Gay Marriage: Beware The Backlash

Gay marriageYesterday, by 400 votes to 175, the House of Commons approved a marriage equality law that finally allows gay men and women to marry on (almost) the same basis as heterosexuals. It was a historic step for the UK, especially as the bill had been pushed hard by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who is desperate to modernise his party (or at least, to convince the public that the Tories have modernised).

It was a great day for progressives; the Commons split roughly along the same lines that the public had done in polls. Many people looked back in astonishment at the fact that homosexuality had only been legal in the UK since 1967, and public tolerance of gays only reached a tipping point in the past two decades. We’ve come a long way, Britain.

However, Cameron seems to have miscalculated. While his popularity in the country was no doubt lifted by yesterday’s vote, his own party split down the middle; those Conservatives voting in favour of gay marriage were outnumbered by those voting against, and a number abstained, wavering between a personal wish to support the measure, but pressure from their local parties to oppose it. We learned two things yesterday: Britain has become a more tolerant place; and the Conservative Party still has a long way to go. Rather than demonstrate that the Tories have modernised, Cameron helped expose the fact that they haven’t; and in the process he antagonised the powerful right wing of his party. He emerges from these events weaker, and will now be under immense pressure to bring the dinosaurs back on board.

And that’s where we should worry. The Tory right (and its inbred cousin, UKIP) has been on the warpath recently on a number of social issues. Abortion has been put back more firmly on the agenda than at any time since its legalisation, with the Health Minister Jeremy Hunt declaring support for halving of the time limit from 24 weeks to 12. And just as worrying, the “sexualisation” bandwagon (which is an all-fronts attack on “explicit” sexuality in the public eye, from music videos to children’s clothing) seems to have gained mainstream acceptance.

The obvious reaction to the “sexualisation” panic is to introduce more “morality police” to oversee TV programming, approve Internet censorship controls and create a “slut-shaming” atmosphere in the public space. Right-wing Tory MPs such as Claire Perry and Nadine Dorries have long been pushing for such actions; an angry, mobilised Tory right may now be in a position to force a weakened David Cameron into giving way on these issues.

The short-term outcome from yesterday’s win on gay marriage may be some rapid government moves against abortion and in favour of more censorship. Once we’ve finished celebrating yesterday’s victory, we may have more battles to fight.

11 thoughts on “Gay Marriage: Beware The Backlash”

  1. As much as I am happy some bigotry got its backside kicked, the moral police jumping down from the right and certain aspects of the Left (like Abbott) worry me where we may be in a couple of years time in terms of censorship. The average adult is capable of making decisions for themselves and the government should not be driven by morals or we run the risk of church and state becoming conjoined.

    1. Diane Abbott is a good example of what’s gone wrong on the left. She seems to have been given a shadow cabinet post solely on the basis that she stood for the leadership and lost. I hope Labour can find some real talent for its front bench before the election.

  2. TonyN, in the UK church and state are already conjoined (at least in theory): the CofE is an “official religion”. Happily, this doesn’t interfere too much with real life (certainly not in the way it does in the US despite their official separation of church and state). Apart from that I agree the points you make.

    I actually think Cameron has both done the “right thing” and been pretty brave (words I never expected to write) on gay marriage. The discriminatory parts of the bill can be repealed later. if you want to see the backwoods Tory reaction, read the comments on the Mail website (try highest and lowest rated and, trust me, it’s instructive – plenty of potential morons to watch!). However, my own perception is that social freedoms have been under pretty constant attack for many years now (probably since 2001 at least), regardless of which party is in power. See, for example, all the attempts to censor the internet “for your safety”. MW may well be right about another attack on social freedoms from the right (and authoritarian left), but they will also want to fight other battles (notably over the EU).

    1. Despite all the fake-libertarian language used by the anti-EU crowd, one of their main goals is to abolish the Human Rights Act. If that goes, you can expect a massive authoritarian backlash. There seems little distinction between right and left on these points – I trust neither any more.

      There’s a lot at stake here – not just the gains of the Blair era but some of what has been won since the 60s. Unlike the Americans, there seems little stomach for a fight here over civil liberties – Brits usually just roll over.

      1. True, and also the application of the Working Time Directive to the UK. This is the legislation that (for example) stops junior doctors working 90 hour weeks. If you want to be treated by a knackered doctor, vote anti EU!
        Whilst there may have been some gains from the Blair era, there were also a lot of losses (see, for example “anti-terror” legislation). Cameron still has some work to do to make Blair’s look like a golden era!

          1. Off topic, but i’ve seen your comments on Iraqi WMD. To keep the record absolutely straight, let’s be clear that Iraq did indeed have chemical weapons at one time (it used them on the iranians, and the Kurds at Halabja), and the Bush administration knew that. In particular, Donald Rumsfeld knew this very well: he signed the deal with Tariq Aziz to sell them. Somewhere in the archives there is a Robert Fisk article on this.

          2. Of course – that was always known. However what was ALSO known (and more important) is that subsequent to those events, the UN weapons inspectors spent several years cataloging and removing the remaining chemical weapons. This is why the chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter was certain Saddam had no WMD by the end of the 90s.

  3. Agreed. I was more pointing to the irony of Rumsfeld doing the deal for the chemical weapons in the first place. This is Robert Fisk’s summary of things we need to forget before going to war with Iraq (from 2002). Quite useful if you want to point to hypocrisy and inconsistency in US foreign policy (not that you would!)

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