Monday 4 February 2013

Dear John Pugh you asked about errors in your reasoning

As a Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh has written an open letter to his constituents. I am therefore going to openly reply to his points here my comments in red. The emphasis in bold are actually what appears on his website not my doing.

A large number of you have written to me in recent weeks about the Government's proposals on gay marriage and asked me what my view is. I'm sure that a large number have also told you what their view is. Some will have gone to lengths to explain their personal feelings while others will have filled out their name on a petition or a postcard.

I have had to think long and hard and honestly about this to the best of my ability. Apologies for any delay and thank you all for your input whatever your view.So many of you have written that it is impossible for me to respond to every point everyone has made.

I cannot be certain that I have reached the right conclusions this does not bode well but you will see from what follows that I have tried to be as fair to the various arguments as I can. Do let me know if you can identify any errors in my reasoning this I will certainly do as I want to get things as right as I can and avoid prejudice and misunderstanding.

I cannot claim to be an expert on all the issues of sexual morality and legislation we are not talking about sexual morality, we are talking about recognising two people in a loving commitment and recognising that equally for all though I strongly suspect that the values and principles we apply to our general behaviour and relationships apply in much the same way when we come to sexual behaviour. Hang on general behaviour and relationships seen as separate and equal to

As a married, heterosexual father of four, I cannot be said to be free from bias or limitations of perspective and as both a Roman Catholic and Liberal Democrat I obviously bring some baggage with me. Yet as a legislator you have to put aside that baggage and history to make decisions for others. You are not a criminal, nor a policeman but have to make decisions on law and order. You are not a unmarried mother but have to make decisions on welfare and benefits that affect her. You are not a student anymore with the different circumstances they face than you did, yet you make decisions based not on the baggage of your experience at University but on what is happening now. Hiding behind baggage is not a position any MP should try to use to defend their stance.
Meanwhile you are a member of a liberal and democratic party, one that you were selected to represent at Westminster, whose conference representatives have publicly debated this issue, aired some people's baggage and come to a collective decision on this issue.

I want to say right at the start that I do not believe I am homophobic and am comfortable with Civil Partnerships legislation and the protection that offers to those in long-standing gay relationships. I have polled many of you by e-mail and the most widespread view in my constituency is support for civil partnerships but not for gay marriage. There may well be the most widespread support in your constituency to a poll asking to get the blacks out, does that make it the right thing to do? I'm not sure of the wording of the poll but many people will say that they support civil partnerships but that marriage is too far, while others will say that they welcome civil partnerships but that they want something further. The first group do it to show that they aren't homophobes, the second group say it because they know that the separation of the terms is not equal and want that final step on the way to equality. Therefore there will be a sizeable number on both sides of the argument supporting civil partnerships, but the statistician in me sees your reasoning as flawed, maybe it is because you aren't an expert on the machinations that people use to discuss sexual morality, LGBT equality and legislation.

I thought at the start that as I struggled over this issue, I would arrive at a position that would antagonise either my church which is solidly (though not exclusively) AGAINST or my party which is solidly (though not exclusively) FOR. Last time I checked the MP was there to represent his constituents, within the remit of his party's philosophy and ethos.

As I put my own ideas in order I realise that I stand a fair chance of antagonising BOTH my church and my party. Been there, done that, and the church didn't react to well to me putting forward reasoned arguments. But then unlike you I'm not a heterosexual man of faith so that may have made my starting point one that the church seems to justify as wrong. They may think I am a sinner but there was a lack of love or understanding (though not exclusively) of my dilemmas from them if that was what they were trying to do.

It remains to be seen which is the most forgiving/understanding

I will vote against the Bill - against Gay Marriage but not necessarily for all the reasons the churches give but because I think there is a good liberal case against the current legislation. Do you mean the current legislation or the Bill to form future legislation? Language is important here and the Bill does not become legislation until it attains Royal Assent.

I was surprised in agonising over this how little I relied on any distinctively religious beliefs to arrive at my conclusion. I think there is a liberal case against the Bill and though it may start from a different point than church or religious teaching, it seems to arrive on the same page and embody similar insights.

My fundamental objection (see below) against the government's proposal is that it achieves none of its objectives and weakens the link between marriage and the family. Sorry is this a liberal reason against marriage equality? What about the same-sex couples that have family whether through adoption, surrogacy or previous relationships. We allow the families of divorced people to be absorbed into future mixed-sex marriages, are we saying that link ends if your mother or father falls in love with someone of the same gender. What if you mother or father wishes to change gender and stay with your other parent. They are the same two people but will be denied marriage til death parts them! Hardly a liberal approach.

As a result it draws government (the state) into a whole, new series of debatable judgements and rulings on sexual, personal and religious behaviour. Firstly the Government realised decades ago the right of individuals to have sexual relations with people of the same sex in the privacy of their bedrooms, nothing new is required there.

 The State has also recognised the right of individuals in same sex relationships to have those relationships formally recognised. Is that decision debatable?

The State is not imposing any religious behaviour on anyone, in fact it is leaving religious behaviour up to the people who regulate the various faith groups to decide. This is something that they do not universally agree on therefore it is right and proper that the state should not prohibit them from doing something that they want to, nor impose on them something that they don't want to. That is a good example of religious freedom.

So it does come down to the personal. John you are married, it probably happened in a church so you had hymns and prayers and other religious content, good for you. I'm a fellow Christian, I'd love to have the option one day of getting married some day and inviting everyone important to that event. Sadly in a Civil Partnership or a Civil Marriage one person has to be left out, our Lord and Saviour. I cannot invite him in to any Civil Ceremony so I have to have something secondary from your reasoning.

Far from being permissive in effect, it could herald the advent of ever more arbitrary prescription as we forget why the state legislates at all in this deeply personal aspect of life.

The full case for my position is rather long and I suspect few will want such a long justification but it does at least demonstrate how seriously I take this issue and how long I have thought about it and the words I choose.

Recognising this I have provided a summary of my argument and those who disagree with what I say there can find a fuller explanation in the bigger document.

 From John's summary of his argument let me take one key phrase:
The case for legislation depends on whether any benefits gained offset any risks or costs.
 When you are a young LGBT person struggling with the realisation that you are different from the majority of people, the one thing you want, you yearn to have is acceptance. Being told you are still you, still loved and still fundamentally the same as everyone else is key. When I was growing up that wasn't so much an option, people would talk about who they would marry and spend their lives with, yet deep down I knew that wouldn't be for me. I felt awkward in those situations and sometimes I still do today when someone of the older generation says something to me, the 43 year old 'virgin' in their eyes. These are times that I shrink somewhat into the closet more to protect them than me. Talking about finding the civil partner that I might spend the rest of my live with isn't really a get out of such a situation.

One of the first reactions from my mother when I came out was that I wouldn't get married like my brother already had. Yeah to families getting married is important. Of course back then there wasn't a civil partnership option to fall back on either.

Families are bigger than just the progeny that you produce, they are your parents, siblings, nephews and nieces etc. They are a link, one that wants to see you with someone, married to someone, in the same way that they are or hope to be. I've lost track of the number of times that someone in my family (including the extended family) has asked me when I am going to get married. With some the answer has always been to come straight out and say "When the law allows me to marry the right man", for others the answer is "I just haven't found the right person yet" which is occasionally hard when I have been in a serious relationship and have to return to that person afterwards.

The benefit of being free to talk about marriage and not worry about who will react how is one that is worth it. It goes deeper and builds on the LGBT individuals feeling of self worth. More of us have felt suicidal at various parts of our lives, before we come out, when we aren't accepted, when we realise we have a smaller pool of potential life partners to find and settle for that straight people (especially if we have just lost one of them). Every little bit of making vulnerable people less prone to outsideness, differenceness, feeling isolated is a benefit that will offset the cost. It is something that the churches often fail to realise when they accept the differences of LGBT people but want them to maintain abstinence, that over abiding sanction on sexual morality is another step that leads to many feeling suicidal because they feel they are failures in abstinence too.

So in conclusion John, look at what your decision is imposing on LGBT people, think is that liberal, is that right. You talk about cost and benefits. You stop short of using the polygamy and beastiality argument when you conclude your summary saying:
"Fatally too, once marriage law is unhooked from its primary objective as the basis of family life, the state’s preference to support only one-to-one homosexual unions (and not other sexual configurations) will look increasingly arbitrary and indefensible – particularly as our society becomes both more sexually tolerant and culturally diverse - and the government and courts will be further drawn into adjudicating on the personal and sexual life of its citizens."
Marriage has already been unhooked from one its primary objectives providing wealth to the groom in the form of a dowry. 

Sunday 3 February 2013

Let's delay...until we might have a majority

Yeah that seems to be the approach of certain members of the Conservative party who delivered a letter to the Prime Minister today calling for a delay on the vote on marriage equality. Maybe they are finding themselves like Indiana Jones at the start of The Temple of Doom faced with a giant boulder that has gained too much momentum that they cannot stop it.

The momentum behind the boulder is public opinion, including that which was expressed in the consultation. Many of those who expressed an opinion, as opposed to merely signing a petition that they were against period, said that the constraints on religious freedom by not allowing faith groups that wanted to to carry out same sex-marriage was an error in the proposals. That is why the Government came up with a proposal more in line with Lib Dem policy (with the exception of the truly equal transgender elements).

You see unlike the larger party in Government this has been debated my the Lib Dems, our MPs really have heard the grass roots opinion of the leadership. They have heard some people of faith opposing the policy, but they also heard many who were in favour.

They used to say that the Church of England was the Conservative Party at prayer, but with the Church of England being one of the strongest voices opposed to marriage equality it is true that we see that link still present. The Church have tried every trick in the book to oppose marriage equality, from saying that allowing it would prevent them maintaining their status as the state church, to which many said that isn't such a sacrifice for the rest of us. Some of the language, and indeed lies, that has come from Church leaders makes one wonder just which parts of the bible they adhere to as it certainly isn't love or telling the truth that seems utmost in their minds.

So is the last roll of the dice to try and delay legislation until after the general election? Is this in the hope that conservative Conservatives may end up in a majority of the house? Is it a delay to try and show that there is no mandate for this? If so is that not a matter of the giant boulder heading towards them which cannot be stopped? The fact is that latest predictions show at least 55% of the House of Commons in favour of The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill so in a representative democracy likes ours it appears that our representatives have already made up their mind on this one.

If they were successful in getting it delayed one thing is certain. No young person who weren't aware of the Conservative's support of Section 28, will trust them for a while on delivering LGBT equality, personally I think that is something that David Cameron is determined that his party will not set themselves back to.

Saturday 2 February 2013

I don't need encouraged to marry

On the news today I heard a Conservative MP said "We should be encouraging people to marry, through the tax system".

Now I don't know about anybody else but I certainly don't look across the room and see someone and think, "Wow! That person is my ticket to a tax break." But then maybe this is only an attitude for millionaires who can afford a private accountant and one day harbour hopes of safe seat in the Lords for live after a few terms as a Conservative MP.

I know it is not something that any of those seeking marriage equality have placed high on their agenda. The married man's tax allowance, (yes note it was only available to the man) was discontinued in 2000, therefore over 5 years before same-sex couples were even allowed to have a legal recognised relationship status. Those of us who want marriage equality want it on the grounds of equality, but seeing as we have been denied equality for so long we don't what that equality to disadvantage others.

You see there would have been men in the past who would have lost their married man's allowance if their wife had run off with someone else, they may even have had to pay maintenance for their children. By talking about men and unfaithful women I am not being sexist, merely because there was no married women's allowance the women were already losing out, if they were the larger earner, this is merely a statement of fact. Also widows and widowers would have lost out on the marriage allowance at that vulnerable time at which they lost a loved one. So if you'd looked across the room and seen the tax break of your life, you would have lost it when death parted you.

You see above how mecahnical and clinical a married persons allowance is. There are those that claim that the marriage tax allowance is to support those who are the worse off in our society. But bear in mind that a married couple will have two incomes to pay all the bills, it it those who are single, who don't have the extra buying power to lay down a mortgage and are living in rental accommodation who are actually those most in need of a tax break when times are tough economically. So what are the Government doing about that?

Well actually they will be increasing the personal individual's tax allowance to £9205, this is up from the £6,475 that it was at the time of the General Election. That gives a married couple (or in fact any couple) a tax break of  almost £5,500 in the last three years. Almost giving them a whole other person's personal allowance over what was available to them on 6 May 2010.

So the arguments about encouraging people to stay get together in marriage to help the worse off is a fallacy, everyone is better off, £2,730 of their income has been lifted out of income tax. The result is that they are paying £600 a year less in tax (£1,200 for any couple where both earn over the threshold and less that the higher band).

People are not to be encouraged to stay married because they have a tax break, there was divorce in this country before 2000. People are not going to be encouraged to get married simply to have a little extra money in their pocket. People get married for one reason only, love. That is also the reason that we need marriage equality to recognise that love that a couple have for each other, a love that is the same whatever the make up of that couple.

Tax breaks neither make nor break marriages. Love is love and equality is needed for that love. When you call something by a different name it is not recognising it as the same thing.