No one will be surprised that the Queen’s Speech did not contain a commitment to equal marriage. Minister Gerald Howarth MP and others last week suggested that the government’s plans for opening civil marriage to same sex couples caused the meltdown. He said that lifelong supporters had written to him asking why it is being proceeded with and Nadine Dorries MP said that she’d not met a gay couple who wanted gay marriage. (Invite: Nadine, come and see us! [No, don't]).
Clearly, the collapse in support has nothing to do with who does or doesn’t get married. Never has the phrase ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ been more apt. Along with it’s the NHS, stupid. And it’s the being in the pocket of big business, stupid, and It’s the not taxing the rich fairly stupid, and, just ‘Stupid!’ and so on (you get the picture).
What is more significant about this episode though is that it does give some indication of what grassroots Tories really think. When David Cameron was the first Tory leader to appear on the cover of Attitude in 2010, he told us that if he fell under a bus (steady Nadine, we’re talking metaphorically) the party would continue to be pro equality. It seems we may be about to find out. If the party reneged on its commitment to marriage equality it would be no surprise to many. Indeed many gay people expect it. They haven’t forgotten that Thatcher used us as a stick to beat the opposition with, painting the Labour party as wanting to turn children gay, and then bringing in the hated Section 28 which stated gay relationships were ‘pretend family relationships’. Some gay people even then supported the Tories, but they were in the minority. For me and hundreds of thousands like me, voting for them would have felt like being black and voting for the BNP.
Those like me have watched the party’s evolution with nervous optimism, surprised, sometimes cynical as Theresa May re-evaluated her position and even this last week as Ian Duncan Smith – the party’s most high level Catholic – made a very welcome commitment to marriage equality.
It’s true as, Dorries says, that not all gay people are supportive of gay marriage. With their oodles of cash they can’t find anything better to spend it on, the masturbating-by-candle-light brigade (or as we call them ‘The Church’), are running a multimedia campaign suggesting that allowing two people to get married will open the portals of hell. They’ve successfully confused the issue, making even many gay people think it’s about religious ceremonies when the proposals are in fact just about civil marriage.
But there are more gay people who want marriage than not (note to Nadine: stop just talking to your Tory mates) and much more significantly, a whole generation of straight people have grown up not hearing this kind of prejudice from the Tories so vocally. There is a shift in this country, which Howarth, Dorries and their ilk do not understand. Young people are genuinely baffled by what they are hearing recently from the Church and the Tory extremists. Those that are urging Cameron to lurch to the right have failed to understand that Tony Blair’s greatest achievement was to allow this country to be more at ease with itself. Instead of being dominated by the elderly Bible thumping Tories, the kind who screamed about buggery in the House of Lords until they were blue in the face, we have become younger in spirit, more relaxed, and crucially not tolerant – but open to ourselves. Reasonable people realised an unequal age of consent was unfair and that banning gay people from the armed forces was just plain stupid. When Elton and David marked the entrance of civil partnerships in 2005, the nation didn’t ‘tolerate’ it, it gaily cheered them on.
Young gay kids have grown up coming to naturally expect equality in law – outrageous, I know – whilst young straight people do not understand why you would discriminate against Alan Carr, Christian and Syeed and Jessie J just because of who they want to marry. It is not like the old days when there was no Twitter, or Facebook, and that gay kid at your school didn’t come out so you couldn’t see whom the Mail was battering on a daily basis. Now everyone works with, is friends with and/or is related to people who are open about their sexuality. You no longer get the cheer on Question Time as you did in 1988 when you suggest hanging and flogging the gays, you get the cheer when you attack inequality. That’s why it is so important that it’s not just gay people who express their views on the government marriage consultation linked here (it’s easy, takes five minutes). They are also invited to share their views via the newly formed website and YouTube channel Out4marriage.org. Straight people – the families, friends and work mates need to vocally show their support too, in fact anyone who thinks that people should be able to marry who they choose, unfettered from the archaic bullying views of a hypocritical bunch of paedophile shielding sex obsessive’s (or ‘The Catholic Church’ as we like to call them).
In these truly troubled times, those who are wasting so much energy on a non-issue, which should slip quietly into legislation without a fuss from anyone concerned with their own lives, are truly playing with fire. The Tory right don’t quite get that they are at the last chance saloon. It’s this sort of old fashioned, small-minded bigotry that meant Duncan-Smith and Howard’s shadow cabinet were unelectable. They need to make a choice once and for all about whether they want to remain so for another 20 years. If Howarth and Dorries get their way and the government ditches marriage equality, no matter how they may bleat the ‘we’re not homophobic, we have gay friends’ line, they will not only be confirming the worst fears of gay people, they’ll also reveal to a whole new generation just how dark and divisive the natural instincts of Conservatism really are.
Matthew Todd is the editor of Attitude Magazine and Stonewall’s Journalist of the Year 2011.
This article first appeared on the Huffington Post.