There’s some debate over exactly what was said at last night’s event, which I shall clarify below. However, first I’d like to pay tribute to the excellent work by Adrian Trett, the Chair of the LibDem LGBT organisation. For those who haven’t already heard, the marriage equality motion passed at Federal Conference today, making the Liberal Democrats the first party in government to back equal marriage as a matter of policy. In the short time I’ve known Adrian, there is only one obvious flaw I have discovered: He’s far too hesitant to take the credit for all the hard work he’s put in to promoting this for the whole LGB and T community.
On the comments by Ben Summerskill last night, two points I would like to clarify: Firstly, I’ve seen it reported that Ben Summerskill said a campaign for equal marriage was an unethical one. He did not say this: the “unethical campaign” comment was aimed at Pink News after they tried to get Stonewall to clarify their position on marriage equality. I did speak to Ben briefly about this after the event and asked if he’d be willing to put Stonewall’s views in writing, but he refused and attacked Pink News for trying to get Stonewall to comment on marriage equality in a period of four days, which he seemed to think was unreasonably quick. I don’t know for sure but I get the impression he thinks Pink News are behind “Why the silence Stonewall”. (They are not, to the best of my knowledge)
Secondly, Ben was not questioned on the Stonewall policy regarding Marriage Equality. Amazingly, he volunteered the information himself in his speech.
There were no media I know of present at the event and although we’ve asked around, it seems nobody took a recording of the event. I was hoping to get video of responses to later questions but by the time I realised what he was saying it was too late – Ed Fordham, the chair, was understandably wanting to avoid rocks being thrown!
However, there were quite a few important people in the room: Two MPs, one of whom was a minister of the crown, an Ex-MP and a parliamentary candidate present. They made references to Stonewall’s views in speeches in support of today’s motion, which was covered online by the BBC. I’ve copied out the relevant points:
1147: Gay marriage now. Former MP Evan Harris spoke up for this one, arguing that now was the time to push for full equality – including allowing opposite sex couple to have civil partnerships. Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone watches from her seat in the hall.
1207: Ed Fordham, of neighbouring Hampstead and Kilburn, gets a huge round of applause as he urges the government to “stop faffing around” and get on with legalising gay marriage. He attacks gay group Stonewall, which he says is against the motion because it could lead to tax losses on pensions, again earning a huge cheer. Apart from anything else, he says, the boost to the milinary industry from his mother if gay weddings are legalised would be worth it.
1214: Ex mayoral candidate Brian Paddick tells delegates how he got married to a “gorgeous Norwegian man” last year – “an intensely moving experience”. “My husband and I”, he adds, feel marriage is important, but they are only legally married in Norway. There should be equality in the UK, he says. He also hits out at Stonewall, saying “equality is equality”.
1216: Delegates vote overwhelmingly in favour of the motion calling for same sex marriages to be legalised.
Also widely reported on twitter is Stephen Gilbert’s comment, “It should not be for me as an MP to lobby Stonewall to support gay equality, it should be for Stonewall to lobby me.” I shall try to find the relevant portions from BBC Parliament when it ends up on iPlayer later today. It’s been picked up by the mainstream press though, such as this article by the Guardian.
Finally, in terms of the debate itself, I believe the five billion pounds figure may relate to the cost on private pension companies rather than on the state – I’ve submitted a Freedom of Information Request or two to try to get a copy of the report, if it exists. If it is a cost to private industry, this may go some way to explaining Stonewall’s view as it’s possible a large portion of their funding comes from big corporates who may stand to lose money from marriage equality. On the flip side, Stonewall’s rebuttal of of the Pink News story refers to a “Treasury Impact Assessment” which would imply it’s a state, not private cost.
It’s been noted that the rebuttal is quite carefully worded. It repeats the arguments advanced by Ben Summerskill that marriage equality will cost £5bn and that while “some” LGB people support marriage equality, (Yes, 98% is “some”) some do not. 2% is also, I suppose, “some”.
It also repeats all the arguments I recall him advancing for marriage equality: none.