The route to equality is blocked by a political establishment that shows more respect for reactionary religious beliefs about homosexuality than for LGBT people themselves. An attitude change is needed writes Adrian Tippetts for PinkNews.co.uk. 

For sure, the marriage equality bill is a milestone for LGBT rights in the UK. In 14 years, we have gone from having the greatest number of homophobic laws on the statute books to having some of the world’s best pro-LGBT laws. The current government deserves thanks for seeing this legislation through in the face of fierce opposition. Maria Miller’s willingness for dialogue is also welcome, because legal equality is only the starting point towards a society where LGBT people have equal dignity and are treated as equal players in society.

We could easily make a shopping list of improvements, but first of all, an attitude change is needed. The first step is to acknowledge that human rights come before beliefs, and that fundamental rights are non-negotiable. They do not depend on a majority vote. LGBT rights are human rights regardless of whether homosexuality is a fixed, natural trait or not – every investigation tells us it is – but because the right to pursue happiness without interference from others demands protection. As a form of love, homosexuality deserves respect. Yes, there is an inalienable right to be gay, and LGBT people should be encouraged and empowered in their identity and relationships.

But as the debate over marriage shows, our establishment puts beliefs about homosexuality above rights for gay people themselves. All three parties  treated it as a free ‘conscience’ vote. This may have been excusable in the case of the Conservative Party, where homophobic sentiment is ripping the party in two. But not so in the case of Labour and the Liberal Democrats. If the main parties truly treated LGBT equality as a ‘given’ there would have been a three-line whip on the marriage equality legislation, because voting on the rights of minorities is in itself a failure of democratic process.

Faith trumped equality again when Baroness Warsi, as Minister for Faith and Communities, refused to steer the marriage equality bill through the House of Lords. It seems the minister has no interest in the welfare of the LGBT community, and is only cares about representing a reactionary religious minority.

The reasons given by some MPs for not endorsing LGBT equality show a similar contempt for democracy. Sarah Newton, MP for Truro and Falmouth, abstained from the bill because “[t]he clear majority of representations to me from constituents expressed opposition to the bill.” It is a sad state of affairs when elected members of the ‘Mother of all Parliaments, think it is fine to vote on the rights of minorities, and that their job is to rubber-stamp the mind of the mob, rather than take moral leadership.

Prioritising the interests of faith groups in education is failing young people, especially LGBT youths. It is in schools where we stand the best chance of eliminating homophobic prejudice. It is also in schools where gay and trans people are most vulnerable, as surveys on bullying show. Studies show that LGB teens need emotional support during the average two years it takes for them to come out, usually between 14 and 16. Arguably, the years of repressing sexuality and inexperience in relationship building is a contributing factor in the heightened occurrence of STDs and drug abuse experienced by the gay community.

Compulsory, unbiased, inclusive sex and relationship education at schools – provided by health experts, not religious ideologues – is a proven way to address homophobic bullying, and poorer rates of mental and sexual health that LGBT people suffer from. Moreover, school is the one place where prejudices can be most effectively extinguished, by making young people aware of different families and sexual orientations.

In June, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs had an opportunity to rectify this, but capitulated again to faith groups, voting down proposals to make sex and relationship education compulsory in England and Wales. In her Independent article last month, Becky Smith summed up how the school system is failing pupils, gay, bi, trans and straight:

“It is only in the four years since leaving school that I have come to realise how sparse the sex education I received was. Wait until youre ready became a recurring theme. ‘Ready’ implied being in a stable, long-term, heterosexual relationship at some point in the vague future. The notion that it is possible to have healthy sexual relationships outside of this context was not even entertained.”

In some schools, the very existence of LGBT people, their needs and their relationships are barely recognised. Religious groups are now fighting to protect what they see as a teacher’s ‘liberty’ to exclude reference to same-sex relationships. The Department for Education should give such lobbyists short shrift. Teachers, with power of authority over vulnerable children who are not empowered to challenge, are not free to say what they think. Children should be given the facts and best expert advice available to help them make informed choices.

The parliamentary system, with its unelected Upper House and the automatic right of Church of England Bishops to vote on legislation, is set against us. Why is someone who, 20 years ago, had a cushy job as a director of British Airways for example, automatically an expert in all areas of governance? What motivation is there to challenge long-held assumptions on the nature of gender, homosexuality and same-sex relationships, if you are hand-picked, unaccountable to the people and in the job for life? Rather than being a beacon of democracy, the House of Lords is more like a hardened shell, sheltering prejudices from exposure to the light of reason. The bizarre, ill-informed generalisations about LGBT people during the marriage debate in the House of Lords illustrate this and show that the need for parliamentary reform is long overdue.

It’s also time to have a serious debate about the privileged status of the Church of England. LGBT people, like all other taxpayers, are forced to fund this organisation. But why should we be forced to fund an organisation that shuns, excludes and demeans us, and supports segregating us? Church of England bishops have been abusing their privilege by voting against every single LGBT rights legislation over the last 20 years. Why are 26 bishops given a free vote in our Parliament? This feudal anachronism must end.

This link posted on 23 June supporting the Ugandan kill the gays bill, on the website of Anglican Mainstream, tells you all you need to know about the sinister vision and ambitions of the main signatories behind the ‘Coalition For Marriage’. Neither Anglican Mainstream, nor the Christian Institute, nor Christian Concern, nor the Catholic Church of Scotland, among other Coalition for Marriage co-signatories, hide their toxic views about seeking to deny LGBT people any rights at all. Proponents of the kind of utterances you would have expected from the placard-waving fanatic should be sidelined and ridiculed. Instead, they are appeased by government or invited into the TV and radio studios for polite discussions about the definition of marriage, and no attempt is made to investigate, expose or challenge their extremist aims. What they seek is for the belief about homosexuality being a vile, disordered perversion to be treated with respect and enshrined in law. Let’s stop being so damn respectful to such lunatics.

So, Mrs Miller, put the rights of people before those of beliefs. Base your policies on reason, evidence and fairness. And for goodness’ sake, understand where the real intimidation is coming from. If you did that, no consultation would be needed to guide you on policies relating to transphobia, homophobia in sport, sex and relationship education, fair representation for asylum seekers or equal pension provisions.

Adrian Tippetts is a freelance journalist, human rights campaigner and PR consultant specialising in the graphics industry.

The views expressed in this article are his own and not those of PinkNews.co.uk