Archive for February, 2013

Julian Brazier on equal marriage

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about why marriage equality matters to me, and I said that I hadn’t written to my MP about it. Well, shortly after I’d posted that piece I decided to bite the bullet and email it to my MP (Mr Julian Brazier) after all, despite the fact that it wouldn’t make a difference.

It didn’t make any difference (shockingly), Mr Brazier still voted against equality, but what can you do? He has a lot of constituents to represent, and some of them are probably glad he voted the way he did. He did send me a reply, though, which arrived earlier today:

Dear Mr Lee,

Thank you for your email on the issue of same-sex marriages and for the very evocative picture you painted – I know that it can be very hard for young people to come to terms with their own sexuality and to deal with the reactions of other people to it. This is a contentious issue, which has aroused very strong emotions on both sides.

I will be frank with you that my disagreement with the issue of same-sex marriage is part of a wider disagreement with the current prevailing socio-political philosophy which cuts across so many areas of our national life. My great-grandfather’s younger brother was gay and tragically committed suicide, before I was born, while a student at Oxford, so I have certainly never  supported any form of persecution of gay people.

Basically my position is that I believe that our modern obsession with rights is deeply mistaken and bad for the long term health of society. I am against persecuting people, not because of any concept of rights (plural) but because it isn’t right. I don’t believe that categorising people by their sexuality is meaningful, not least because some people change their sexual preferences at different stages of their lives. There is also the key question – if people are categorised by sexuality, then what about those who, by choice or nature, have no sex life – are they not people too?

In addition, all the legal advice I have heard is that the practical effect of the legislation will be to expose those who are practising Christians  (and other faiths) to legal action if, for example, they are teachers and choose to teach a traditional Christian view of marriage.

I am sorry if I have disappointed you in this. As an MP, I clearly cannot be in agreement with all of my constituents all of the time – I am elected as a representative, not a delegate – but I am always prepared to listen to alternative opinions and to respect the views of those who disagree with me. I do hope that you will be generous enough to do the same.

It was well meaning, I’m sure, but a million miles from perfect. Here are my concerns, laid out neatly for your viewing pleasure:

  1. “Thank you for your email on the issue of same-sex marriages”
    equal marriage.
  2. “I know that it can be very hard for young people to come to terms with their own sexuality and to deal with the reactions of other people to it.”
    – I’m prepared to give the benefit of the doubt here, but the problem isn’t really “how hard it is for young people to deal with the reactions of other people to their sexuality”, it’s the other people’s reactions in the first place. But whatever.
  3. “I will be frank with you that my disagreement with the issue of same-sex marriage”
    equal marriage –
    “is part of a wider disagreement with the current prevailing socio-political philosophy which cuts across so many areas of our national life.”
    – … wut?
  4. “My great-grandfather’s younger brother was gay and tragically committed suicide”
    – since this is about the suicide of a family member I’m not going to make a big deal out of it, but it is pretty much just the “I have gay friends”/”I met a gay person once”/”my sister’s hairdresser goes to the gym with a gay person” fallacy. It doesn’t actually give you any greater credibility on gay issues.
  5. “so I have certainly never supported any form of persecution of gay people.”
    – that’s just a flat out lie. Have a look at his voting record on gay rights (and, tangentially, the legal recognition of trans* people). Not cool.
  6. “I believe that our modern obsession with rights is deeply mistaken and bad for the long term health of society.”
    – that’s because YOU ALREADY HAVE ALL YOUR RIGHTS.
  7. “I am against persecuting people, not because of any concept of rights (plural) but because it isn’t right.”
    – I kinda get what he’s going for here so I’m prepared to cut him some slack, but even if it made sense it still wouldn’t be an excuse for voting against equality.
  8. “I don’t believe that categorising people by their sexuality is meaningful, not least because some people change their sexual preference at different stages of their lives.”
    – … did he just come out to me? I joke, but seriously a surprisingly enlightened view of sexuality here. The problem, unfortunately, is that this is not a discussion about the ins and outs of categorising people by their sexual orientation. It’s a discussion about whether or not two people who love each other, be they hetero/homo/bisexual, have the right to legally marry each other.
  9. “if people are categorised by sexuality, then what about those who, by choice or nature, have no sex life”
    – props to Mr Brazier for repping the asexual community here. Maybe he’s not as bad as I thought? The problem is that A) people who don’t have sex have a category, asexuality, (if they want it) and B) love is actually about more than sex – people who don’t have sex can still be straight/gay/bi and should still have the option of marriage.
  10. “the practical effect of this legislation will be to expose those who are practising Christians (and other faiths) to legal action if, for example, they are teachers and choose to teach a traditional Christian view of marriage.”
    – Ok, firstly: the practical effect of this legislation will be to allow gay couples to get married. The fact that he prioritises the right to discriminate over the right to be treated equally under the law pretty much says it all. Secondly: I genuinely don’t know what he thinks these teachers will be saying. It’s simple: “According to Christian teachings/the Church of England/(insert faith here), marriage is between a man and a woman. British law also allows same-sex couples to marry.” – was that so hard? School is for facts, Brazier.
  11. “I’m sorry if I have disappointed you in this.”
    – you have, a little, but at least you’re sorry about it.
  12. “As an MP, I clearly cannot be in agreement with all of my constituents all of the time”
    – very true, and IMHO a huge problem in British politics, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
  13. “I am always prepared to listen to alternative opinions and to respect the views of those who disagree with me. I do hope that you will be generous enough to do the same.”
    – thanks, but it’s not really just an “agree to disagree” situation, is it? If I walked into your house and said “hey, you’re not allowed to marry the person you love. In my opinion it’s not right, and I’d appreciate it if you could respect that.” you’d probably be pretty pissed off. That’s why this is an issue, Brazier. Quit fighting it. You’re on the wrong side of history, and I think you know it.

Well, thank you for reading. Corrections and constructive criticism are always welcome 🙂 or just leave a comment!

Nineteen Eighty-Four

I’ve been in more than one argument that’s ended with people pointing at me and yelling “1984! 1984!”. I always had a suspicion that the book wasn’t being referenced accurately, and so recently I decided to read it for myself. I found it immensely enjoyable. It’s captivating, chilling, and supremely relevant to the context in which it was written.

I have to admit that history is not my strong point (unfortunate, given that ignorance of history is one of the novel’s central themes) but the current political climate is worlds apart from that of 1940s Europe. As such, I don’t think that Nineteen Eighty-Four can be used to “shine a light” on the actions of modern governments in the way that many people seem to want it to be.

The stereotypical “Nineteen Eighty-Four” comparison arises in discussions on surveillance; be it via CCTV camera, email scanners, or DNA sampling.

I personally couldn’t give a toss. I don’t believe in this “right to privacy” that people are so attached to. In my opinion, there are two problems with a “right to privacy”:

  1. The phrase “right to privacy” is meaningless. What is privacy, and how is it violated? How is it measured? Is a glance enough to violate privacy, or does it have to be a thorough inspection? Does it matter whether you are in a public or private space? Why? Does it matter whether or not you’re aware that you’ve been observed? Why? Does it matter whether the observer is a human or a machine (or a monkey, or a flower, or a ghost)? How far does your “privacy bubble” extend – does it only cover you, or does it cover your property; and if so how long does it cover your property for once you discard it (old laptops, clothes, family photographs etc.)?
  2. Privacy is not a necessary condition for a happy life. The government could have read every single email I’ve ever sent, and there would be no measurable impact on my quality of life. Strangers could walk past my window all day long and I’m pretty sure I’d be OK. I could get caught on CCTV cameras from every single angle, and it wouldn’t hurt me. There are almost infinite situations in which privacy is unnecessary.

I believe in a right not to be humiliated. I believe that there are sets of circumstances where privacy between two or more specific parties is necessary. A teenager might want to keep their browser history private from their family, for example. A job applicant might want to keep their personal life private from their potential employer. I believe that in any situation in which public knowledge of personal details could lead to any measurable harm, privacy should be an option. In a relationship between an individual and a disinterested government, however, why hold back? Yes I would find it a bit weird if there was a camera in my bathroom, recording my lavatorial exploits, but if there were cameras in every bathroom who would care? (Why put a camera in a bathroom?)

The disinterested government is the real issue, not the methods of surveillance used. In Nineteen Eighty-Four the telescreens and hidden microphones are a tool used by a zealously authoritarian government to eliminate the freedoms of its people – and before anyone starts talking about British authoritarianism I’m just going to have to go ahead and point out that the British government does not track down, torture, and murder its citizens for expressing anti-government opinions, talking in their sleep, or having extramarital sex; so it’s not really an accurate comparison now is it?

And THAT is why people who blabber endlessly about Big Brother piss me off. No one is watching you, and no one cares what you’re doing. Even the people who know you don’t care what you’re doing. The government cares even less.

… unless, of course, you’re doing something illegal. Which is an issue that needs a certain amount of discussion. I’m not going to say “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”, because I hate that argument. It’s unpleasant and accusatory, and not worth the breath used to speak it. Instead, I’d like to address those who are concerned about being caught on CCTV doing something illegal: surely it’s more sensible to protest the illegality of your action, whatever it may be, than the method of detection?

Example:

  1. I want to do X (graffiti, protest, shoplift).
  2. X is illegal.
  3. If I do something illegal, I will get caught and punished.

If you believe that what you’re doing is right, then the problem is at step 2, not at step 3 – if you do away with step 3 you’re hindering the enforcement of all laws. If your problem is with step 3 then fine, you might have legitimate beef with surveillance.

But enough with the Big Brother bullshit! Nineteen Eighty-Four is not a novel about the inherent evil of being watched all the time, and if you sincerely believe it is I suggest you read it again.

Why marriage equality matters to me

I have a confession to make. I haven’t written to my MP, Mr Julian Brazier, about the government’s equal marriage proposals. It wouldn’t, of course, have made the slightest difference if I had (not least of all because Mr Brazier has other constituents to represent, many of whom are backward and bigoted); but I should have done it anyway. I should have done it because marriage equality is important.

I don’t have a sob story. I had a happy childhood – I wasn’t bullied at school (more than any other weedy geek, anyway), I had great friends who loved me for who I was, and when I came out to my family I wasn’t assaulted or even disowned.

Marriage equality matters because there are thousands of other children who aren’t as lucky as I was. Thousands of children (I can’t stress that enough – children) face verbal and physical abuse from their parents and peers just for being who they are – and it takes a horrific toll. A 2008 research report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that young gay people are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.

It’s tragic, but it’s not surprising. As they grow up, gay young people discover that (legally) they are not equal. The playground bullying is legitimised, particularly when it is tacitly endorsed by authority figures.

The angry queen inside me blames a lot of people for every gay teen suicide. Everyone from the people who bullied the kid directly to people on the other side of the world who use the word “gay” as an insult, to mean “rubbish”. We’ve all contributed, and we pay for it every time another child takes their own life.

Playground bullying and homophobia in society will probably be around for a long time, but homophobia in British law doesn’t have to be. We have an amazing chance here to change the experiences of young people for generations to come – young people who will grow up knowing that they are equal, no matter who they are or who they fall in love with.

That’s why marriage equality matters to me. Maybe someday I’ll fall in love and settle down, and then it’ll matter to me for a whole bunch of other reasons, but this is enough.