Belfast Telegraph

Jilting gay marriage will not solve Tories' dilemma

By Laurie Penny

I have long suspected that most people who oppose same-sex marriage are just jealous that they haven't been invited to a gay wedding yet. It seems beyond question that, in the year 2012, same-sex couples across the world should be granted the same right to risk making a hash of their lives as anyone else.

My own ambivalence extends only to the institution of marriage in general. I've just about got to the age when some of my friends are planning to tie the most expensive of knots.

And, while the radical socialist feminist in me is always primed with a lecture about the history of marriage as a ritual to secure property rights, protect the bloodlines of the wealthy and institutionalise the domestic slavery of women, somehow my sentimental side always lets me down.

Beyond the useful package of legal rights already conferred by civil partnerships, a wedding is the ultimate symbol of cultural assimilation. It's easy to understand why being able to have one matters so much to so many gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

And when David Cameron declared that he was supporting equal marriage "because I am a Conservative" - alongside the party's core policy that marriage, mortgage and monogamy are the right way for everyone on average incomes to live - some of us might actually have believed him.

Perhaps we weren't naive to do so. Maybe equal marriage will be delivered by a Tory-led government that, until very recently, had let down lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people every step of the way. Maybe gay and lesbian couples will be welcomed to the dinner table by a government whose members, including the Prime Minister, personally voted in 2000 to defend one of the most homophobic pieces of legislation in recent memory, Section 28.

Perhaps David Cameron's entire outlook really has inverted in 12 years. People can change, especially when spin-doctors assure them that to do so might win vacillating liberal voters to the cause of public sector cuts.

For most Conservative policy-makers, though, gay rights are a matter of political expediency, not principle. Right now, political expediency is pointing back down the track of moral retrogression.

The more frothingly reactionary elements of his party are already blaming the proposal for the hammering the Conservatives just received in the local elections. That includes our old friend Nadine Dorries, who never saw a bandwagon of vicious moral throwbackery she didn't like. The Conservatives are clearly prepared to abandon any principle if their grip on power is threatened.

They are kidding themselves, however, if they think that simply reversing policy on equal marriage will be enough to divert attention from a housing crisis, a job crisis and a corruption scandal.

If senior Tories really believe that voters are abandoning the party because of equal marriage, rather than, say, because of its determination to make ordinary workers pay with their jobs and homes for the financial failings of the rich, then they truly have lost their constituency. And that should worry the old guard far more than a few gay weddings.

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