Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Talking equal marriage, talking equality

Most of you will know there is a Home Office public consultation on whether the law should be changed to ensure equal marriage rights for all.  The consultation closes this Thursday and it only takes five minutes to complete the consultation.  If you haven't already I urge you to respond to show your support for the rights, freedoms and dignity of everyone regardless of their sexuality.  The link to the consultation is here https://www.homeofficesurveys.homeoffice.gov.uk/v.asp?i=48356xhlqw

Some of the public discussion on this is both embarrassing and shameful. I know time will come to show it as such.  On the one hand we rightly condem bullying and violence in schools and communities, and on the other young people see overt institutional and powerful homophobia.  A very mixed message.

Recently I met some young gay people involved with Brook.  They told me about their experience of growing up gay and bisexual through the noughties. So much of it was familiar.  They talked about the silence and invisibility of gay people in school life except in the playground where they experienced regular gay taunts and bullying.  Wonderful, creative young people trying to build their identity and confidence and put in place the building blocks to fulfil their goals and ambitions. An exciting but nevertheless challenging task for all young people, with the challenge exacerbated because they are doing it against a back drop of horrible day to day school life simply because of their sexuality.

We also discussed the view some people have that if you talk about sex with young people they will immediately go out and do it; discuss homosexuality with young people and you create a generation of gay young people determined to undermine the moral fabric of our society.  What a peculiar and distasteful view of young people, and a strange understanding of what it means to feel and be gay.

Over the last 15 years there have been key milestones: equalising the age of consent, the introduction of civil partnerships and the repeal of Section 28. But the evidence still shows an alarming prevalence of homophobia in schools and communities, as well as the astounding prejudice of some powerful individuals and institutions shows we have quite simply not gone far enough. 

Some people argue that we have civil parternships so we don't need equal marriage.  I agree with Paul Burston who wrote in Time Out London that this debate is about equality, and that whatever your personal views on marriage as an institution once you have the legal right to marry then you have the freedom to make your personal choice. 

Ben Summerskilll CEO of Stonewall today called the Church of England's concerns over gay marriage a 'masterclass in melodramatic scaremongering'.  I agree. Never is there more scaremongering than from those commentators who point to the damaging impact of changing marriage laws on what schools will be required to teach young people.

Yet Aim 2 of the National Curriculum already provides the legal context in which respect for diversity and different beliefs and culture should already be taking place, and this is already happening in many schools across the country.  Aim 2 states that the school curriculum should

  • develop their (pupils) knowledge, understanding and appreciation of their own and different beliefs and cultures, and how these influence individuals and societies.
  • pass on enduring values, develop pupils' integrity and autonomy and help them to be responsible and caring citizens capable of contributing to the development of a just society.
  • promote equal opportunities and enable pupils to challenge discrimination and stereotyping.
These principles are also supported by the sex and relationship education guidance (DfEE 0116/2000).

It would be deeply damaging in our efforts for equality if the outcome of this public consultation does not reflect the views of the moral majority because we forgot to make them known.  If you support the freedom of all people whatever their sexuality to love the partner of their choice, with equal treatment under the law, please make your voices heard by taking five minutes and responding to the Home Office consultation by clicking here https://www.homeofficesurveys.homeoffice.gov.uk/v.asp?i=48356xhlqw

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