Friday, 15 February 2013

The Conservative Party: Still Awful Homophobes

Pictured: The Downfall of Western Civilisation.
This might seem like something of a moot point, since the same-sex marriage bill passed on second reading with a majority of 225 MPs, but what's bugged me about the right-wing furor around the same-sex marriage bill is the genuine lack of any arguments that aren't prima facie dumb. Now most people know me as something of a left-winger and so I am naturally biased against right-wing arguments that to me seem nothing more than a recitation of mythological dogma about, say, free-markets, or a reflexive, rather than considered, distrust of 'big government' (whatever that means). Much of this, however, has more to do with the general intellectual climate of the right-wing these days, made up as it is by chavvy disabled-hating public school types in the UK. In the US, meanwhile, well...there's an episode of 30 Rock where Liz Lemon's brother, Mitch, is introduced as having had a skiing accident which makes him mentally 'stuck' in the 80s. That's basically the GOP in 2013. It's a shame, really, because conservatism has a rich intellectual history and these charlatans are doing an extreme disservice to it. Conservatism at its best is a consideration for reason and evidence, an appreciation for the wider effect of policies billed as compassionate and a respect for intellectual rigor. Nowadays, it's more often characterised by a bullying contempt for the vulnerable.

Enter the same-sex marriage 'debate' which is only really a debate in the same way that a newborn child's incessant crying constitutes a master's thesis. Let me be blunt here - there are no good arguments against same-sex marriage. None. Nada. Zilch. Generally speaking, when there's a hot-button issue being discussed by idiotic self-publicists on forums like, say, Question Time, with a little digging one can find some sophisticated arguments in the academic literature or in high-brow publications like the London Review of Books, or something that make you glad to know that the other side aren't all gibbering idiots. Not so with gay marriage. In this clip, Janice Atkinson-Small a (surprise, surprise!) Daily Mail columnist makes the argument against same-sex marriage from an apparently libertarian standpoint that basically the government shouldn't be involved in marriage regulation at all, so she's against any government intervention in marriage. Call me a cynic, but I have a sneaking little suspicion that this is *ahem* dishonest bullshit - since as far as I can tell, Mrs. Atkinson-Small has only felt the need to raise her objection to state involvement in marriage when it concerns, you know, those gay people they have now. Perhaps a reader can link me to an article in which Mrs. Atkinson-Small passionately argues for the overturn of the Marriage Act 1994? I eagerly await the response.

Okay, so a Daily Mail columnist is stupid, that's nothing new or interesting. What is interesting, though, is that Janice Atkinson-Small's position is the single most intellectually sophisticated argument against gay marriage out there. And yet, it's a kind of moral and political means of squaring the circle to argue that libertarianism demands restricting the rights of homosexuals because the state should not be involved in marriage rights. Why only marriage rights? Why not keep the state out of enforcement of consumer rights, or contracts? They are after all, like marriage, an agreement between two consenting adults and should thus be kept free of government involvement. The logical conclusion of the libertarian opposition to same-sex marriage is, of course, that any legal recognition of human rights constitutes 'state involvement' and should be rigorously opposed. One senses these people need to go back and read their Hobbes.

In Parliament, meanwhile, whilst I saw some elements of the objective press (bless 'em) describe the marriage debate as consisting of 'emotive arguments from both sides', or something, those of us who make no pretenses towards objectivity saw it instead as an opportunity for right-wing MPs to show just what truly horrible idiots they actually are. Here's David Burrowes MP, one of the main opponents of the Bill, on his reasons for objection:
'...over the centuries Society and Church have had a united view of the essential purpose of marriage, to provide a stable institution for the care of children.'
This is an argument that doesn't require a great deal of effort to refute. In fact, Mr. Burrowes does it himself in the preceding sentence:
'Of course same sex couples raise children in loving homes and not all marriages involve children.'
Got that? Not all marriages involve children and gay people can be perfectly good parents. But because gay people can't have children and Mr. Burrowes assumes they'll be bad parents, they shouldn't be allowed to marry - it's simple. One wonders if some of these MPs actually proof-read their statements before. And here's Teresa Coffey MP, who voted against the bill:
I’ve probably had about 10 from the constituents in favour and about 350 against. So I can say candidly on people who have contacted me I’ll certainly be representing their views tonight.
Her hands are tied, guvna! It's certainly a bold move to simply blame your constitutents for your voting to deny people equal treatment before the law. Majority tyranny, indeed.

But undoubtedly the worst quote of the same-sex marriage debate came from Stewart Jackson MP:
'Rosa Parks did not refuse to give up her seat on that bus for me to go to the back of the bus as a traditional Christian.'
Yeah, he actually compared himself to Rosa Parks in order to justify his bigotry against homosexuals. This isn't just a remarkably stupid and politically tone-deaf statement that lowers the intellectual level of parliamentary debate (though it is that), it's also emblematic of the kind of conception of 'rights' that some of the anti-same-sex-marriage campaigners have. The idea being that the state, the church, MPs, whatever, also have the right to not have gay people getting married in their midst. It's this kind of thinking which in turn pervades the modern Conservative party - that the government has a 'right' to demand certain behaviour from its citizens, which supersede the individual's rights to, for instance, equal treatment, religious freedom, or even payment for work.

There were some equally stupid arguments put forth by the Conservative dinosaurs in wake of their inevitable extinction. Sir Roger Gale argued that same-sex marriage was an 'Orwellian' redefinition which logically requires legal recognition of incest, although since there is no such thing as an 'incest lobby' and the number of loving, non-exploitative incestual relationships numbers zero, it's an irrelevant point. Nadine Dorries, intellectual powerhouse as she is, objected to the bill because it made no requirement of faithfulness and 'in fact, it does the opposite' (the opposite would actually be a requirement of adultery). I'm guessing that Mad Nad doesn't actually believe this and would still be opposed to the bill if Parliament jumped through her hoops and made a faithfulness requirement, because she doesn't care about faithfulness - she cares about gay people getting married.

Outside of our Parliament, stuffed as it is by at least 175 backwards homophobes (who have some gay friends, so they're not really homophobes, honest), some columnists are arguing that this bill is unnecessary because gay people don't actually want to get married, except for Sir Elton John and a few other 'national treasures' (seriously). This argument has to be read to believed:

Nothing in Britain's gay marriage debate adds up. For example, we're told the passing of the gay marriage bill is an historic victory for the brave gay activists who despite being mocked as perverts and poofs took part in London's first gay pride parades in the 1970s. 
Yet this fantastically overlooks the fact that those marchers denounced marriage and the family as "patriarchal prisons" that "enslave women, gays and children". 
For all the harebrained attempts to doll up the passing of the marriage bill as the endpoint to 50 years of gay agitation, the truth is early gay radicals campaigned against marriage, not for it. 
Marriage is a "rotten, oppressive institution", said the 1970 Gay Manifesto. Homosexuals are "in revolt against the nuclear family structure", said the influential Gay is Good tract of 1972.
That's right - literally all gay people in the 1970s were against equal marriage, and all activism conducted between 1972 and 2013 is irrelevant, because the 1972 Gay is Good tract was 'infuential.' Andrew Sullivan's 1989 essay doesn't matter, because some gay activists 40 years ago were against equal marriage and didn't want to get married, and it's only because gay people are stupid and easily led that they're overwhelmingly in favour of equal marriage rights now, when the truth is that they don't actually want what they've been saying for the past few decades that they really, really want. We should be listening to right-wing columnists, rather than gay people themselves, to tell us what gay people want, because they themselves can't be trusted. These are the best arguments they have, folks.

Perceptive readers will notice that I haven't given any consideration to religious arguments. The simple reason being that religious arguments are completely irrelevant. Religion is a Rorschach Test and every political movement, be it racist, homophobic, Marxist, anarchist, whatever has a branch that relies on scripture to back up its assertions that if Jesus were around today, he'd definitely be a member of the NRA . Case in point - here's a biblical argument for gay marriage.

So whilst it's certainly good news that the bill passed with an overwhelming majority, was advocated by a Conservative Prime Minister and some of the most powerful arguments in favour came from Conservative MPs, it is still nonetheless the case that the Conservative party is still in majority comprised of backwards-thinking homophobes who opposed this bill on intellectually indefensible grounds. The hardcore right-wing of the Tory Party is not happy with this - as evidenced by this Sun Poll, which is revealing in its sneering disregard for the rights of minorities. Only 5% of those polled by The Sun support equal treatment for gay people, therefore the government shouldn't support it at all! I would really like to give Cameron the benefit of the doubt and think that he pushed this through out of conviction rather than politics, but he's always come across as someone who acts more on political expediency rather than outright principle. That's not a huge indictment - he is a politician after all. It is, however, ironic that a bill that was pushed through presumably in part to shed the Conservative party's image of dinosaur-minded bigots ended up exposing the majority of them for being just that.


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