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Comment: Why can we forgive Hillary Clinton for opposing equal marriage, but not Nicky Morgan?

Skylar Baker-Jordan July 15, 2015
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Skylar Baker-Jordan questions why Hillary Clinton can be celebrated as an advocate of LGBT rights – but not Nicky Morgan.

When Hillary Clinton announced she had finally “evolved” enough to support same-sex marriage in 2013, she was widely celebrated.

And while it hasn’t gone without mention that the former US Secretary of State and erstwhile presidential hopeful’s opinion changed just as the tide of American public opinion seemed to, Grindr still named her “Straight Ally of the Year” in 2014. Most people seem to take Clinton’s change-of-heart in stride and good faith.

Not so for Nicky Morgan. Speaking to the Stonewall education conference over the weekend, the education secretary and equalities minister – who voted against equal marriage in 2013 but later told PinkNews she “probably would” vote for it today —  directly answered her critics who continuously point out her past opposition. Despite equality being “blindingly obvious to some,” she said “sometimes people take that little bit longer,” to come around. She went on to bemoan the “level of vitriol” she receives “from people with whom I’m very much on the same side in fighting for equality.”

I can only assume she’s referring to people like Ian Dunt, the editor of politics.co.uk who last week asked “Is Nicky Morgan going to investigate herself for extremism?” after she said that homophobia could be a sign of radicalisation in youth.

Or Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who at last year’s PinkNews Awards heckled her by shouting “you voted against it!” when she praised the Equal Marriage Act. Or any of the many people who have called her a hypocrite on Twitter. (Seriously, on a sunny day just search “Nicky Morgan equal marriage” or “Nicky Morgan gay marriage” and you’ll find all the shade you need.)

“I did vote against it yes, absolutely,” she answered Mr Bradshaw last year, “but if you are not going to recognise that people actually change their minds then what is the point of… democracy and debate?” She asked that people judge her on her record as a minister and give her “the opportunity to demonstrate that the LGBT community will not find a more passionate ally in the fight against discrimination.”

Fair dos.

After all, the LGBT community has forgiven Secretary Clinton for her long-standing opposition to marriage equality, which Chris Geidner chronicled in great detail over at Buzzfeed.

In 2000, while running for the US Senate in New York, Clinton said she would have voted for the Defence of Marriage Act (a law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage) had she been a senator when it passed. When she ran for president in 2008, she still opposed equal marriage, though supported repealing DOMA. And as secretary of state, Clinton gave a well-received speech regarding global LGBT rights to the United Nations in 2011, before finally publicly supporting equal marriage two years later.

This was 2013, the same year that Nicky Morgan voted against marriage equality. In an interview with the Leicester Mercury that February, Ms Morgan said she had received more letters on the issue of same-sex marriage than on any other issue in her parliamentary career, and saying that “to me, marriage is between a man and a woman,” citing her Christian faith among several reasons for her opposition.

Yet as education secretary and equalities minister, Ms Morgan has been an outspoken supporter of LGBT students. She launched a £2 million trust to tackle homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying in schools. She wrote an op-ed celebrating Pride month. She appointed Stonewall’s former head of education as a special advisor. And she has, of course, changed her tune on equal marriage.

So why are we so prepared to forgive, or even believe, Hillary Clinton but not Nicky Morgan? After all, it took Mrs Clinton 15 years to go from opposing equal marriage to supporting it; it took Mrs Morgan 18 months. As Mrs Clinton told NPR’s Fresh Air in a tense interview with presenter Terry Gross last year, she definitely opposed marriage equality. So too did Mrs Morgan. And while Mrs Morgan’s party brought in the “pernicious” Section 28 (“pernicious” being her word – and Jeremy Hunt’s, who used the same word to describe the homophobic legislation in April as Mrs Morgan used last weekend), it was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who signed DOMA and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell into law.

For Mrs Morgan, it may come down to an issue of trust. Despite signing into law two of the most infamous homophobic acts in American history, Mr Clinton has largely spoken compassionately about LGBT people, as has Mrs Clinton. They championed equality in other areas—jobs and housing, namely—when it was unfashionable.

The same can’t be said for the Conservative Party, which opposed the repeal of Section 28 in 2003 and voted heavily against equal marriage two years ago. Mrs Clinton had the benefit of “evolving” with the public, in a way that was plausible if not wholly believable, whereas Mrs Morgan “evolved” after equality had been achieved and only, many have argued, once she was promoted to the front bench.

Still, she continues fighting for LGBT equality, pledging this weekend that PSHE education will play “a real role in tackling homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying in schools.” It remains to be seen whether it will be enough to satisfy her critics, however. Speaking to The Independent,

Fran Cowling, the National Union of Students’ LGBT officer, said that “an apology is not going to cut it” when it comes to Ms Morgan’s homophobic past.

“Actions often speak louder than words,” Ms Cowling said, “and if Nicky Morgan wants to atonement [sic] for her past behaviour then she’s going to have to fight tooth and nail for LGBT equality…”

For many LGBT people, Hillary Clinton has clearly demonstrated enough devotion to the cause. It remains to be seen whether Nicky Morgan can do the same.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is an independent journalist and commentator based out of Chicago, focusing on LGBT rights, masculinity, and British politics. He has written for The Advocate and Salon. Follow him on Twitter.

As with all comment, this does not necessarily reflect the views of PinkNews.

Related topics: civil partnership, civil union, Conservative, equal marriage, Gay, gay weddings, Hillary Clinton, lesbian, lesbian wedding, marriage, marriage equality, Nicky Morgan, Politics, same sex weddings, Tory, Union, US, wedding

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