Peter Tatchell: What George Osborne promised me on gay rights and what he left out
Peter Tatchell reports for PinkNews.co.uk on his meeting with George Osborne today and explains why he thinks the Conservatives need more commitments and policies to further gay equality.
“David Cameron and I are very happy to consider the case for gay marriage,” shadow chancellor George Osborne today me and Tamsin Omond, at a meeting this morning at the City Inn hotel in London.
When pressed what this meant, he declined to give any assurances that a Conservative government would conduct a review of the law. A commitment to merely consider the case for legalising gay marriage is meaningless.
We asked for a concrete promise that the Tories would end the prohibition on same-sex civil marriage but we didn’t get it.
The 50-minute meeting with Tory frontbenchers George Osborne, Theresa May and Nick Herbert took place just three hours before today’s ‘Big Gay Flashmob’ demo for LGBT rights outside Conservative election campaign headquarters, which attracted hundreds of people.
Today’s meeting was a big disappointment. George Osborne offered us fine words but few concrete policies for gay equality.
Civil partnerships are not good enough. The Conservatives are out of step with popular opinion. A clear majority of British people believe the law on civil marriage should not discriminate.
A Populus poll for the Times newspaper last June found that 61% of the public believe that lesbian and gay couples should be able to get married in a registry office on exactly the same basis as heterosexual couples.
Most of the public support marriage equality but the Tories don’t.
Mr Osborne refused to support an end to the lifetime ban on gay blood donors, stating that any lifting of the ban was up to the blood service and its advisory body. He declined to state where the Conservatives stand on this issue.
On other LGBT issues, Mr Osborne defended the Conservative’s opposition to gay rights:
He insisted that parliamentary votes on gay equality should remain a free vote:
“Gay rights is a free vote issue. It is a matter of conscience. We don’t think MPs should be forced to follow a party-line whip,” Mr Osborne told me.
“We took the same view as the government on not including protection against homophobic harassment in the Equality Bill….While we don’t go as far saying that convictions for past consenting gay offences should be quashed, they should be regarded as spent for the purposes of criminal record checks.
“In our view, parents should have a right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons. Tackling homophobic prejudice can be dealt with in other parts of the curriculum.
“There are no plans to reverse the right of lesbian couples to receive fertility treatment. I would fight any such attempt
“I was not aware that it (transgender identity) is classified as a psychiatric disorder. We’ll look into it….
“Bullying in schools based on prejudice should be treated as aggravated bullying and attract more severe penalties,” he told me during our long conversation.
The Tories are obviously worried that Chris Grayling’s comments in support of homophobic discrimination by B&B owners have undermined their party’s image as being gay-friendly. We only got this meeting with George Osborne because of the planned protest and because of the anti-Tory backlash generated by Mr Grayling’s support for homophobic discrimination by B&B owners.
The Conservative Party’s annual conference has never voted for gay equality and there are no concrete gay rights policies in any Tory policy document.
This suggests that David Cameron’s commitment to gay rights is not embraced by the whole Tory party and is not deemed worthy of a mention in official party publicity.
The big test will be whether there are specific new gay rights policies in the Conservative Party election manifesto.
Just 24 hours before our event outside the Conservative Party headquaters, in an article for PinkNews.co.uk, David Cameron finally announced his first ever-proposals for gay equality.
It is good news that David Cameron has, at last, offered two specific gay rights policies, but disappointing that he has not promised to end the bans on same-sex marriage and on gay blood donors.
Mr Cameron says a Conservative government will adopt a zero tolerance approach to homophobic bullying in schools and will treat as spent any convictions for consenting gay behaviour that has since become lawful.
Under Mr Cameron’s proposals, the unjust convictions will not be quashed. But as a concession to protests from the gay community, he said that a Conservative government would ensure that the convictions would no longer need to be disclosed on criminal record checks when gay men apply for certain jobs and volunteer work.
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Although not quashing the convictions, this is a move in the right direction. The failure of the Home Secretary Alan Johnson to match this commitment makes the Tories more progressive on this issue than Labour.
It is a big let-down that David Cameron is proposing only two gay rights policies. His zero tolerance of homophobic bullying is too vague. It is contradicted by the Tory leadership’s decision last week to block government plans to ensure that pupils aged 15 and over receive sex and relationship education to counter homophobia.
David Cameron’s gay rights credentials are still weak. He doesn’t support ending the bans on same-sex civil marriage and heterosexual civil partnerships. His failure to mention scrapping the lifetime ban on gay blood donors is a lamentable omission.
Mr Cameron evaded questions on the Conservative’s alliance with homophobic parties in the European Parliament and on securing EU-wide recognition for British civil partnerships.
He gave no explicit assurances on ending the postcode lottery in NHS gender reassignment surgery for transgender people. Despite his commitment to allow same-sex couples to adopt children, he did not reply directly to the question on whether he would amend the law to allow some adoption agencies to refuse to place children with lesbian and gay couples
Peter Tatchell campaigns with OutRage! and the Green Party