Of all the bizarre places to come out against marriage equality, an event run in conjunction with DELGA, the Liberal Democrat LGBT organisation, would seem to be the most odd. But that’s just what Ben Summerskill, head of so-called “equality” organisation Stonewall did today.
Also on the panel for the debate, part of the Liberal Democrat Autumn 2010 conference discussing what the coalition meant for equality, were Dr. Evan Harris who is DELGA president, Lynne Featherstone MP, LibDem equalities minister and out gay LibDem MP, Stephen Gilbert.
The views of Summerskill have long been known to be unpopular amongst the Transgender community after their nomination of notorious transphobe Julie Bindel for “Journalist of the Year” back in 2008. But certainly nobody I knew thought their silence on marriage equality meant they would come out against it and on such spurious grounds.
Firstly, he attacked Pink News for running an “unethical campaign” against Stonewall after they failed to answer a request for comment on the topic of Marriage Equality. Then, he argued that it was “too expensive” as increased pension payments to heterosexual couples wanting civil partnerships would cost five billion pounds over ten years according to unpublished government research. Stephen Gilbert quite rightly stated that equality such at this should not be subject to a cost/benefit analysis and that if South Africa had adopted Stonewall’s approach, they would still have apartheid, a view Summerskill labelled offensive.
Another argument advanced against equality was that there is a feminist view that the institute of marriage is fundamentally wrong. He did not explain this view particularly coherently and perhaps this means I cannot do it justice in turn. However, my response to that would be that if you don’t want to get married then don’t and it’s no reason to force it on the rest of us.
Finally, we’re subject to attempted emotional blackmail and told that as long as people are being murdered in homophobic attacks, we should not be campaigning for something like Marriage. I favour the view that Stephen passionately put: We need to send a clear message to those in society that would try to discriminate that we are equal and we will not settle for any less than equality. As long as LGBT people are “othered” in any way at all, attacks will continue.
It’s not really surprising that the liberal audience became quite hostile to these views, with the first question from the floor attacking Summerskill for his outrageous views. As one attendee put it, speaking of Ben Summerskill, “A homophobe is a homophobe, whether he’s gay or not”