, as he concludes, gay marriages can “only be parodies of the real thing, just as sodomy mimics and mocks the act of procreation”.

Over in The Daily Mail, the Director of the Christian Institute, Colin Hate (er, sorry that’s Colin Hart. Oh well, maybe I was right the first time) was saying: “Any free vote would be a full-scale attack on marriage. Marriage has been established in English law for centuries – you can no more vote to change it than you can vote to change the number of hours of sunlight in a day.”

The churches are mostly in panic mode over the whole issue, of course. They regard “marriage” as their own property, and they will fight tooth and nail to ensure that homosexuals do not get their filthy hands on it. In the Netherlands, where gay people have just been given partnership rights on a par with heterosexuals, the only dissenting voice was that of the church. According to The Tablet, the Archbishop of Utrecht said: “We did everything possible to combat this law, but we were not listened to. Many Protestants and some Catholics do not obey the morality of the Catholic Church. This is the situation… It is a sign of the way our people’s thinking has changed with regard to certain fundamental points on which human society is based.”

Here, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Nazir-Ali went into drama queen mode to tell The Church of England Newspaper that the culture of human rights that has developed in Europe “will drive the Church into exile”. He cited gay marriage as one of the issues that could destroy Anglicanism. “The desire to deny what the Bible teaches about the human condition will put the church in a corner,” he said portentously. “We must prepare for a period of exile.”

Even if the bishop could qualify for an Oscar for services to melodrama, there is little doubt that he is totally out of touch with the people who pay his wages. John Dowie is one such. He is an admitted Christian, but he doesn’t go a bundle on his church’s homophobia. In an amusing tirade in The Independent headlined “A mad, mad church that won’t marry gays” he wrote: “I don’t know why it is, but when some people develop a belief in God, any sense of compassion, tolerance, humility, humour or, worse, a sense of shared humanity, flies straight out of the stained glass window.” He asks ranting religionists to “Look again at the New Testament and see what your main man had to say, not just about loving your neighbours, but loving your enemies also. Then have a good scratch around and see if you can find the passage in which he says: ‘Peter, you shall be the rock of my church. Just make sure you keep the gays out.’ I don’t think so.”

Indeed, when we leave the predictable reactionaries behind, there is a surprising amount of support for the idea of giving gay partnerships equal recognition – some of it from quite unlikely sources. Take A. N. Wilson who wrote in – of all places – The Sunday Telegraph: “In an old style monoculture guided by a single ethic… everyone was expected to conform to the pattern of life believed to be the norm. In a society which has become, of necessity, pluralistic in its attitudes to the emotional and domestic life, such monomorphic concepts of the law seem not merely unjust but impracticable.”

Even the Church Times ran an editorial supportive of formalised gay unions: “There are no objections to legal equality between married and single people; there should be none to extending this to homosexual couples.”

John Diamond in The Daily Express is all for it, too. He had learned from bitter experience that heterosexual marriage is not always the model to be preferred, as (the unmarried) Ann Widdecombe insists. “Whatever my first wife and I felt about each other when we started,” Diamond wrote, “when the end came, the only ruling the law was prepared to make was on our rights as property owners. And I can’t think of a reason why gay couples unable to have children shouldn’t have the same property rights as straight couples unwilling to have them. To allow a gay couple to have equal pension, tax or inheritance rights isn’t to make any moral judgment on the ‘rightness’ of homosexuality any more than it is to allow gays to have driving licences.”

He says that it is “paranoid nonsense” for the “self-styled family lobby” to insist that allowing gays to marry is anti-family because it reduces the marriage contract to one of property, while at the same time, and in some mysterious way, ‘promoting’ homosexuality.

“Part of the wedding contract,” says Diamond, “is about love, devotion and family – all the things I found in my second marriage. But I’d be just as devoted to my wife and children if we weren’t married: love is not something you can legislate for or against. Pensions, property and the rest of it, on the other hand, are.”

Much of the problem that will face us if Mr Straw keeps his word and brings the issue before Parliament will revolve around the word “marriage”. The traditionalists will say that marriage is really about providing a framework for the rearing of children. As Norman Tebbit said: “Homosexuals wish to hijack the world ‘marriage’ as they have hijacked the word ‘gay’. They are as free to share their beds with others of their choosing as are heterosexuals. They may if they wish devise ceremonies to mark a decision to set up partnerships but those are not and should not be described as marriage.”

The majority of gay families do not contain children – although one day they might – and so “marriage” may not be the best word to choose for our own partnership structures. Inventing another word or phrase to describe our unions would take the wind out of the sails of our enemies who are working themselves up into a major lather ready to defend to the death “traditional marriage”.

Let them keep “traditional marriage” (and its associated horror, divorce). Gay people can perhaps come up with a better model, and it will need another name that is not so loaded with emotive heterosexual baggage.

Given that the church is not going to change its policies soon (or probably ever) our partnerships are going to have to be civil affairs conducted at the registry office, so we could, perhaps, do as the French did and call them Civil Partnership Pacts—although the name does have the ring of two businessmen founding a factory rather than uniting their souls.

We could, on the other hand, go for something romantic like Love Unions, but that would risk leaving the guests squirming with embarrassment.

I’m sure we can come up with something appropriate that will defuse the fury of the “we must preserve marriage for heterosexuals” brigade. But if we insist on “marriage” we can expect the battle to be long, nasty and bitter.