Lynne Featherstone: Former Stonewall boss Ben Summerskill ‘couldn’t be more wrong’
Liberal Democrat International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone, previously an equalities minister, writes of her disappointment at Ben Summerskill’s decision to question her party’s motives in supporting equal marriage.
Ex-CEO of Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, is in the news for calling Liberal Democrats “cynical” in our initiation and championing of same-sex marriage. He says it was all because this was to put clear water between ourselves and the Conservatives.
As the instigator and architect of same-sex marriage – I can say that Summerskill could not be more wrong.
In fact – the opposite is true. One of the key factors in making me think I could get same-sex marriage on the statute books was the very fact that the Conservatives were desperate to leave their poor track record on matters homosexual behind. I thought they would be keen to prove this. I was right – both Theresa May and David Cameron were staunch in their support. What I had not predicted (and I suspect David Cameron had not predicted) was the huge rift within the Conservative ranks which ensued.
Mr Summerskill’s comments almost certainly have more to do with his misery at this most recent step coming from the Liberal Democrats than anything else. It has now been well-documented by Peter Tatchell and many others – that Stonewall under Ben’s stewardship was against same-sex marriage.
However, when I had Ben in to see me when I started on my mission, to ask for his support. He did in the end change Stonewall’s position. I am extremely glad he did change his position – but reading all the recent comments it would seem that was because he had no alternative.
I met with all the key stakeholders, campaigners and activists in the early days to ask for support. Everyone put their egos aside and we all worked together to deliver what now is the law.
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Stonewall does a huge amount of excellent work – and it is a great pity that Summerskill has damaged the brand by his comments. The acting CEO Ruth Hunt is great – and I have no doubt will take Stonewall forward in a much better way than before.
In terms of same-sex marriage I lay the credit at the doors of those who suffered and those who fought this battle over the years. Moreover, without civil partnerships and all the campaigners who have fought over the years for equality and came together in the same-sex marriage campaign – this most recent and significant step forward could not have taken place.
But equality is part of the Liberal Democrat DNA – and we have our rightful place among these campaigners. And for me it is probably one of the best things I will ever do as a politician.
Currently I am a Minister in DFID with Africa in my patch. As you can imagine – in terms of LGBT issues – there is so much work to be done. See my recent blog on this here. And there is still much to do on our own streets and in our own schools. Same-sex marriage is certainly a great step forward – but quite frankly – this is no time to let up.
Lynne Featherstone is a Minister at the Department for International Development and the Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.
This article was first published on lynnefeatherstone.org
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