Comment: Will Cameron back MEP who thinks marriage is not ‘relevant or appropriate’ for gay people?
The New Tories made much of David Cameron’s apology for Section 28 earlier this summer.
It was painted as a new dawn for gay rights in Britain, a sign that the Conservatives had emerged as the party of equal rights and equal treatment.
“Just think if ten years ago a Conservative candidate had suggested holding a fundraiser as part of Gay Pride week,” Mr Cameron said.
“I’m not sure they’d have got many Conservatives to attend… and I’m not sure there would have been many gay people there either.
“But here we are this evening, standing side by side.
“It is a sign of how our society is changing. It’s a sign of how much the Conservative Party has changed.”
One Tory politician was not standing by his side.
MEP Roger Helmer does not share his leader’s approval of the legislative protections granted to gay people by the Labour government.
Mr Helmer wrote a blogpost on July 19th defending the leader of the new group in the European Parliament, a Polish MEP called Michal Kaminski.
Mr Kaminski is a member of the comically homophobic Law and Justice party, the Tories’ new partners in the European Conservatives and Reformists group.
We could spend some time amusing ourselves with the Poles’ gay bashing antics, but let us consider three short examples.
This year, Law and Justice party local councillor Michal Grzes criticised a zoo for acquiring an elephant that he thought might be gay. The zoo pointed out elephant in question had not reached sexual maturity and so it was too early to tell.
The country was widely mocked when it was revealed that Ewa Sowinska, a party member and government-appointed children rights watchdog, said she would ask psychologists to advise if the Teletubbies’ camp antics could affect children.
“I noticed [Tinky Winky] has a lady’s purse, but I didn’t realise he’s a boy,” she said.
“At first I thought the purse would be a burden for this Teletubby. Later I learned that this may have a homosexual undertone.”
On a state visit to Ireland in 2007 President Lech Kaczynski, a member of the Law and Justice party, said that the “promotion” of homosexuality would lead to the eventual destruction of the human race.
Let us be clear; these are the sort of people the Conservatives have chosen to ally themselves with in the European Parliament.
Claims that Law and Justice have changed and now support gay rights ring as hollow as protestations that David Cameron has transformed the Tories into a party whose members are all fully committed to equality.
Mr Helmer is proof that is not the case.
It took more than a fortnight for anyone to notice his deeply offensive blog post, in defence of his Polish colleagues.
In a delightful twist, he thinks himself a liberal.
“Now I regard myself as liberal and tolerant on the question of homosexuality,” he wrote.
Yes, the words “behind closed doors” are imminent.
“I have no interest in telling consenting adults what they may or may not do behind closed doors.
“I have a number of colleagues whom I believe to be homosexual, and that causes me no problems at all.
“Indeed there may be more people that I work with, who may be homosexual without my knowing it, since (as a friend once remarked) my ‘Gay-dar’ is poorly developed.
“I am content to treat people as people, regardless of race or gender or sexual orientation.
“But I am, nevertheless, opposed to the concept of homosexual ‘marriage’, on both semantic and social policy grounds.”
He goes on to assert that homophobia “is merely a propaganda device designed to denigrate and stigmatise those holding conventional opinions, which have been held by most people through most of recorded history.”
Mr Helmer, just for clarity, was recently re-elected as a Cameron Conservative.
He becomes more exercised in the comments section of his blog when asked to explain why he supports discrimination.
“You ask ‘Why homosexuals should be discriminated against compared to heterosexuals’, which suggests you have not read my piece, in which I answer exactly that question,” he wrote.
“Although I deny that it constitutes discrimination.
“It is just that same-sex couples have chosen to enter into a relationship in which marriage is not relevant, or appropriate, or indeed possible.
“You might as well ask why we discriminate against scuba divers by not giving them parachutes like we give to test pilots.
“It’s because parachutes are irrelevant to what scuba divers have chosen to do.”
Mr Helmer is under the impression gay and lesbian couples cannot have children and therefore they should be denied marriage.
“Marriage means the union of a man and a woman, usually with the implicit potential of procreation,” he wrote.
“I have no problem with a same-sex couple setting up home together, but it devalues language — and the real institution of marriage — to call such an arrangement “marriage”.
“Wherever the institution of marriage exists, it is a public contract between three parties — a man, a woman and society.
“Society recognises that marriage, and the nuclear family which may result, is fundamental to the stability and the future of the society itself.
“And society therefore recognises marriage, both in local and informal terms, and more formally and generally through the fiscal, legal and welfare systems.
“There is no comparable societal reason to recognise same-sex relationships.”
When the discussion moves on to anti-Semitism, Mr Helmer displays a touching sensibility for religion.
“I am just waiting for someone to accuse ME of anti-Semitism, and I shall be delighted to point out that in July I had a young student from UCL doing work experience in my office,” he wrote.
“She just happened to be a strict Orthodox Jewess.
“I had her scour the internet for a Kosher restaurant in Brussels (there seem only to be one or two), and I took her and my other staff to dinner there.”
Jewess is a word seldom seen these days.
For those of you too young to have ever heard it, FreeDictionary.com defines it as “a Jewish woman or girl” but cautions, “Like many other English nouns in which the suffix -ess is added to a gender-neutral word to indicate femaleness, the terms Jewess and Negress are now widely regarded as offensive.”
So will David Cameron back Mr Helmer?
Should the MEP be reprimanded for having a different view on gay marriage, or the place of gay people in society?
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As he points out, he is merely defending “conventional opinions, which have been held by most people through most of recorded history.”
Isn’t that what Conservatives do?
The problem for Mr Cameron is that he appears to lack the will or the power to remove homophobes from his own party. For this reason his appeals to the gay community fall short.
Imagine a party leader attending events in the black community, and apologising for his party’s racist past, while a small number of his parliamentary colleagues continued to make public attacks on ethnic minorities.
That is the situation David Cameron is in.
However sincere his views on equality, he has done nothing to remove the noxious influence of a small group of MPs, MEPs, peers and councillors who steadfastly oppose gay rights.
Mr Helmer may think himself a liberal with a poorly-developed sense of “Gay-dar” and a nice turn of phrase, but his blindness to the most basic tenets of equality mark him out as the sort of Tory that Cameron should dump.
Tony Grew is editor of ispystrangers.org, a new website that reports on proceedings in parliament.