Stonewall: “We’re against Equal Marriage”

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payments to heterosexual couples wanting civil partnerships would cost five billion pounds over ten years according to unpublished government research.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”


  1. This has been twisted.

    It’s true, that Summerskill and Stonewall are NOT campaigning for gay people to have equal marriage, and certainly wont be any time soon, but it’s no revelation. It’s been a debate between Stonewall and various other “Gay Rights” groups for some time.

    It’s true, that “as long as LGBT people are “othered” in any way at all, attacks will continue”, but marriage will only change this to a certain extent. At the moment, we have equal laws and equal rights and what people need to remember is that has only happened in recent years. Because of this, to push for “Marriage” over “Civil Partnerships” at present is genuinely a losing, if not long winded, battle. It’s time and money that could be spent to tackle homophobic abuse, bullying and ignorance elsewhere, such as home, work and school.

    People must also realise that Stonewall are a charity NOT a business and are under pressure to apply their given budget carefully. With the recent cuts in mind, it’s important to consider causes that can bring immediate change over causes that we could be campaigning for for another 40 years.

    There’s also risks to consider with Gay Marriage; christian rights groups, activits and religious leaders could end up sending up back a few years…It’s not unrealistic to say these people are STILL socially influential even today.

    I must say it’s a shame we don’t have equal CHOICE regarding marriage, and it’s something I would like to see change in the future. However, we’ve had remarkable success in receiving equal RIGHTS, the work Stonewall are doing now cover tackling homophobia and ignorance around the UK, particularly in schools, which in turn can bring further success in the future.

    As I say though, this has been an arguement for a while. Some Gay Rights groups agree with Stonewall while others don’t. Seeing articles twist words in nothing new, but to imply Ben Summerskill is homophobic? What a way to conclude an article- making the whole thing sound absurd.

    1. While LGBT people are treated differently no amount of money spent tackling issues in schools will work because we will always be perceived as different. You should fix the illness, then you fix the symptoms. Not the other way around.

      PS. Having been on the receiving end of his bigotry Summerskill is bigotted.

    2. @Maitland: would you like please to give us the names of the other gay rights groups that agree with Stonewall? I have never seen any.

      I am sorry but it is time for Ben to go. He is so clearly out of touch with overwhelming majority LGBT opinion and he is danger of being as much of a problem as the religious opponents.

    3. Whilst Ben Summerskill is saying that campaigns for marriage equality are “unethical” then he is not campaigning for true equality and is at the very least supporting homophobia, if not actively being homophobic.

      He is out of touch with what the LGBT communities want, and should therefore step aside.

      You say “At the moment, we have equal laws and equal rights”. We don’t and marriage is but one facet of that.

      1. It was Pink News he attacked for running an “Unethical Campaign” against Stonewall, rather than attacking marriage equality campaigns in general for being unethical.

  2. Zoe: were you at this event? Today’s Pink News article seems to be based on your blog. Summerskill has just issued a statement accusing Pink News of lying. If you can confirm that you heard what he said directly, and that’s what you reported, I’ll certainly add my voice to calls for his resignation. If you can’t, can you let us know where you got your info? Is there a recording/transcript of the meeting?

    1. Hi Sue,

      Yes, I was at the event – I’ve just blogged again with more notes about the event, but unfortunately there were no recordings. What there should be recordings of, however, are the speeches made today by those who were also present last night as they will be on iPlayer soon. Pink News have spoken to others too and I know that I was not the original source, nor am I the contributor mentioned in their story. (I do know the individual who was, but under the circumstances they would prefer to remain anonymous!)

      The only defence I can think of in favour of Ben Summerskill is that he was confused and came across badly. Today’s non-rebuttal pretty much nixes that, though.

  3. Sue,

    Wondering about the veracity of this is understandable. I can confirm Zoe was there, so was I. I am aware of several people who spoke to Pinknews, but I am not at liberty to name them. Summerskill made his ill-advised comments in front of an audience of over a hundred people. Many were gay politicians – the sort of people who have gay journalists on speed dial. I can’t imagine how Summerskill ever thought this wouldn’t come out.

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