Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pope Benedict urges defence of heterosexuality....

I thought that it was doing just fine by itself.

Really there is this paranoid nonsense behind alot of homophobia saying that if we abaondon homophobic beliefs and practices that heterosexuality will collapse.

Evidence appears to be against this supposition and leaving people to their own devices roughly the same number come out straight.

It's basically the idea that homosexuals are the first defectors (for whatever reason) from a universal heterosexual order and that if it's allowed to continue there won't be any heterosexuals left.

This is plain silly.

As for saving the planet, well we're if anything at risk of over population so if anything ......

And of course there's always this thing that LGBT people are trying to bring about the end of the human race by not procreating (ignoring the fact that many do and many more would if they could). And of course there's a notable lack of procreation coming from Catholic priests - though many are of course doing their duty in spite of rules around celibacy.

I think this failure of even the simplest logical steps in thought reflect very badly on the Pope's system of religious thought that needs to vicitimise groups of people in order to maintain its own internal coherence.

Meanwhile this comment from PinkNews - Pope Benedict learns nothing from his time in Hitler Youth.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obama disappoints

News from the US is that Barack Obama has chosen Rick Warren (evangelical right wing pastor who has compared same-sex marriage to pedophilia and incest and actively camapaigned in favour of Proposition 8 in California) to give the invocation or prayer at his inauguration.

The prayer will probably last 60 seconds and say nice heart warming things but the sense of sadness and loss that the inauguration itself (for Americans the inauguration is a really big deal like a combination of the State Opening of Parliament and the finals of Strictly and X factor all combined) will not be a truly inclusive event that all Americans (and onlookers all over the world) can feel a part of.

I am sure that Obama's tenure in office will witness some important social and legislative changes, many of them with his blessing and possibly even at his bidding. But this really isn't the way to start your Presidency, by casting LGBT people as outsiders whose feelings don't really matter, while at the same time giving the evangelical right some prime time promo.

For LGBT equality we seem to be quickly moving from the audacity of hope to the anatomy of despair.

Now, as I said, this is a 60 second prayer that will soon be over. But one reflects that there's only one invocation and this is who Obama chose for it.

If any American gets to read this blog (not very likely in itself but you never know) my advice is to treat Obama in the same way we treated Tony Blair who did great things for LGBT rights in the UK. He did however need to be pushed, cajoled, manipulated and persuaded using allies and supporters inside and outside the Cabinet.

Yes, of course we all crave a leader who 'gets it' and instinctively does the right thing. We don't often get that and have to work with what we're given - which if we're lucky is someone whose heart is basically in the right place but still needs pressure and encouragement to do the right thing.

I think (until persuaded to the contrary) that Obama'selection was a good thing, for many different reasons. It would be great if electing Obama was all there was to do and we can take a well earned rest now. The right leaders are usually the ones who are open to social movements to advance their causes and move opinion - they (we) still have to do a lot of the work themselves.

(Oh yes, and I secretly hope for some good ol' fashioned protestin' at the inauguration).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Employment Appeals Tribunal overturns 'Ladele' Employment Tribunal

News in today, causing much relief as the original ET ruling was a complete nightmare. There is no doubt that the original judgment was at the very least badly written (and in parts incomprehensible).

If upheld it would have led to chaos in many employers as employees religious scruples would presumably have to have been given effect by employers irrespective of the core business of the employer in question which would in effect have completely up-ended the traditional set up of our system of employment law.

Quite good coverage can be had from Pink News and the good ol' Christian Institute (who had backed the case).

The full ruling can be obtained from the above sites and totally demolishes the original ET case in almost every aspect and makes for a very interesting read for the substance of its analysis.

The ruling is a great Christmas present and the occasion of much relief that proper equality protections for all people (without a 'trump card' for the religious) have been re-established by the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

In a scarcely less significant case, the Court of Appeal ruled 2-1 in favour of the case taken against Sanderson blinds by someone experiencing homophobic harassment even though he wasn't gay himself (BBC news report). This is an important ruling in the attempt to create workplaces without homophobic harassment, irrespective of whether an employee is gay themselves.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Historic day at the United Nations

A ground breaking day today at the UN as first of all an amendment to remove sexual orientation from a resolution on extra judicial killings was defeated 60 - 76.

Secondly, 66 countries from 5 continents had signed up to a statement read out by Argentina on sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights. This was followed up by a high level side event with a number of impressive speakers (and one singer - though whether that was planned I'm not sure).

In particular great to hear from Sunil Plant, an out gay MP in Nepal (one of the countries supporting the statement).

This follows up on a number of high profile initiatives, including previous attempts at statements by a number and the Yogyakarta principles and initiatives by the Council of Europe and the Organisation of American States.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Human Rights at 60

Just a brief mention of the 60th anniversary of that fantastic document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights text here and presented in a great animation on Youtube.

Obviously the declaration came out of the terrible realisation of the depths that humanity can descend to but also ways that human rights are violated in smaller ways as well that tend to undermine the rule of law and equity between human beings.

The UDHR is a document well worth celebrating and has spawned a number of human rights frameworks and initiatives (regional and national human rights laws for instance including the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights).

And amidst all the talk of the need to include responsibilities as well as rights it is instructive to note they are referenced at different points in the Declaration.

Lots of stuff on the 60 anniversary of the UDHR on the EHRC's website including a speech by Gordon Brown.

After 60 years we are only just starting to put human rights into practice.

Recovering from the UNISON LGBT Conference

Complete exhaustion after UNISON's annual LGBT Conference is my excuse as to an absence of blogging.

The database of Conference decisions can be found here (at the time of checking it lacked composites and motions carried for National Delegate Conference).

Most people there thought it was a really great Conference and although I was really tired at the end one of the most enjoyable ones I have attended.

Started with a fantastic civic reception with various civic speakers, notably including Dawn Primarolo who gave a great barnstorming political speech.

Ceri Goddard of the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) gave a powerful address on the importance of human rights in every day life and making them a reality without going to Court (especially in public services).

There was just the right balance of controversial debates (boring if evrything goes through 'on the nod') with passionate debates on a wide range of issues such as male rape, the availability of Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) and a wide variety of motions from Homophobria in sport, marriage equality to Pride is a protest and motions calling for International Solidarity and work within the Commonwealth.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Yo Glenrothes!

Fantastic news of the Labour Party winning a by election (singular). Majority of 6,700!

This (alongside some council election gains) is phenomenal and denotes renewed confidence in the Labour government (as opposed to the dire abject despair).

We are going into a very deep recession and we desperately need the government to cushion the fall at a time when the unfettered free market has failed us.

Whatever the beauty contest of politics between the parties we need, desperately need, a government that supports the economy rather than plunge us head on into deep, deep wasting recession.

Never have wild unfettered get rich quick markets been so out of failure and the message of moderate social democrats (Keynes and all) been more needed. Only the Labour party can deliver.

Joy on Obama; sadness on Prop 8

Obama wins big in the all important electoral college - picking the so called lock of the Republican's "Southern Strategy". Dems have struggled hard in all elections for the presidency since the passage of civil rights sparked all the politics of resentment that have coralled a Southern erstwhile Democratic stronghold for the Republicans.

Noticably the thinking has been the need for the Dems to do something to attract the South - Carter from Georgia, Clinton Governor of Arkansas, Gore Senator from Tennesee, Edwards from North Carolina....

Not anymore. Obama a left leaning liberal, black lawyer from Chicago as well as a Veep from Delaware carrying North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri being split (SPLIT!), Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Floriday.

I am sure Obama is the right person for the job at this point and at some deep level the US and the world needed this renewal even though on one level not much is going to change - but we'll see.

Just the fact of how far we have come when we have gone from the Civil Rights fights (to vote, not have to sit on a separate part of a bus, segregation in both church and state) to a black person being elected as President. Just to see tears in so many faces - including Jesse Jackson.

On the other hand, sadness that Proposition 8 was carried by a small majority.

Many have speculated on the reasons for this failure.

I think the No campaign had serious shortcomings with poor ads. And our own community has probably been prone to some hubris - if we celebrate our victory loudly enough no-one will be so cruel as to reverse it.

Well they can. And did.

Having schoolchildren attend their school teacher's same sex wedding when school teaching, children and religion were at the core of the Yes on 8 campaign.

Gavin Newsom triumphally stating that you're going to get same sex marriage whether you like it or not; that there's no way of turning back. Voters thought otherwise.

So it was a sad day but great to see there was an opposition of 48% with so much support from trade unions, young voters, church groups. These networks should be built on and nurtured as a way of building up support for LGBT people.

I think that same sex marriage will proceed in its own way in many states of the US as well as other countries in the world (the latest being the statement that Sweden's centre right government is likely to introduce same sex marriage legislation by 2009).

All is not so negative. Connecticut having recently commenced same sex marriage in a similar court ruling and voted against calling a Constitutional Convention and the Dems got majorities in many state legislatures.

Progress marches on, though sometimes via a winding road.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Obama's grief

From Andrew Sullivan.....

Madelyn Payne Dunham RIP

Obama was so right to make sure he spent time with her before she passed on. But what an emotional blow on election eve for the candidate from Illinois. He has survived this campaign with remarkable emotional maturity and self-control. I just wish this didn't have to add to it. None of his parents will witness tomorrow. But somewhere my faith teaches me: they know already. Maybe Toot couldn't wait for the actual results. Maybe she's now a few steps ahead even of Chuck Todd. May she rest in peace. She did good.

The US election

Apart from a clear ideological preference for the Democrats, Obama is quite clearly the better candidate - calm, cool, not a hothead or erratic, a strategist rather than a tactician and a powerful orator.

He is quite clearly what the US and the world needs from this election.

He would also be (so far as I can tell) the first country in the developed world to elect a leader from a minority ethnic grouping, which given the US' troubled history with slavery, segregation and discrimination is important - again not just for the US but for the world.

It appears there has been some tightening in some states such as Pensylvania but if Obama doesn't win it will be the most incredible electoral upset (either that or the 'voting machines' are churning out Republican voting surpluses).

Either way, not long to wait now.

An early election result

Ahead of tomorrow's excitement....

Congratulations to UNISON and Louise in getting elected to the ILGA Europe board. It has only 10 members and covers the whole of Europe not just the EU, so getting elected at the first attempt is a real achievement.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

HFEB passes Third Reading

Passed by 335 to 129 votes.

Any Commons amendments will need to be agreed by the Lords prior to Royal Assent.

I do though regret that it has not been possible to improve the regime for access to abortion services and that Westminster has not been able to legislate to help women in Northern Ireland.

Some things I am waiting for

The outcome of the US Presidential election (According to electoral-vote.com Obama has a steady projected lead - however we all remember the last 2 contests and the Republicans are playing dirty - no surprises there). I am getting most of my up to date info from Sullivan's Daily Dish (pro Obama blog).

The outcome of the vote on Prop 8 in California (see previous)

The outcome of the Indian Court case over the constitutionality of India's retention of laws criminalising homosexual acts from the British Empire.

Same sex marriage losing in California

Latest polls show homophobic Proposition 8, restricting marriage to heterosexual couples and intending to upend a Constitutional provision of non-discrimination enacted by the Supreme Court of California (albeit recently).

Stripping people of constitutional protections and measures affording equality and fairness for all is a grave and serious step to take.

I am not sure what happens if it passes, given there are now tens of thousands of same sex couples who have married. Maybe it all becomes null and void, but the equal protection clause of the California Constitution is still operative as is the Supreme Court's analysis of sexual orientation as being a suspect or quasi suspect category (in like manner as the Supreme Court of Connecticut which has also recently provided for gender neutrality) given the overwhelming animus toward LGBT people over recent US history and difficulty in gaining equality using the usual political channels - a point that is rather reinforced if Prop 8 passes.

Maybe California will adopt a UK style Civil Partnership provision.

This all remains to be seen.

Again, were it to pass, the only way for civil marriage to be afforded with full equality is for a future amendment to the Constitution. And while it may be several years before such an amendment to be carried it is worth campaigning for, even though the LGBT community be heavily outspent by religious bodies.

Although to date the campaign against Prop 8 looks weak and dire (and is being heavily criticised though it may be they have a game plan for the final 2 weeks) a lot of the work is already being done in trade unions, newspaper editorials and supportive churches.

This work will no doubt continue as well, perhaps, some telling questions of the Democratic hierarchy who haven't come out too visibly against the amendment (at all in fact - maybe they are biding their time). There may well be a broader day of reckoning for this who offer warm words and sympathy when they ought to know better.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Sarah Palin murders the English language

There are two theories here.

One is that she isn't verbally articulate in that her command of vocabulary and expression (fluent use of English constructions) and can't construct moderately complex sentences 'on the hoof'. She just isn't good at speaking.

The other theory is that she can't express herself because she hasn't gained the content to talk fluently about.

She has been a good debater in past campaigns in Alaska - she just hasn't grappled with the complexities of policy.

The reason can be seen in videos of her church. She's a born again Christian with certainty and faith. She doesn't need to know about things because she prays and reads the Bible and has God behind her.

So I think her extreme lack of fluency is because she's having to come to terms with policy issues she's never thought about before, while trying consciously to make sure that she doesn't contradict McCain (she probably doesn't known the full suite of his policy positions and their evolution and context).

The upshpot is she isn't ready and that her extreme faith based politics are a significant hurdle to learning.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Party Conferences

I didn't pick up much from the LibDems, though Vince Cable gave a great speech. I didn't rate Nick Clegg much though.

I was at the Labour Conference as delegate for LGBT Labour as an affiliated socialist society, mainly to move a rules debate to add gender identity to the rule book.

The mood of the Conference was best described as 'grisly'. I think that, with some remove, it did its job of stabilising the government (inspite of the bizarre story about Ruth Kelly leaving the government being 'released' at 3am after Gordon Brown's speech).

Brown is much safer in his job now. First because he gave a good and well received speech and also because David Miliband got photographed holding a banana. So things are much calmer - no doubt there'll be trouble ahead, but for now things are a bit more stable.

Not the least of my worries was to work out the procedural rules of moving a rule change. This was not as straightforward as one might think if you're not a Party Conference afficianado. Anyway the rule change was all but unanimously passed, making Labour the only one of the three main political parties to explicitly include gender identity.

In addition the National Policy Forum Report contained several important areas of commitment to LGBT equality (health, education, international issues) and commitment to progress the Equality Bill.

The Tories' Conference is now well underway. I cannot believe how insubstantial and shallow Conservative responses to the current dificutlies that is making Gordon Brown look competent and effective by comparison - though I am biased.

Back to blogging .....

After a prolonged summer break (according to my view summer really ends after the close of the Labour Party Conference) I thought I'd get back to blogging.

Not much has happened in the intervening period - Western capitalism has been teetering on the edge of collapse, Gordon Brown has faced a rebellion in the Parliamentary Party (if by no more than a handful of MP's), the American Conventions happened (the highlight for me was the wonderful moment of the roll call at the Democratic Convention - especially the moment that the Massachusetts delegation profiled their commitment as the first State to allow same sex marriage), McCain unleashed the phenomena that is Sarah Pailin upon the world (a persona surely beyond parody), Russia invaded Georgia, more banks failing or getting nationalised (so much for Thatcherite free markets), South Africa lost its President while Zimbabwe has gained the beginnings of a power share deal.

So, not much has happened.

In one sense the world has speeded up so that events are happening too fast for blogging and in another we're slowing down - revisiting the hubris of past decades.

Now some of the dust is settling around us we can start to work out what kind of world we're living in.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where next?

Increasingly it appears that support is ebbing away from Gordon Brown as Labour Leader and it is difficult to conceive of things carrying on like this for much longer.

Miliband has just written a comment in the Guardian which looks to me like a leadership bid and it is being reported that Harriet Harman may also be considering standing, though she denies this.

Do the Lambrini?

I only recently saw this advertisement on the telly - what a liberty! Doin the Lambrini is nothing other than Jumpstyle I blogged about earlier.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Glasgow East

Keeping quiet about it at the moment. Surely by election losses are (even with big swings) not uniformly indicative of the outcome of the next General Election.

Congratulations to COC and FELGTB

Congrats to the two latest groups awarded consultative status at the UN to represent LGBT issues of concern - COC from the Netherlands and Spain's FELTGB.

Louise has already blogged (in a more timely manner....) and it is well covered on the ILGA Europe web site.

This is an important breakthrough at the UN where several other NGO's (including ILGA-Europe) have already been agreed after a long struggle with plenty of opposition. The latest vote on FELTGB was 22-20 with 9 abstaining, so still quite narrow margins but with strong advocacy from the EU countries and several African and Asian countries voting in support or abstaining.

Other recent international developments include:

The decision by the Council of Europe to incorporate work on sexual orientation and gender identity in its committees. This is a major step of great significance give that the Council of Europe includes all EU member states but also many countries not part of the EU (e.g. Russia).

Similarly the Organisation of American States also recently adopted a resolution to endorse the need for action to protect people on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Also recently the ETUC has published "Extending Equality - trade union actions to organize promote equal rights, respect and dignity for workers regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How much did ordinary people know?

I was genuinely thrilled by news of the arrest of Radovan Karadzic. It comes after the installation of a new pro-EU government in Serbia only recently, itself born of political instability following the West's recognition of an independent Kosovo.

I was thrilled until I saw footage on More 4 news tonight.

It showed the Serbs leading off groups of Muslim men (the youngest was 16). They lay them down (film footage continuing) and shot above their heads. Then they stood them up and walked them further into the woods and shot them standing up (Channel 4 froze the footage at the point just prior to the execution), remaining civilians were required to carry away those who had just been killed before they themselves were blindfolded and shot in the back of the head.

It was terrible, painful, distressing viewing. It showed graphically that the Nazi time did not irrevocably end in 1945 but was allowed to resurface in recent times.

As has often been asked of "ordinary Germans" in the Nazi time, how many of us knew?

I'd wager a fair number. I know that I did. Our governments did, but didn't act except to restrain Bosnian Muslims from defending themselves while 'ethnic cleansing' continued unhindered. (This changed after the West finally lost faith in modern day appeasement of mass slaughter and started bombing Serbia and later intervened in Kosovo).

Remember Srebrenica, remember Sarajevo.

We knew. It happened on our watch.

Friday, July 18, 2008

California - it will be tight

Now the Supreme Court in California has confirmed that proposition 8 will be on November's ballot (with the intention of reversing same sex marriage) two opinion polls show that the No vote has a small lead.

Latest figures show a lead of 51-42%.

This is good but incredibly narrow and anything could happen between now and then. Still a good initial poll finding that (hopefully) will encourage the No campaigners.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Louise has some interesting blog entries about the 2 day Local Government industrial action which is now drawing to a close, with further industrial action doubtless being planned in what are, I must say, extraordinary economic pressures with considerable increases in utilities, petrol and food biting a big hole in our living standards.

UNISON also has lots of information about the strike action including this list of messages of support (including one from Louise and me on behalf of the National LGBT Committee as well as particularly encouraging messages of support from across the world).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A message of support for strikers

At a time of heightened inflation in basic goods, this is a message of solidarity to all Local Government workers taking industrial action on the 16th and 17th July.

For more information see:

on pay matters

Jon Rogers' (by now famous) blog

I, of course, shall not be taking industrial action given I am an NHS employee and we aren't taking industrial action at this time, though we may do so next year, given the high rate of inflation.

Tories abandon belief in the market

In their current proposals for a fuel price stabiliser the Tories are stating that the government has a duty to fix the price of petrol so that people can plan ahead..... sound familiar anyone?

Maybe this can be extended to bread, milk, shoes and so on and we can have a fully socialist command economy.

Of course the implication of the Tories proposal is potentially very expensive, if the price of petrol goes up and people buy less of it it implies a big loss to the exchequer. For all that I am not against a 'modified stabiliser' which includes a fuel tax escalator where the price of fuel does not rise with inflation.

Having fuel duty go down makes, quite frankly, for chaos both for the exchequer (i.e. resources for public spending on vital services) and for the 'price mechanism' (which is supposed to have a role in giving feedback on relative scarcity).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Gospel of hate or gospel of love?

See this clip from the BBC, showing the appalling incident of disruption of freedom of speech and homophobia during a sermon by Bishop Robinson.

Tells you all you need to know - others are just more polite in the way they go about it.

The mask slips.

Meanwhile, for people who like their religion sane, Bishop Robinson wrote a good article in Saturday's Guardian The God I know is alive and active in the Church, not locked up in Scripture.

Time for some light relief - discovering jumpstyle

It's only now that I discover the wonderful thing that is 'jumpstyle' (more popular in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands).

The fact it's performed to 'modern music' (the most accessible in the UK is probably Scooter) can only go so far in disguising the fact it's a cross between Morris dancing and Riverdance.

See for yourself (I love it by the way).

Scooter Jumping All Over The World

Jumpstyle tutorial
(you too can learn jumpstyle, but probably not from this video - anyway Youtube has plenty of jumpstyle tutorials...)

Jumptstyle for women(to Scooter)

Some weirder varieties of jumpstyle:

Teletubbies do jumpstyle

Finger jumpstyle (OK this is getting ridiculous.....)

I should just say that I haven't perfected all of the moves just yet....

More on the Registrar

One more thought - how far does this go? A registrar whose religious beliefs do not allow marriage after divorce? A GP who doesn't approve of the homosexual lifestyle? A pharmacist who does not approve of contraception? Naming ceremonies for the children of same sex parents?

In conservative areas where religious groups hold great sway and where perhaps services are thinly spread (e.g. rural areas) the service that the employer is required by law to provide (or wishes to provide in a certain manner - e.g. with an assurance of non-discriminatory attitudes from all employees) will be severely hampered and such things as roster co-ordination and annual leave requests become a nightmare as we all have to work around bigotted staff, immune from sharing their employers' duty under the law to avoid discrimination in their service provision.

Some further reaction below:

Louise Ashworth God is above employment law and More on the Registrar

The Observer has Civil rights must trump faith:

If this judgment is upheld, the implications are serious and troubling. Employees flourishing their religious convictions will be able to challenge almost any job description, whether these involve an aversion to pork, to certain clothes, to abortion pills, to gay people or to working on holy days.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Beyond Belief

I am very troubled by the recent Employment Tribunal on a Registrar refusing to carry out Civil Partnerships (in a case financed by the Christian Institute).

It seems to cut across the view expressed by Parliament in the Goods and Services regulations on sexual orientation regulations (where Parliament did debate 'conscience' exemptions being pushed by LCF and Christian Institute but did not go down that route). As such it is potentially an egregious example of a lower court superseding parliamentary sovereignty.

It seems to imply that an employer is unable to identify a policy of equal treatment and ensure that its staff (acting as its agents) are expected to adhere to it.

It states that rights accorded to sexual orientation cannot trump those accorded to religious belief yet it does the opposite with free abandon. If you have a religious belief you're exempt from having to adhere to an employers policy of treating all its service users equally.

It requires publicly funded employers to implement an equality policy whilst mandating them to employ people that don't and immunises such staff from any come back (even criticism as this would amount to harassment).

It makes great play of the fact of the complainant being an "orthodox Christian" in her views. This is appalling. The Employment Tribunal is here making a judgment about religious matters, while the Church of England (the established Church within England) supported Civil Partnerships and incorporates them in its own legislation about clergy who are Civil Partners (has the ET ruled that the Church of England is not an "orthodox" church?).

It seems to state that Civil Partnerships are de facto marriage - I welcome this one progressive (though doubtless unintentional) aspect of the ruling.

It makes no mention of the distinction made in human rights instruments between freedom of religion and the freedom to manifest a religious belief, the latter being susceptible to being curtailed to protect the rights and freedom of others (hence the manifestation of a religious belief by means of discriminating against others ought not to be given legal immunity). Religious freedom (something that ought to be precious and revered by all) is turned into a licence for hatred, bigotry, discrimination and a society riven by discord and division.

Under the rule of law there can never be a licence to discriminate and where given will be exploited by a variety of religions to undermine employers' intentions in carrying out their business - a pharmacy selling contraception has to employ staff refusing to provide that service, a local authority required by the law to provide civil partnerships without discrimination has to employ staff unwilling to further such aims - no matter what chaos is caused to the service or to employment relations.

It's a bad day for the law. I can only hope a higher court reviews the ruling and provides a more coherent statement of the law without granting a generalised licence for bigotry to self proclaimed religionists.

Pink News - 'Employment Tribunal has "legitimised homophobia"

National Secular Society Press Release - Registrar judgment potentially catastrophic for equality

Comment is Free (Terry Sanderson) Paying to be discriminated against

British Humanist Association appalled by judgment in Registrar's Employment Tribunal

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Seriously from the TUC LGBT Conference

I haven't blogged for a bit, mainly too tired after TUC LGBT Conf and the aftermath of NDC (also a bit of a news lull?).

Anyway TUC LGBT Conference held as usual just ahead of Pride in London.

A number of topics were debated, particular motions this year included the current inadequacy of legal protections with regard to gender identity, blood donation (again), education, community cohesion , international LGBT equality and asylum seekers.

The motion selected for Congress was a composite motion deploring the appointment of Joel Edwards to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

With regard to the latter there were many, many angry and impassioned speeches which I must admit left me rather unmoved and I'm not sure what message is being sent about our collective sense of insecurity about the appointment of an evangelical who has made statements of support for anti-discrimination law (though he is most likely to be somewhat ahead of his erstwhile employer on this - the Evangelical Alliance, whilst far from the worst in terms of position on LGBT issues, does not have a shining record to be proud of - there is however more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, so you never know......).

If there were any evidence that Joel Edwards was intending to attack LGBT rights that would indeed unfit him to the position of a Commissioner for equality and human rights - I await any evidence of such evidence with baited breath.

The other area arousing very great passion is the perennial one about the so-called "blood ban" and the rather funny (if not actually meant seriously) statement "it's my blood and I'll give to whoever I want to".

This is of course precisely the point. The recipients of blood products might not want to sacrifice themselves on the altar of people who suffer grievous psychological damage because they can't give blood.

On this issue I favour UNISON's more principled and thought through position which is to review donor selection criteria in light of actual evidence about risk. The demand to subject heterosexuals to the same restrictions around blood donation is entirely understandable for people who haven't given more than 5 minutes thought as to how "the blood ban can be lifted...." but is actually rather silly when you think about it as it would introduce restrictions on donating where not based on the evidence about risk and would significantly reduce the number of blood donors (even taking account of the small number of new donors gained from gay and bi men).

So I still favour the evidence based, sensible and thought through approach advocated (rightly in my view) by UNISON rather than sloganising rhetoric which may produce a few persuasive soundbites but would reduce the number of donations and increase the risk of HIV infection through donated blood.

As a result of the UNISON amendment being accepted the TUC has now accepted UNISON's approach.

The Conference was to recieve an address by Barbara Follett but she was unable to attend. We did however have an interesting presentation by Vicky Challacombe of the FCO LGBT Toolkit and also kicked off the Conference with a really fantastic presentation on work within schools on LGBT issues.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Confusion reigns at TUC LGBT Conference

Extraordinary scenes at the Conference - a prominent UNISON activist wanting to perform "Recital 22" (not sure which composer) and going on and on about a 'Verruca case' and telling everyone in earshot about some Yoghurt Carton principles........

Confusion indeed!

To cap it all, in the blood debate, one very excited young delegate exclaimed "It's my blood and I'll give to whoever I want". To which the person sitting next to me said "I don't want your blood!".

One delegate also stated that they felt the Conference was at times verging on the experimental and avant garde.

Playfulness apart...

No it wasn't all about recitals, verrucas and Yoghurt Cartons..... I think the reference was to excitement (for one delegate at least) about the ECJ judgment in the Maruko case, with particular reference to recital 22 (EU Directives have a series of recitals which elucidate how a Directive is to be implemented and interpreted). Well I haven't clue what's in recital 22 but I'm going to have to look it up.

For yoghurt carton principles read Yogyakarta.....

Monday, June 30, 2008


In today's Times an interesting article which is worth a read 'The Borisophobes are on the march (or not).

I have a few quibbles. The article veers a bit by taking Boris at his word - however the fact is he has been a typical homophobic Tory, supporting Section 28, comparing Civil Partnership to 'a union of 3 men and a dog'.

Anyway London voted for him. Not of my doing - I was supporting another candidate.......

I hope very much Boris attends Pride (I wouldn't be averse to a bit of booing - as David Davis is keen to remind us we do retain our civil liberties).

But any way I am glad if he attends, especially if he is indicating his commitment to LGBT equality within the capital - something about heaven rejoices over one sinner that repenteth......

Minus a bit of public spirited booing (we are obliged to be nice but not obliged to gild Boris' equality credentials or kiss the hand that until recently has been smacking us) an elected Mayor should support Pride and demonstrate support by being there and writing to the Mayor of Moscow and Lithuania to get them to do the same (a bit like the previous incumbent?) and maybe even talking to his homophobic Tory colleagues.

All elected officials are obligated to stand up for the dignity of all citizens.

Finland upholds current criteria on blood donor selection

Pink News carries this news that Finland's blood donor selection criteria (substantially the same as those in place in the UK and most other countries) is not unlawful and is not contrary to the Finnish constitution and does not, in fact, discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation but is based on expert opinion about the level of risk posed given that men who have had sex with men compared to other groups in society.

This follows similar decisions in Sweden and Canada and there is no evidence of the UK blood services changing their approach in this matter in the immediate future, though campaign groups continue to raise the issue to ensure it us kept under regular review.

Gays and guns?

I have often felt tempted to drop a line about this curious US case, where the US Supreme Court has overruled a strict handgun bad in Washington DC.

The constitutionality of gun control in the US is of course fascinating and long running and slightly odd for us Europeans where a) we have by long tradition believed in the State's monopoly of violence (a la Weber) and b) we are struggling with both gun and knife crime - as is the US for that matter.

Well the whole gun control agenda has just hit the buffers big time in the Heller ruling issued 5 years to the day to Lawrence v Texas.

Various right wing gay groups are in favour of the right for gay people to carry arms:

  • The Constitution allows people to bear arms and form a militia - this can't be the regular army as gay people are - for the time being - excluded from it (an argument enough in itself to send the right on the Court rushing to support the individual right to bear arms)
  • Gay people are at much higher risk from lethal and near lethal 'gay bashing' - carrying arms means they will be able to defend themselves effectively (right to life) and if more gay people carry guns - and make that known - this will make people think twice before making a physical attack.
  • Groups such as Pink Pistols (who made a submission to the Supreme Court on these lines) encourage gay people to get trained in the use of fire arms and carry them to the extent the law allows.
So they you have it. You might be safer with a gun but of course the risk of 'gun inflation' (we probably have that anyway) and cases of both accidental use and people running amok and killing many people (as in recent school cases - e.g. Columbine). Most commentators think carrying a gun (or a knife for that matter) actually makes you less safe - mainly because such weapons are not easy to use effectively in self defence and make you more likely to stay and fight instead of getting out of the situation.

There are two further cross cutting issues in this:

  • The ability of States to have a certain latitude to define laws in their own remit (states' rights) - in this case the Court over rules States' own legislation (under some circumstances - not all gun laws are invalidated).
  • Different ways of construing the Constitution (living document versus the original document as intended at the time) there is in this case a literal words of the 2nd Amendment, although, in this case it is the words of the Amendment and their import that is the key issue, without much constitutional precedent to weigh up (in this case Heller is now the constitutional precedent in this matter).
The mere fact that there are people wanting recourse to violent means to protect themselves from physical violence means there is a huge need for our laws to eradicate homophobia and transphobia and for police forces and local government to work towards effective prevention of violent hate crime.

I am sure this is the better way to address the problem - but this is maybe an example of how far apart are the US and Europe in such matters.

A nice rejoinder to the case (and critique of the conservative justices' judicial activism - usually pinned onto pro-gay rulings of any kind by the right) in E.J. Dionne's piece in the Washington Post:

I also hope this decision opens people's eyes to the fact that judicial activism is now a habit of the right, not the left, and that "originalism" is too often a sophisticated cover for ideological decision-making by conservative judges.

Pride events


Pride events held for the first time in several Indian cities. This is significant coming ahead of hearings by the Indian Supreme Court on the constitutionality of section 377 of the penal code which criminalises same sex activity.


The far right Bulgarian National Union opposes the march in Sofia and police arrest 60 skinheads attempting to disrupt the march.

In the Czech Republic it was reported that right wing extremists used tear gas to attack the march, injuring 20.


Pink News carries a report from New York where the recently appointed Mayor was in attendance after he has indicated New York will accept marriages carried out in California and reports a turnout of over a million.


Paris, as is now usual, had a march of upwards of 700,000 people ending up in a dance party in Place de la Bastille. It included prominent politicians including leading socialist Bertrand Delanoe (gay mayor of Paris and potential presidential candidate). This year's theme was for a school without discrimination.

Coverage from Inter-LGBT with clips from French (extensive - we never had this in Britain) TV for French speakers.

I am genuinely impressed by how successful Pride (La Marche des Fiertes) has been in Paris at being political and educational at the same time.

It was followed by a service at the American Cathedral in Paris "Annual celebration of the inclusive love of God"

Berlin also held a successful CSD (St Christpher Street Day = Pride) as usual. Click here for a round up.

Why Pride is significant for us

Seeing people march for the first time in India, or to see people bravely marching under the assaults (verbal and physical) of the far right in Central Europe gives added poignancy to marching in a parade in support of LGBT equality.

Just simply saying you are gay and walking down a street will earn you physical violence in many parts of the world.

This is what is meant by the freedom of association, the freedom of peaceful assembly. But it's a hard won freedom and in many places of the world (in particular our part of the world - the European Union) LGBT communities are at the cutting edge of the fight for nothing more than the right of peaceful assembly and association.

Such rights are too precious to be taken away by the early stirrings of a new form of European fascism or the old fashioned homophobia of religious authorities.

The Big Labour Party Train Wreck

Coming 5th behind the BNP has really got to be some kind of historic low point which causes us to reflect on how bad things are at the moment.

Whilst it is clear we have a number of exogenous problems (those not of our own making) - notably the price of oil and commodities and the credit crunch, we are in a position where the Party is kind of punch drunk and resigned to defeat at the next election.

This is not good and as a Party we have to ask if this is the best we can offer to the British people.

As blogged previously there is a need for a new government, by which I mean a drastic reshuffle (i.e. more than just shuffling the cards around) with a leading team that can infuse confidence in the Party with a bit of fight in it. It is the political arts that are in demand at this time.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Big Brother Train Wreck

Latest revelations coming on top of racism in a previous series surely point to the fact that in daily life we try to maintain small courtesies and civilities and this generally holds. The concept of Big Brother is to stoke up good TV. They do this by creating an environment that is not too good for humans (confinement, manipulation) for taste and decency to disintegrate at a rapid rate.

It's a clear recipe for TV brawls, insults, bullying, racism, tears before, during and after bedtime, spitting into people's face and so on and so on - the worst excesses of human behaviour portrayed for our enjoyment, a formula for cheap TV and lots of advertising and sponsorship revenues.

The whole programme is an affront to dignity - both that of the viewers and the poor deluded participants.

Leading evangelical condemns failure of leaders on homophobia

I find this from Mark Russell (Leading Anglican and CEO of Church Army) well said and so quote (reported on ekklesia).

Original story (Riazat Butt from the Guardian) and Mark Russell's website is here.

I know many bishops in England who do not agree with everything other bishops say, or do not agree with some of the things they have done, but are committed to being together, to pray together, and to seek to demonstrate Christian love to their flocks. I commend them for their leadership and Godly example. It is in marked contrast to some bishops at GAFCON who refused to condemn violence against gay people in their home countries. Quite honestly that is disgraceful, it sullies their cause, and is totally un-Christian. You cannot justify violence in God's name. Period. To the eternal credit of Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, he condemned the violence when the african bishops refused. Those who perpetrate violence against gay people in Africa now can use this silence to justify their behaviour. Christians must speak up and say this is wrong.

The irish novelist Brian Moore once said there are 2 hidden kinds of lies in the world. The lies of silence, where good people do not speak up when wrong is done, and the lies of truth, where lies are told so often they pickle into truth. We need as Christians to speak up against these lies when we see them.

Whatever your views on Christianity and sexuality, violence against gay people is wrong, and homophobia is wrong. Jesus died for all people whether straight or gay, and he loves everyone equally.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's here!! (almost)

Harriet Harman today launched the government's plans for a new equality bill.

Some of the media reaction has been a little hysterical, to say the least.

The bill seems to me to be quite balanced and sensible (and needed). Seems there are proposals to incorporate public sector prcurement and a unified public sector equality duty across all equality strands (albeit a streamlined 'duty' - I am sure this will attract some comment and indeed oppostion).

There still remains a few details to be resolved like statutory recognition for equality reps in the workplace and representative action.

On the whole I think it has the potential to be a really good, landmark bill. There will be huge opposition to it, not least from the ranks fo the Tories who are already lining up to oppose it.

It has the potential to do that very rare thing - actually send out a powerful message to society over the next generation that we value equality and diversity.

Link here to Harriet Harman in Parliament (including early opposition from Tory backbenchers as well as general cross party support from other parties).

Excerpt from an exchange with John Bercow:

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Although her statement meets with denunciations that are as furious as they are predictable from Members of the Taliban tendency, may I tell the Minister that her statement is right by those who have long suffered discrimination, and right in the interests of the country as a whole? Will she confirm that the equality Bill will contain robust measures to tackle homophobic bullying and to deal equally robustly with the gender pay gap among part-time workers in the public sector, and that the legislation will be on the statute book by the summer of 2009?

Ms Harman: I think that I can confirm all those points to the hon. Gentleman, and I thank him for his question. He has proved that not all Conservative Members are still stuck in the stone age. Given his comments, I would say—although I would have to reflect on the matter with my colleagues—that he ought to be regarded as an honorary member of the sisterhood.

During exchanges the Govt also gave assurances that the Govt would be supporting the new proposed horizontal EU Directive .

Statement of support from Stonewall here.

Article in Pink News explaining the importance of the public duty including sexual orientation.

Links to the document outlining the plans can be found on the Government Equalities Office website.

Today is Equality Day

Long awaited details of the Govt's Equality legislation due to be announced - not sure where though (parliament, press?).

Any way I'm sure the press will pick it up whenever it happens.

Will be interesting to see what happens to equal pay, procurement, representative action and the public duties to promote equality.

This is a mega block buster Bill that (hopefully) will last - if well drafted - over a generation.

From the Times of 23rd June:

The equality laws in England and Wales are an impenetrable thicket. There are 35 Acts, 52 statutory instruments, 32 codes of practice and 16 EC directives — 116 pieces in all covering 4,000 pages. If laid end to end, the Equality and Human Rights Commission points out, that would be the length of ten football pitches or height of 243 double-decker buses.

It would take about two-and-a-half days and two nights to read all the documents. Not only is the law inaccessible, it is out of date. It is also confusing and inconsistent. There are three different definitions of direct discrimination and four of indirect discrimination.

So, as the European Commission points out, an employer might be liable for harassment in one scenario; but not liable for exactly the same behaviour in another. The burden of proof will shift to the employer in some circumstances, but not in others. And if an employer instructs or pressures a member of staff to discriminate, he or she may be liable — but may not be.

From BBC today on Harriet Harman's interview this morning.

Ireland proposes Civil Union Bill

After a long gestation (the Bill is part of the government's coalition agreement as well as in the manifesto of most parties) Ireland's govt finally issues its draft Bill.

It's quite an extensive Bill and seems to mirror the approach taken in the UK with Civil Partnerships.

There appear to be two main differences - one good, the other not so good.

The good thing is that both same and opposite sex couples are given some legal protections on an equal footing. Bad news is that (allegedly - I confess to not having read the draft Bill) in some respects it falls short of marriage.

For one thing it appears not to cover parenting rights - a serious omission.

May be this can be rememdied in the Bill's passage or if not, remedied through a future Bill.

Reaction from GLEN (largely positive) here.
More about the Irish Labour Party's support for Civil Unions here.

I get it now....

Least I think I get it.

The Heinz ad isn't actually supposed to be a same sex couple at all. It's a New York Deli man acting as Mum and therefore kissing everyone including husband and that's the joke.

We don't know what the complaints were - they were probably from both sides of the argument.

The delicious irony is the pickle (probably Branston, HP or Tesco's own brand) that Heinz have manouvred themselves into.

Being an American company they can't issue a press release saying the ad was not a good representation of a same sex family - they'd end up with a US Christian boycot (the US market is bigger), they can't become a Stonewall champion - same reason.

It's a rather delicious irony but does at heart show they lack LGBT sensitivity to put the ad in the first place and I wouldn't like to be the Ad Agency that created the ad right now!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Beans meanz Biggots

I took the solgan from an article I read somewhere from Stonewall's Ben Summerskill - it's all over the net so I don't think I'll add any links.

Louise has blogged that she's none too keen on the ad any way.

From my view that's as may be but the reasoning of Heinz is that a few hundred homophobic protestors are to be listened to in preference to all of Heinz's LGBT customers, their freinds, relatives and so on.

I'm actually none too keen on such boycotts but in this instance Heinz has acted in such a way as to legitimise homophobic speech and to devalue the principles of equality that a respetable company should uphold.

If I consumed any Heinz products (their beans have an unfortunate effect on me as do their competitors') I would boycott them.

I will make sure whn in the supermarket that I execrise my choice not to purchase from Heinz in the future.

I have also (again I don't usually do this but have on this occasion) signed the petition on this matter and would encourage others to do so.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bloggin from Gatwick

Just a few updates before leaving the country for Poland for a Conference in Warsaw on Trade Unions and LGBT equality.

This is an important initiative where hopefully the different unions (including UNISON, Ver.di (German Public services union) and OPZZ in Poland).

So only a few minutes to blog some issues of interest.

UNISON National Delegate Conference

Last day today. Yesterday saw the traditonal Thursday afternoon 'rules amendment' debate. Of particular interest to me was the proposal to create a Disabled Members position on the branch committee, but without the requirement that the position be held by a Disabled member.

No doubt it was well intentioned but there hadn't been consultation with the other self organised groups and the proposal wasn't particularly well thought through, either by Disabled Members or the NEC.

I hope that the proposal's rejection by the Conference on a card vote will allow a time for reflection so that better though out proposals can be brought forward. Branches, in the mean time, are able (and many are doing) appointing equality officers for the different areas of equality.

The Union also launched its Equality Scheme and there will be a workplace equality rep scheme which again will be another way forwards in promoting equality in the union at branch level.

Kudos to Louise who gave an excellent, well thought out and weighty speech laying out the reasons for our opposition and there were a number of other very good speakers as well making the case that we need to move forwards together with well thought out solutions.

Horizontal Directive

A change of jargon (instead of 'horizontal' it is now being descrived as 'cross cutting') the Commission has reversed its position and stated it will propose a Directive covering discrimination across all article 13 grounds (including sexual orientation) after intense lobbying by trade unions and other campaign groups.

Will update as and when I am able....

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jewish same sex wedding ceremony on the streets of California

Some nice footage on BBC website.

Reminds me a bit of the scenes accompanying the introduction of Civil Partnerships in the UK - seems we are still arguing about that.

Marriage now legal

The California Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage has now entered into force and several couples (some of whom have already been together for years - or decades in some cases) are planning to marry immediately at State offices that are staying open for the occasion.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Andrew Sullivan on same sex marriage in 1997

Ahead of the introduction (maybe only for a few months) of same sex marriage in California and in the midst of all of the (somewhat overblown in my view) broohaha about the so called Anglican gay wedding I am putting up a weblink to a talk by Andrew Sullivan on same sex marriage from 11 years ago.

It's well worth watching - and can be found here - the Daily Dish.

Dr Who does theology

Watching last night's Dr Who I could not avoid thinking that the episode was in large part about the thinking of Rene Girard, in artcular his references to the scapegoat mechanism and the need for sacred unity at the expense of indivuals seen as troubling or threatening.

Interesting that in the episode it takes no time at all for sacred unity to be established against whatever person was being designated as the scapegoat.

What he is able to show (exhaustively) is the relationship between that distorted human desire and the foundational mechanism of what he calls surrogate victimage (more popularly called “The Scapegoat Mechanism”). That is to say, human desire, as we live it (and thus the formation from within of our ‘self’ and our consciousness) derives, as a cultural fact, from desire becoming distorted by rivalry, until there is a point where there is so much group violence that unanimity (and thus peace and the avoidance of the collapse of the group) can only be restored when, apparently mysteriously, all become fixated on someone who can be held responsible for the collapse of unity and order within the group and then expelled, permitting the establishment of a new social unity over against the expelled one.

That is to say, an act of collective fratricide against a victim is foundational to all human cultures, with its being absolutely vital for the cultures so founded that they believe in the culpability of the rejected one (or group), and continue to bolster up this belief by forging prohibitions, myths and rituals.

Can the Treaty work with 26?

This is currently being mooted around the capitals of Europe.

Reuters UK Germany says EU may still pursue EU Treaty

It's a fascinating legal and political question. I'd have thought not, but I think at a minimum there would need to be agreement from the Commission, unanimous agreement from the Council (including Ireland) and the parliament not to mention the ECJ' at least tacit agreement (maybe someone should ask them).

In practice I think it's a lot harder, you could end up with "Lisbon" members and "non-Lisbon" members of the EU. It's quite difficult to determine how you can be in the EU and not be affected by Lisbon if it enters into legal force. Proposals to end the rotating Presidency can't be adopted in part. Of course, if there's only one "non-Lisbon" member....

For this exercise to have any legs at all the Associate membership option ("non-Lisbon" membership) might be worked up into something attractive and non-punitive (keepng your MEP's and Commissioner etc). It would become an EU membership status for a member state that had not ratified a Treaty provision and under it the country concerned would retain their legal position as to internal law (and therefore any cases before the ECJ) as per the last treaty that had been ratified and in force.

And of course the Irish government would have to be willing participants.

Is this realistic? Is it pure fantasy? Denial?

All eyes now on Sarkozy and Merkel for the next chapter in what promises to be a long running saga.

UNISON National Delegate Conference is about to start

UNISON's yearly annual Conference starts on Tuesday and runs through to Friday.

As usual there are many motions to be debated (most are not reached so usually motions that are quite high up in the prioritisation process get heard).

LGBT motions this year include Making LGBT Equality a Reality, emphasising the launch of UNISON's Equality Scheme and Human Rights are Fundamental on the importance of human rights frameworks - especially when religious groups claim the right to discriminate.

Conference will also see the launch of the Union's Equality Scheme.

There will also be some controversy during the rules debate as there is a proposed rule change from the Disabled Members group that will be opposed by the LGBT group (two thirds majority required).

I won't (at least I don't think I will) be blogging from the Conference. Jon Rogers (although I do not concur with him on all of his views) will probably provide some incisive blogging from a left perspective.

I am sure that Louise will also blog as well.

An EU without Ireland and the UK?

Firstly Will Hutton in the Observer (Europe must not be derailed by lies and disinformation) envisages the EU will proceed without Ireland in the event of 26 countries ratifaying the Lisbon Treaty.

Second an editorial in Le Monde points the way to a new Treaty body (based on Lisbon, presumably).

What is therefore looking likely at the moment is the creation of an EU Associate status - probably designed for Ireland, the UK and Turkey.

Le Monde:

Pour sortir de ce cercle vicieux, il n'y a qu'une possibilité : créer, à côté de l'Union européenne actuelle, une avant-garde composée de pays prêts à accepter la règle de la majorité qualifiée pour approfondir l'intégration. L'idée n'est pas nouvelle, mais elle n'a jamais été mise en oeuvre. Elle suppose des dirigeants convaincus que l'unité européenne est une ambition nécessaire. S'il aidait à cette prise de conscience, le vote des Irlandais serait finalement une chance pour l'Europe.

Rough translation:

There is only one way out of this vicious circle - the creation, alongside the current EU of an 'avant garde' made up of countries ready to accept the rule of qualified majority voting in order to deepen integration. It's not a new idea, but it has never been put into practice. It would require leaders convinced that European unity was a necessary ambition. If it's any help toward such a position then the Irish vote might end up being a real opportunity for Europe.

Will Hutton:

On top of these there is the political problem that the treaty can't be rewritten to accommodate specific Irish concerns because it already does; Ireland's 'no' campaigners told lies. The voters' great concerns had been met. There is a specific protocol that guarantees Ireland's neutrality and excuses it from membership of any joint European defence effort, if any surfaces. There is no possibility of Ireland being told to enforce abortion. And all states have autonomy over tax policy.

Crucially, the treaty contains a clause that states that do not agree to its provisions are required to leave the European Union. The existing treaty can certainly be made more obviously Ireland-friendly within its existing provisions, but beyond that, the EU will have to get tough and invoke the clause. It will have to ask Ireland to resubmit essentially the same treaty for a second referendum early in 2009, rather as Ireland held a second referendum over the Nice treaty in 2002.

If Ireland votes similarly again, then it will have to accept associate status in the EU and not be a member of its governing structures. The EU will proceed without Ireland.

I don't entirely agree with Will Hutton's analysis but the logic of a Treaty being negotiated by all heads of government and ratified by 26 out of 27, and one of the countries stating they are unable to ratify means there is at least a possibility of being asked to accept associate status.

The irony is that for associate status to be enacted it would require an Ireland-EU Treaty ... probably requiring a referendum.

The real risk is for Britain as an incoming Tory government (in the event of that happening) might quite like associate status.

Let's be clear however, what associate status would mean. It would be more than free trade - this is already enjoyed by Norway and Switzerland as continuing members of EFTA as part of the European Economic Area (described on its website as being for [members] to:

participate in the Internal Market, while not assuming the full responsibilities of EU membership. The Agreement gives them the right to be consulted by the Commission during the formulation of Community legislation, but not the right to a voice in decision-making, which is reserved exclusively for Member States

in other words to have the right to have decisions made by others without your involvement.

It would therefore mean still being part of EU common policies (agriculture, fisheries), still paying a budgetary contribution, still being bound by EU law but having no MEP's, no Commissioner and no presence at the Council of ministers.

I am sure there are many eurosceptics who would vote for this as a stepping stone to rejoining EFTA (i.e. leaving the EU).

On the positive side, if the EU develops as a free association of peoples (as it undoubtedly is) then maybe it should allow for stepping stones, both to exit and entry via an associate status.

And I am sure that eurosceptics would then campaign to come out of the EEA to avoid being told what to do by the EU that we had just left.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Pastoral letter from Bishop Andrus regarding same sex marriage in California

I am indebted as ever to Thinking Anglicans for this and thought it so important I reproduce fully below:

Web link

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,I welcome the ruling of the California Supreme Court affirming the fundamental right of all people to marry. I am writing to you now to recommend a path to use this decision to strengthen our support of our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered sisters and brothers, and our continued witness to God’s inclusive love.

Clergy and lay leaders in the diocese have been working for the rights of LGBT people and for their full inclusion in our Church for more than forty years. Today, we continue to walk a journey that includes:
  • Bringing the witness of our LGBT sisters and brothers to this summer’s Lambeth Conference,
  • Combating a ballot initiative this November that will attempt to take away
    the rights recently recognized by the California Supreme Court,
  • Providing leadership at next summer's General Convention to bring our marriage practices and theology in line with our fundamental baptismal

For far too long the onus has fallen on marginalized people to bear the burden of inequalities that exist within the Church, and the decision by our state’s Supreme Court has given us the opportunity to level the playing field.

To that end, the Diocese of California seeks to provide, by advocacy and example, a way forward for The Episcopal Church so that the marriage of same-sex couples will be a part of our official marriage rites, without distinction.

Although The Episcopal Church does not have canonical rites for same-sex marriage, it is our goal that all couples be treated equally by the Church, as they are equally loved by God.

I therefore provide you with the following pastoral guidelines:

I urge you to encourage all couples, regardless of orientation, to follow the pattern of first being married in a secular service and then being blessed in The Episcopal Church. I will publicly urge all couples to follow this pattern.

For now, the three rites approved for trial use under the pastoral direction of the bishop, adopted by resolution at the 2007 Diocesan Convention (see appendix), should be commended to all couples (again, regardless of orientation) to bless secular marriages.

All marriages should be performed by someone in one of the secular categories set forth in California Family Code, section 400 (see appendix), noting that any person in the state of California can be deputized to perform civil marriages. The proper sphere for Episcopal clergy is the blessing portion of the marriage.

The understanding of The Episcopal Church currently is that blessings are an extension of the pastoral office of the bishop. I ask that you continue to inform me of all same-sex blessings.

Couples who have been married under the auspices of the California Supreme Court ruling must have the same pre-marriage counseling as that required of any couple seeking marriage or blessing of marriage in The Episcopal Church. This should be understood as an offering of the Church’s support for marriage.

I urge Episcopalians, clergy and lay, to volunteer as Deputy Marriage Commissioners. There are over 4,000 civil same-sex marriages planned in a short period of time in the city of San Francisco alone and the city is asking for help in meeting demand. I intend to volunteer for this at my earliest opportunity. This would be one sign of affirmation for the Supreme Court ruling from our diocese. By city requirement, clergy will not be allowed to wear collars when presiding at secular marriages. (For more information about how to be deputized, see the attached appendix.)

All people receiving blessings of civil marriages in the Diocese of California are free to use the same degree of publicity (e.g., newspaper notices).These are interim measures as the Diocese of California and The Episcopal Church continue our journey in the context of this prophetic opportunity provided by the California Supreme Court’s ruling. I have already initiated a process to arrive at a more studied, permanent answer for Episcopal clergy presiding at same-sex marriages in this diocese. That process includes the formation of a panel of diocesan clergy to make recommendations about how to move toward equality of marriage rites for all people. These recommendations will be discussed across the diocese resulting in an official diocesan policy.

In the coming days, I will publicly state my opposition to the initiative to overturn the Supreme Court ruling. The Diocese of California will publish advertising around June 17 celebrating the Supreme Court ruling and inviting same-sex couples to our churches for pre-marital counseling and nourishment in communities of faith. As always, I welcome your wisdom, your insights and your input on these matters, and I continue in my commitment to work for a Church that sees all of God’s children through the same eyes that God does.

The guilty parties

Who's to blame for the Lisbon Treaty fiasco?

I have two candidates.

I think Google and the Internet means that all information is at the fingertips of everyone and therefore allowing the great and good to go off and do their own thing in a well meaning way is increasingly not an option. Makes the politics of such treaties harder and harder to sustain against insurgent populist campaigns. Voters are less and less willing to trust their elected leaders on such matters and less tolerant of treaties they can't read.

But surely the single person most clearly blameworthy person has to be France's very own Valery Giscard D'Estaing.

After British politicians warned against calling it a Constitution - he went ahead and called it a Constitutional Treaty..... thereby guaranteeing the opposition of the die hard anti-Europeans, and incidentally pushing the French and Dutch to hold their own referendums, killing the first version of the Treaty stone dead and carrying the Reform Treaty in its wake.

Finally he gave this quote about the Lisbon Treaty, which wasn't the greatest help in the ratification campaign:

public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals we dare not present to them directly

When the Lisbon Treaty has friends like these, I don't think there's really much of a role for eurosceptic No campaigns.

Putting it all back together again

The biggest complaint that I hard against the Treaty of Lisbon is that it was too long and full of legal sounding phrases.

If you want a minimalistic treaty that does not grant excessive powers to the EU, seems to me that you will end up with a carefully written, long, legalistic, international treaty.

Whether this is appropriate material for a referendum is open to debate - I don't think it is and I am a firm believer in Parliamentary democracy.

I do not, in fact, believe that referendums are a more valid expresion of the popular will than representative democracy and I think the Irish result demonstrates that in abundance.

The Irish referendum demonstrates that people are wont to vote on all sorts of things, both real and unreal - the current government, fears over abortion, neutrality and so on, not focusing on the text of the Treaty which will (even if realy pared down) be too long and complicated for the electorate (how many people in the UK read the parties' respective manifestos?).

Any way, the fact of the matter is that Ireland does have this constitutional requirement of a referendum which is queering everyone's pitch so far as I can tell.

There might be some point adding protocols and binding declarations to the Treaty and then getting Ireland to vote again but that is not likely to work, as most people now admit.

Many of the No campaign in France and also Ireland state they are in favour of a "social Europe" and yet that is the first thing that has been killed off - it is now all but impossible to get things like the Charter of Fundamental Rights through the ratification process, and as for the rest. Certainly new accessions now seem very remote.

Future treaties are likely to be very simple, one issue only where the heavens will not fall in if the vote is not carried and where the matter at hand is so technical and minor only Ireland will have a referendum. And written on one side of A4, so it can be read by voters before casting their ballot.

There might even be a way of making changes to practice without a new Treaty, perhaps proceeding intergovernmentaly, perhaps by setting up new Treaty bodies that countries can opt into (and out of?) at their leisure.

I am sure, with Denis McShane in today's Times, that the EU will continue, but the EU that our political elites have imagined over the past decade is now well and truly at an end.

Comment in today's Guardian:

Fintan O'Toole The fear factory that devastated Ireland's political class
Colm Toibin A godsend to every crank in Ireland

Friday, June 13, 2008

Intergroup reports EU Commission agrees to propose a horizontal Directive covering all major strands of discrimination

Report from the Lesbian and Gay Intergroup, picked up by Pink News (at the same time as the Irish Lisbon train wreck) that the Commission has, in the face of widespread lobbying from around the EU agreed the new Directive covering discrimination outside employment would include sexual orientation.

There is of course a steep road ahead as the Directive needs to pass with unanimity and there will be a lot of tough arguing over the content and scope of any exemptions.

The news is not yet posted on the EU Commission website, so I am holding off from premature celebrations for the moment.

EU Lesbian and Gay Intergroup web site

Ireland scuppers Lisbon (according to early reports)

Making three countries that voted No in referendums on the Constitution/Lisbon process.

Maybe we should look at plans B, C, D, E and F.

Time report

Guardian report

Oh well, back to the drawing board.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Will Ireland scupper Lisbon?

Many of Europe's capitals are now on tenter hooks as they await the result of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

In the event of a No options will be to tweak the Treaty and vote again or just abandon the whole thing.

If abandoned, options will include annual mini treaties (not the same as mini treats) with each individual item of the Lisbon Treaty or a core of European countries going it alone with Britain and Ireland on the outside.

David Davis throws himself out of the shadow cabinet in protest against the Govenment.......

Words quite frankly fail me as he commits £75,000 of public money to stand against the Raving Looney Party (should be an interesting contrast) to make way for Dominic Grieve (a much more balanced and dependable politician and less of a liability to his leader).

Davis' record is of supporting section 28, hanging .....

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Norway adopts same sex marriage bill

Norway's Parliament is being reported as having adopted a bill which would equalise the marriage law for same sex couples as well as allow for donor inseminaiton for lesbians has been carried by 84 votes to 41 (i.e. by a 2:1 margin).

It is reported as being due to become law by the end of the year or early next year.

Norway will therefore follow Netherelands, Belgium, Spain, Canada and Massachussets in enacting equal marriage laws.

Such a move is also being actively considered by Sweden.

AFP report
Pink News
Rainbow Rose

News just in - Govt wins 42 days by 9 votes

After a number of concessions the Government staves off defeat and wins on 42 days.

The concessions though are quite extensive and produce a rather strange legal apparatus to deal with situations where a longer period than 28 days is required, though the alternative would be to rush through legislation on the hoof in 1 day which, on balance, means the 42 days might be the least worst solution.

Very good coverage on the Guardian blogging on developments throughout the day.

What Gordon Brown should do over the summer

Firstly, rest.

Secondly delegate to (probably) Jack Straw, possibly Miliband over a long summer holiday.

Ideally he should rent a cottage in Devon for the first part of the holiday and be seen going for lots of country walks, a couple of shots of chatting with locals but no politicking.

Then aborad where there are no voters to interact with and (hopefully) no media apart from a few syndicated photos and clips of him reading something slightly trashy (if he's seen reading an economics text book that's not good).

Where? Can't be the US or he'll get caught up in the US elections. Can't be in the EU or he'll end up talking about the Lisbon Treaty.

So preferably somewhere he can completly unwind and be photographed wearing slacks and short sleave shirts.

No where immediately springs to mind but I wonder if Cliff Richards still has that yacht in the Bahamas.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Congratulations to COC

COC (it appears to be the world's first gay organisation, set up in 1946 in the Netherlands) has been recommended by the ECOSOC Committee on NGO's to obtain consultative status.

COC will join a number of LGBT organisations who have already recently gained consultative status at the UN (ILGA Europe and a number of other organisations such as LBL, LSVD and RFSL).

The UK appears to have played a key role in the committee, speaking in favour of the LGBT organisations and also persuading the USA to support (voted against on a previous occasion).

It was a 6-7 vote with 5 abstentions. In favour - Colombia, Dominica, Israel, Peru, Romania, United Kingdom, United States; against - China, Egypt, Pakistan, Qatar, Russian Federation, Sudan; abstained - Angola, Burundi, Guinea, India, Turkey.

Pink News report - Gay groups gain observer status at the UN
ECOSOC Report - Approving gay-rights federation in 'breakthrough' decision

Obama's gay campaign

This on the Obama campaign's efforts to involve LGBT people, including previous supporters of Hillary.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Yesterday's Prides

Reuters - Pride events in Italy

Gay NZ - Pride events in Rome, Athens, Warsaw

Amnesty welcomes British embassy flying the rainbow flag (after being flown in Riga recently).

Open letter about Riga Pride

The letter from a wide number of signatories (including ILGA Europe) welcomes the event was upheld and took place whilst still pointing out disappointing ways in which the event was restricted.

In spite of all of the negatives, it's instructive to compare this year's Riga Pride with that of 2005 which was banned by the City Council but went ahead after a Court order, and with 2006 where significant violence and disruption occurred from anti-gay campaigners.

Apart from the sheer tenacity of LGBT campaigners in Latvia (and similarly in other Eastern European countries) we should improved policing, support from organisations such as ILGA-Europe and Amnesty International and high profile politicians from within the EU and in neighbouring countries.

THT interview on blood donation

PinkNews interview with Lisa Powers of THT.

Excerpt dealing with blood donation here:

There is a perception that THT is supporting a policy that is discriminatory.

They need to actually think why would we do that, since we come from the gay communities, being part of the gay community.

I myself have been a gay activist for over 30 years, and I didn't understand it till I sat down at length with people from the National Blood Service and really went into it very carefully and now I understand it.

I don't blame people who don't understand the ban and think it's all about prejudice, because 99 times out of a 100 when someone tells someone they can't do something because they are gay it's prejudice.

The ban around blood is a real problem, and it needs to be constantly checked.

Our view is that we support the blood service as long as they keep reviewing the evidence and we recently had a meeting with the NBS, two months ago, and they are currently going into another review.

They are looking at all the evidence and they are going to be sharing it with us.

They also finally understand they they haven't done enough with the gay community.

I would say to any gay organisation which has tried to engage with the blood service in the past and failed because the NBS hasn't wanted to engage with the community, I would say go back and re-engage.

If you want you can come and ask us at THT about who to talk to.

Get in touch with the blood service, get in touch with the right people at the top and persuade them that they need to explain themselves better.

We now have a FAQ policy about blood donation which is on our website, which tries to explain in as simple terms as possible.

Now sometimes people don't like what we are saying, literally last week we had a phone call to our department here from a gay man who was very upset about the blood policy and said how dare the blood service refuse the blood of gay men.

We said you have to understand that gay men are disproportionately at risk of HIV and then he started shouting at us 'how dare you pick on gay men, how dare you say we are disproportionately at the risk of getting HIV.'

But the fact is that in this country gay men are massively at risk, and what the blood service does, which they have been scared to admit in the past, is they play the odds.

They look at how much blood they need and they look at how many risks they need to take to get the blood they need and what kinds of blood, and they don't take any more risks that that.

Though the risk is relatively low, that something could go wrong, there is risk there.

When we talk to people about this, they are surprised to find out that that no-one from England can give blood in the US, because there is a tiny risk from BSE.

And it wouldn't matter if you are a vegetarian, and for a vegetarian to give blood in the US is like the gay man being refused to give blood here in England.