Lord Norman Tebbit, the former Conservative Party chairman, gave a candid interview defending himself against accusations of homophobia while suggesting Jimmy Savile seemed gay and that same-sex couples who wish to get married should “go and do something else”.
In a Guardian interview also attended by his wife, Lady Margaret Tebbit, Lord Tebbit spoke of Jimmy Savile and the massive child abuse scandal that emerged after the entertainer’s death.
He said: “I always had my worries about Jimmy, because he was a very odd fellow…. I would not have been surprised to find he was having homosexual relationships with young people.”
When his interviewer clarified that Savile was not homosexual, Lord Tebbit conceded: “Not in general, no, as I understand it.”
“But he had a homosexual air about him,” added Lady Tebbit.
Lord Tebbit argued that today’s permissive society had become “less civilised”. However, he acknowledged the interviewer’s point that it was, at least, safer for mixed race couples and gay people – adding “Particularly if they flaunted themselves as such”.
The interview delved into Lord Tebbit’s involvement in the debate over the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which passed to a committee in the House of Lords to be considered next week.
“We are discriminating against homosexuals by excluding them from marriage. We are discriminating, therefore against a polygamist,” he said.
“I’m a polygamist, you see, and I’m discriminated against because I’m not allowed to marry several women. Don’t I have a case to say that’s discriminatory?”
“I think that you have to say, ‘Look, we’re going to deal with this on the basis of looking at where the law is discriminatory, and we’re going to eliminate discrimination,’” he said. “Be very careful of that argument, is all I’m saying. If you start basing your argument on non-discrimination, you land in some funny places.”
Lord Tebbit went on to repeat claims he made in the House of Lords last week, when he argued that gay people are not currently discriminated against as a gay man has the same right to marry a woman as he does, just as he doesn’t have the right to marry a man – although he doesn’t want to.
“I simply take the view that there is at the moment no difference between my rights and a homosexual man’s. It’s just that he wants to do something which I don’t want to do,” he said.
“OK, he doesn’t want to marry a woman, that’s fine. I don’t want to marry a man, and I can’t. It is precisely the same position. I mean, some people want to drive at 120mph on the motorway, but we don’t let them.”
When it was pointed out by the interviewer that speeding is rather more dangerous than same-sex marriage, Lord Tebbit retorted: “Perhaps deconstructing marriage would be a dangerous and harmful thing to society… I just think, why don’t they go and do something else?”
The language of the bill, which offers the guidance that a man in a same-sex marriage could be called a ‘wife’, was also a point of contention for Lord Tebbit: “When I pick up the word ‘wife’ and find it can include a man married to a man, I say, ‘Hey! Who’s doing this to our language?’”
At this point the bill was defended by Lady Tebbit, who noted that one man in a gay couple she had once bought a house from “was definitely, you just knew, the wife”.
Ultimately, Lord Tebbit felt that his positions were not homophobic.
“It’s interesting that it’s allowed for one group of people to insult and shout names at another group without any restriction, but if I were to shout names at that group they would immediately say I was committing a hate crime,” he said. “No, I’m not a homophobe.”
Returning to his earlier remark about gay people “flaunting” their sexuality, and how that would generally be considered homophobic, Lord Tebbit said: “Well, it doesn’t mean you hate them. It doesn’t mean you’re in fear of them. It means you’d rather they didn’t do that… Because that’s not the way human beings are constructed.”
In response, the interviewer described a study in which neutral and homophobic men watched gay pornography with sensors attached to their penises, which found that men who were hostile towards gay people tended to become aroused.
Lord Tebbit replied: “I think there’s something weird about people who want to go and have electrodes attached to their penises and watch pornography. I don’t think they’re a representative group.”