Compare and contrast:
1/ Morning Star editorial Feb 26 2016:
The EU has done nothing to strengthen Britain’s social or equality legislation. Holiday pay, equal pay legislation, advancement of anti-racist and gay rights were all fought for and won by workers in struggle. To claim otherwise is a mendacious insult to the history of our movement and class.
2/ Morning Star front page Aug 30 2016:
YOUR RIGHTS IN MAY’S HANDS
Unions challenge May to live up to post-Brexit pledges
by Conrad Landin
THERESA MAY risks a “betrayal of British workers” if she does not save employment rights when Britain leaves the EU, unions warned last night.
New research by the House of Commons library shows that rights to annual leave, protection against unfair dismissal and equal rights for agency workers could fall away on a technicality if the government does not intervene.
The European Communities Act 1972, which will need to be repealed prior to Brexit, allows Brussels employment law to take primacy over Westminster Acts and become British law.
Regulations protecting young people and ensuring paid time off for health and safety reps could also fall by the wayside.
Ms May promised to put the Tories “completely, absolutely, unequivocally at the service of working people” when she was announced as the leader last month.
But her parliamentary record includes staunch support for anti-union laws and leading the opposition to the Equality Act in the Commons.
Shopworkers’ union Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “The Prime Minister came to office talking a good game about standing up for working people. She now has to walk the walk — and the first part of that should be guaranteeing that every single right for workers delivered by the European Union will stay in place.
“Anything less would be a betrayal of British workers, especially given the promises that were made on employment rights by members of the Vote Leave campaign. Every worker and trade unionist in Britain urgently needs clarity on this vital issue.”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna (pictured left with Ms May), who commissioned the Commons library research, has written to Ms May calling for the government to enact primary legislation guaranteeing the affected workplace rights.
He is also calling for an audit of decisions made by the Court of Justice of the European Union, followed by a government commitment to maintaining the additional rights that have been derived from legal judgements.
Mr Umunna told Ms May: “You have said repeatedly that ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ But you must now begin to set out what this means.
“You owe it to the working people of Britain to make clear that the pledges made by your Cabinet colleagues to retain EU legislation on workers’ rights will be delivered.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Britain voted decisively to leave the EU and this government will deliver the people’s verdict. In every step we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people.
“We don’t need to be part of the EU to have strong protections for workers’ rights.”
By Les Hern (also at the Workers Liberty website and the current issue of Solidarity newspaper)
“Against stupidity, the gods themselves struggle in vain”, Goethe.
Towards the end of January, “mostly supine” MPs passed a bill after a “clueless debate”.
The Psychoactive Substances Act which is intended to ban “legal highs” (novel psychoactive substances — NPSs) is “one of the stupidest, most dangerous and unscientific pieces of drugs legislation ever conceived.”
“Watching MPs debate…it was clear most didn’t have a clue. They misunderstood medical evidence, mispronounced drug names, and generally floundered. It would have been funny except lives and liberty were on the line.”
Not my words but those of an editorial in New Scientist (30 January 2016) and a report by Clare Wilson. The act came into force on 26 May, meaning that previously legal “head shops” must cease selling NPSs. The banned drugs will only be available from illegal drug dealers.
The story starts with the panic about “legal highs”, chemicals with similar effects on mood to banned drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine or speed, hence the term “psychoactive”. Legal highs were not covered by drug laws that banned named compounds but not new ones with similar effects.
If history tells us anything, it is that humans take drugs. Sometimes, these drugs cause harm to those who take them or to society in general. Banning specific drugs makes their use more dangerous.
A logical approach would be to reduce the harm by controlling purity, taxing their sale, and educating users instead of criminalising them.
Drug users would prefer not to break the law, providing a considerable incentive to synthesise new drugs that mimic banned drugs but aren’t on the banned list. But these new drugs will have unknown side effects and there is no control on dose and purity. In contrast, the effects of many “traditional” drugs are known.
The rationale for banning NPSs was that they were dangerous. Legal highs were mentioned in coroners’ reports for only 76 deaths from 2004 to 2013 (Office for National Statistics). Despite the government’s banning of NPSs as fast as it could, the number of mentions was increasing (23 in 2013). Reliable data are extremely difficult to obtain and mere mention of a drug in a coroner’s report is not evidence that the drug caused the death.
As each NPS was banned, more were synthesised. There were 24 NPSs in 2009 and 81 in 2013, making the government’s actions futile, so some bright spark came up with the idea of banning the production and supply of all substances which produce “a psychoactive effect in a person… by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system [thus affecting] the person’s mental functioning or emotional state.” A bill was proposed by the new Conservative government and specified that anyone producing or supplying (but not merely possessing for personal use) the previously legal NPSs could be sent to prison for up to seven years.
The proposal soon ran into problems.
Firstly, what is meant by stimulating or depressing the central nervous system?
Secondly, what constitutes an effect on a person’s mental function or emotional state?
Thirdly, how could it be proved that any suspected substance was psychoactive? After all, placebos can be psychoactive.
Fourthly, what about alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, many medicines, and foodstuffs such as nutmeg and betel nut (or, in my case, cake)?
Finally, would bona fide scientific research on psychoactive substances be outlawed?
Criticism poured in from scientists. Respected medical researchers said the bill was “poorly drafted, unethical in principle, unenforceable in practice, and likely to constitute a real danger to the freedom and well-being of the nation” (letter to The Times).
The Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Wellcome Trust, and others wrote to Home Secretary Theresa May that “Many types of important research could potentially be affected by the Bill, particularly in the field of neuroscience, where substances with psychoactive properties are important tools in helping scientists to understand a variety of phenomena, including consciousness, memory, addiction and mental illness.”
Even the government’s Advisory Council of the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), more in line with politicians’ wishes since the shameful “firing” of Professor David Nutt (see below), produced a list of objections. The government’s omission of the word “novel” made the bill apply to a vast number of other substances in addition to legal highs. It would be impossible to list all exemptions so benign substances, such as some herbal remedies, might be inadvertently included. Also, proving that a substance was psychoactive would require unethical human testing, since laboratory tests might not stand up in court.
The government changed the bill to exempt scientific research but otherwise remained obdurate. An example of the inevitable confusion concerns alkyl nitrites (poppers). Known since 1844 and used to treat heart problems, they have a short-acting psychoactive effect and are generally safe.
However, the government referred to several non-specific risks and claimed that poppers had been “mentioned” in 20 death certificates since 1993 (far fewer than for lightning). After a Conservative MP appealed for poppers, which he used, not to be included, the government said they would consider the arguments later.
Another example concerns nitrous oxide (laughing gas), included in the ban despite its long history of use in medicine and recreationally. Discovered in 1772, laughing gas was greatly enjoyed by Sir Humphry Davy and friends, including the poet Shelley. It has an impressive safety record and has been used in dental and childbirth anaesthesia and sedation since 1844.* Nevertheless, the government referred to “the harms” of recreational laughing gas and included it in the bill. In fact, the deaths “caused” by nitrous oxide result from incorrect methods of inhalation which could be eliminated by education.
The Act was finally implemented on 26 May. Independent expert David Nutt described the government’s policy as “pathologically negative and thoughtless.” He predicts that deaths from drugs will increase as people turn to illegal drug dealers in the absence of legal “head shops.”
Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. This just about sums up successive governments’ policies towards drugs.**
**But not all drugs. Nicotine and alcohol are legal, despite their addiction potential, toxicity, and role in causing accidents. See, for example, Smoking and accidents
Labour’s problems with scientific evidence
Tories don’t have a monopoly on cluelessness.
Expert neuroscientist Professor David Nutt was “sacked” from his position as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs by the right-wing press’s favourite Labour politician, former Home Secretary Alan Johnson. This was after Nutt showed that cannabis, then being upgraded to Category B (the same as codeine, ketamine, mephedrone or speed) was less harmful than alcohol or tobacco.
This wasn’t an ordinary sacking since Prof Nutt gave his time and expertise freely, believing that it was important to present the evidence to improve the quality of the debate. Three members of the ACMD resigned in protest.
Nutt stated in a lecture to fellow academics that the evidence showed that cannabis was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. Johnson called this “campaigning against government policy” and “starting a debate in the national media without prior notification to my department.”
Johnson was then accused of misleading MPs since Prof Nutt had given prior notice of the content of his lecture and no journalists were invited. Further, as an unpaid advisor, Nutt was not subject to the same rules as civil servants. Other ACMD members who resigned said that they “did not have trust” in the way the government would use the ACMD’s advice and that Johnson’s decision was “unduly based on media and political pressure.”
Shamefully, PM Gordon Brown backed Nutt’s removal, saying that the government could not afford to send “mixed messages” on drugs. Both Brown and Johnson (some people’s favourite to replace Jeremy Corbyn) were quite happy to send the wrong message.
Supported by other scientists, Nutt was awarded the John Maddox Prize for standing up for science by the pro-evidence charity Sense About Science.
The government subsequently accepted a new ministerial code allowing for academic freedom and independence for advisers, with proper consideration of their advice. Under this, Nutt would not have been dismissed.
• Nutt now works with Drugs Science
Saturday’s TUC/Equal Opportunities Review Discrimination Law Conference was, as usual, a highly informative event.
The driving force behind this conference (an annual event) is Michael Rubenstein, editor of Equal Opportunities Review and widely regarded as Britain’s leading expert on both equal opportunities law and employment law (he also edits the Industrial Relations Law Reports): unlike a lot of legal people, he makes no secret of his sympathy with the trade union movement.
Amongst the other distinguished speakers was Karon Monagham QC of Matrix Chambers, on ‘Sex and race discrimination: recent developments.’ Anyone whose ever Karon speak will know that she makes no secret of her left wing stance and passionate commitment to anti-racism, equal opportunities and trade union rights – how she ever got to be a QC is a bit of a mystery …
Karon spoke with authority on her subject, concentrating upon:
Karon noted that, “As to recent decisions of the Courts and tribunals, they’re a mixed bag. We have seen some worrying recent case law challenging some of the prevailing orthodoxy around the concepts of equality under the EA 2010 and related matters. We have also seen some progressive case law, in particular in reliance on fundamental rights protected by EU and ECHR law.”
In the course of her presentation, Karon made it clear that the EU Equality Directives, case law from the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, remain potent and effective tools for all those concerned with defending human rights and trade union rights.
In fact, although it did not appear on the agenda, a recurring theme of the conference was the EU and the possibility of Brexit. In his opening remarks, Michael Rubenstein asked “Do you think Brexit and the Cameron government, together, are going to be good or bad for human rights, equal opportunities and trade union rights?” He added, laughing, “That’s a rhetorical question.”
During the final Q&A session, the panel were asked what they though the impact of a Bexit would be on human rights and employment legislation in the UK: Rubenstein replied with a single word: “catastrophic.”
The idiot-left who seem to think that something progressive can be achieved by getting out of the EU need to take notice of people who know what they’re talking about.
Statement from the Blacklisting Support Group:
As you may know Blacklisting was in the High Court on Thursday 8th October and after 6 years of denying everything, that the High Court trial is getting close, the blacklisting wretches have revised their legal defence, finally admitting their guilt. The 8 largest firms have run up the white flag and the ongoing negotiations between the lawyers are now just drawing up the terms of the surrender. The lawyers representing the blacklisting contractors are still huffing and puffing about their desire to go to court to fight the issue of ‘quantum’ and ‘causation’ (ie: how much compensation they need to pay) but this is just for show. The blacklisters will do anything to avoid the spectacle of a High Court conspiracy trial, which is still set to start in May 2016 and last for 10 weeks. BSG position is that we still want to see the directors of these multinational firms being forced to give evidence under oath at the High Court about their active involvement in this human rights scandal. Buying us off with a few thousand pounds is not justice.
The Blacklist Support Group would like to go on record to thank the stirling work carried out by all of the lawyers on our behalf. We could not have done this on our own. But we would like to particularity praise the work carried out by JC Townsend, Liam Dunne, Sean Curren and the rest of the legal team at Guney Clark & Ryan solicitors who have been working on the High Court conspiracy claim completely unpaid since 2009. Without their initial support, hard work and the resources allocated by GCR over the past six and a half years, we would not be in this position today. Blacklisted workers salute you.
Below is the statement issued & written by PR spin-doctors Graylings on behalf of the 8 largest firms:
On 7 October 2015 we, the eight companies that comprise the Macfarlanes Defendants*, submitted a Re-Amended Generic Defence to the Court. In this document we lay out clearly a number of admissions; these admissions are also covered in the accompanying summary which, we hope, will provide interested parties with an easily accessible reference. Both documents contain a full and unreserved apology for our part in a vetting information system run in the construction industry first through the Economic League and subsequently through The Consulting Association; we recognise and regret the impact it had on employment opportunities for those workers affected and for any distress and anxiety it caused to them and their families.
We are making these admissions now as we believe it is the right thing to do; we are keen to be as transparent as possible and to do what we can to simplify the High Court hearing scheduled for mid-2016. We hope that the clarity this brings will be welcomed by the affected workers. Indeed, ever since the closure of The Consulting Association in 2009, we have been focused on trying to do the right thing by affected workers. This was why we set up The Construction Workers Compensation Scheme (TCWCS) in 2014 to provide those who felt they had been impacted by the existence of the vetting system with a fast and simple way of accessing compensation. Currently, we have paid compensation to 308 people who have contacted TCWCS and we are processing 39 ongoing eligible claims.
We remain committed to TCWCS. We are approaching the High Court hearing in the spirit of openness and full transparency and continue to defend the claim strongly in relation to issues of causation and loss.
– Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and VINCI PLC
John Rees of Stop the War Coalition flanked by Cage representatives, making excuses for ‘Jihadi John’ earlier this year
I personally find it extraordinary that any sane person could have any moral or political objection to the British government’s killing of ISIS fascists. The organisations that have been bleating about this – CND, Reprieve and Stop The War, have long since exposed themselves as outfits who will sympathise with any forces, no matter how barbaric, who oppose the ‘West.’ At least Reprieve is in business to mount legal challenges to the government when it believes human rights are a stake (though they seem mightily selective about whose human rights they’re concerned with); but what the hell is CND doing commenting on this issue? As for the misnamed Stop The War Coalition – we all know that they operate on the basis of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and will ally with some of the vilest organisations and individuals on the planet, in the name of supposed “anti-imperialism.”
But what about the legal grounds for the killings? Leading legal blogger Carl Gardner opines that the action was probably legal, but acknowledges that it’s not entirely clear-cut:
Some would argue that an armed attack has to be by a State, or attributable to one, before the UK can defend itself. Here, the RAF’s attack violated Syrian sovereignty but Khan’s plans, whatever they were, can’t obviously be blamed on the Syrian regime. But I don’t think this is a strong argument against the UK .
In any event, the insistence that self-defence can only be invoked against sovereign states seems to me unreal after 9/11. Either international law on the use of force is an ass, unfit for purpose in the 21st century; or its principles must be capable of application to today’s real threats to peace and security. I think the latter.
Read the rest of Gardner’s opinion here
Say no to anti union laws!
On Wednesday 9 September activists campaigning for the right to strike, and against the Trade Union Bill, will take a high court judge to the offices of Sajid Javid at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, 1 Victoria Street, London.
At 6.00 pm activists will serve Mr. Javid with a high court injunction banning him for his political office, as he was elected with only 38% of the electorate(1), when the Trade Union Bill which he is sponsoring would require trade unions to gain 40% of their electorate.
Trade unionists from many different unions will join the high court judge to make sure that Mr. Javid gets the message.
“Trade union rights are democratic rights,” said Ruth Cashman of the Right to Strike campaign . “No other voluntary organisations in society face as much interference in their internal affairs as trade unions. It is the height of hypocrisy for a government elected by just 24% of the public to tell us that we need a minimum turnout to carry out our democratic decisions. If they want to make trade unions more democratic they introduce legislation to allow us to have workplace ballots and electronic ballots.”
Right to Strike(2) invites media outlets to send reporters, photographers and to video the event.
Contact: Gemma Short on 07784641808 or Ruth Cashman on 07930845495, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/842189349235316/
The horrors exposed by the Jay report into child exploitation in Rotherham are so sickening, so angering, so distressing, that I’ve deliberately refrained from commenting. I’m simply not qualified to do so on an issue that seems at once so simple and yet so complex. What I am sure about is that those refuse to seriously address the racial aspect to this outrage are nearly as culpable as those who would use it to demonise Asian/ Muslim people and stir up racial hatred.
So, for now, I’ll simply recommend this piece by Samira Ahmed. I know quite a few of you will have already read this, as it was first published in yesterday’s Guardian. But it’s by far the best and most sensibly nuanced commentary on the subject I’ve yet encountered and it deserves to be as widely read as possible.
Republished from Thompsons’ Labour & European Law Review:
A new report by the TUC to mark the one year anniversary of the introduction of tribunal fees has found that they have had a devastating impact on access to justice for working people.
Since July 2013, workers who have been sexually harassed, sacked because of their race, or bullied because of a disability have been forced to pay £1,200 for their claim to be heard by an employment tribunal. Those seeking to recover unpaid wages or holiday pay have to pay up to £390.
The report – What Price Justice? – analysed government statistics for January to March 2014, which revealed a 59 per cent fall in claims, compared to the same quarter in 2013. During these three months just 10,967 claims were received by employment tribunals compared to 63,715 for the same quarter in 2013.
The TUC analysis of the statistics found that:
- Women are among the biggest losers – there has been an 80 per cent fall in the number of women pursuing sex discrimination claims. Just 1,222 women took out claims between January and March 2014, compared to 6,017 over the same period in 2013.
- The number of women pursuing pregnancy discrimination claims is also down by over a quarter (26 per cent), with just three per cent of women seeking financial compensation after losing their jobs.
- Race and disability claims have plummeted – during the first three months of 2014 the number of race discrimination and sexual orientation claims both fell by 60 per cent compared to the same period in 2013.
- Disability claims have experienced a 46 per cent year-on-year reduction.
- Workers are being cheated out of wages – there has been a 70 per cent drop in workers pursuing claims for non-payment of the national minimum wage.
- Claims for unpaid wages and holiday pay have fallen overall by 85 per cent. The report says that many people are being put off making a claim, because the cost of going to a tribunal is often more expensive than the sum of their outstanding wages.
- Low-paid workers are being priced out – only 24 per cent of workers who applied for financial assistance to take claims received any form of fee remittance.
- Even workers employed on the minimum wage face fees of up to £1,200 if a member of their household has savings of £3,000.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Employment tribunal fees have been a huge victory for Britain’s worst bosses. By charging up-front fees for harassment and abuse claims the government has made it easier for bad employers to get away with the most appalling behaviour.
“Tribunal fees are part of a wider campaign to get rid of workers’ basic rights. The consequence has been to price low-paid and vulnerable people out of justice.”
Neil Todd at Thompsons Solicitors said: “The statistics set out in the TUC report make it absolutely clear that the introduction of Tribunal fees have deterred workers from seeking legal redress as a result of unlawful conduct in the workplace. The fees are one of a number of attacks on working people which have been introduced by the Coalition Government. This has left workers in the UK more vulnerable than their counterparts across the EU”.
To read the report, go to: http://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/TUC_Report_At_what_price_justice.pdf
Regulars will know that although I take the Graun every day, its editorial line and a lot of its columnists infuriate me. So credit where its due: the paper’s role in exposing the News of the World phone-hacking scandal in the first place, and its dogged pursuit of the truth over five long years has been superb. The Graun is largely responsible for the criminal Coulson being brought to justice – something that would never have happened if matters had been left up to the Metropolitan Police (who now have serious questions to answer about their own cosy relationship with News International).
The star of the Graun‘s team on this story has been, since he first broke it in 2009, the relentless Nick Davies, who this week crowned his achievements with a magisterial and surely definitive account of the trial itself, closing with this quietly devastating conclusion, the full meaning of which is unmistakable when read in context:
It seems to have become forgotten, conveniently by some, that before the Old Bailey trial two former newsdesk executives, Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup, pleaded guilty, as did the phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire and a former reporter, Dan Evans, who confessed to hacking Sienna Miller’s messages on Daniel Craig’s phone.
Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World’s former chief reporter and news editor, pleaded guilty after the police found the tapes he had of Blunkett’s messages in a News International safe.
In the trial, Coulson was convicted of conspiring to hack phones while he was editor of the News of the World. The jury was discharged after failing to reach unanimous verdicts on two further charges of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office faced by Coulson and Goodman.
But Brooks was found not guilty of four charges including conspiring to hack phones when she was editor of the News of the World and making corrupt payments to public officials when she was editor of the Sun. She was also cleared of two charges that she conspired with her former secretary and her husband to conceal evidence from police investigating phone hacking in 2011.
The jury at the Old Bailey returned true verdicts according to the evidence. They were not asked to do more.
Superb stuff, and I only wish I could leave it at that. But yet another example of the Graun at its stupid, relativist worst has been drawn to my attention by Comrade Coatesy: a vile piece defending a vile man and a vile organisation, the writing all the more objectionable because of its post-modern pretentiousness. At least it didn’t appear in the print edition, but was evidently considered suitable for publication at the cess-pit that is Comment Is Free.
Peaches Geldof, who died on Monday, had become a serious and thoughtful person, and a very good writer. In her memory, we re-publish this powerful piece that she wrote for The Independent, published on 9 October 2012. Happily, Peaches lived to see this battle won, but her message of tolerance, love and decency is still worth reading, and stands as a fitting memorial:
In the summer of 2003 I was 14 years old, and my best friend was a gay boy named Daniel. He was smart, funny and totally unaware of how beautiful he was. Everyone seemed to be in love with him at some point, but he was in love with his school friend Ben.
Every day after classes ended, Daniel, Ben and I would hang out. For a little bit, they could both be funny, bitchy queens in the most unashamed and wonderful way, and all was right in the world. Time would glide. As the years progressed we three drifted our way through youth, our journeys disjointed but always seeming to connect at significant points along the way.
Daniel came out to his parents two years after he and Ben became serious. He was 16. I was there when he told them, I don’t know if he’d planned on me being there for support, he never told me. I sat hiding at the top of the stairs in his house, listening. His mother laughed, I’d always loved her laugh, it sounded musical, like bells ringing, and I remember that laugh was just full of love in that moment, and she said to him she’d always known and how happy she was that he had experienced love and it didn’t matter who with. His father echoed her sentiments entirely and I heard the intake of breath that always seems to precede a meaningful hug.
Back in his room, his face seemed different somehow. Where once his eyes had seemed to me to be restless and distant at times, now they just shone. His whole face shone, with this pure elation, and in that ephemeral moment I realised how these revelations people make to the ones who mean something to them, can make a person into something great or break them entirely.
Accept and respect
And Dan was made in that moment. He was whole. I remember vividly having this weird image in my head of the old Disney movie of Pinocchio, where the good fairy turns him into a real boy. And looking back I guess Daniel had been exactly that, just wooden, all that time before. I learned that day that all you really need to do to make someone happy is to accept who they really are, and respect who they are.
Weeks passed and Ben still hadn’t participated in the big coming out party. Where once our after-school hangouts had been easy, effortless fun, now they seemed tense. Instead of Ben and Daniel’s relationship becoming more open, it seemed all the more clandestine. They both confided in me in emotional, tearful phone calls and I began to feel like the go-between. I was falling into other interests and felt myself pulled in a different direction, away from these boys that were so much a part of me. I started loathing our meetings because I could see how terrified Ben was of revealing himself to his parents, and how Daniel was pushing him to the point where it seemed inevitable that he would just leave.
What he didn’t understand, having never met them due to Ben’s terror of being caught out, was that Ben’s parents were different to his. His mother was, and always had been, a housewife who had raised him, his two sisters and three brothers seemingly without any help as his father, a Protestant priest, had staunchly archaic views on where a woman’s place was. Weeks, months passed. We grew and changed, summers came and went. It was winter two years later when the ultimatum was issued, and by then too much was at stake, and Ben did come out to his parents. I sat there, on the same patch of grass in Cavendish Square, worn down from our school shoes, and my friend wept as the words left his mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take the words back for him myself.
His mother was devastated, his father, in his words, “ruined”. They both told him he was sick and a failure. He left home. How, of course, could he have stayed. I think, after that, Ben hated Daniel a little bit, partly because he had pushed him to come out, partly because he was jealous. But in the end he loved him more, and Daniel’s parents allowed him to move in to their house and live there with him.
Years passed. We had kept in touch by email, but our lives had taken us in different directions and our friendship wasn’t the same any more. It was December, freezing, when I received the invitation to their wedding. They had been living in New York, where gay marriage had been legalised. I was elated. More than that. These boys, who had been such an intrinsic part of my teenage years, were finally getting what they deserved. It was a beautiful moment.
In New York, the snow had covered everything in a soft white blanket, making it new again. As everyone was gathering outside the city hall, I spotted Ben’s parents. They seemed nervous, but they were there. I assumed they had eventually come round to his sexuality, but he later told me they had turned up without telling him. He had sent them an invite, half out of defiance and half out of hope, but had never expected them to be there for him. In that moment I saw how powerful marriage can be.
A nation of dictating pigs
This man, who I loved so much, was marrying his best friend, his soul mate. Taking vows to stand by him until death. And why not? Why, if these two men wanted to be married in the country they were born in, would it only be regarded as a “civil partnership” – a title more insulting than anything else, a half measure. It’s not as if us saintly heteros take the institution of marriage so seriously, is it? A recent study shows same-sex civil partnerships lasting longer than straight marriages, and divorce at a record high.
I have had first-hand experience of how wonderful the introduction of gay marriage has been, and how negative and potentially damaging it is to not allow it, which just breeds more homophobia. For a country and culture that declares ourselves so progressive, our governments, citizens and, of course, our churches, can be small-minded bigots at the best of times. One day we’ll look back on the gay marriage ban as we look back on historical events like apartheid. Because in the end, that’s what it is, pointless, futile segregation. I long for the day when we break free of this Orwellian ridiculousness, a nation of dictating pigs, where “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
And even if Daniel and Ben’s marriage was a small squeak of opposition drowned out in the roar of prejudice, at least it happened. And it will continue to happen, til death do they part.
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