Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Stonewall Bites Back

*REVISED 14.06, 22/9/10*

Stonewall have hit back at the PinkNews story which spread via Twitter and blogs like wild-fire. I posted my take on it last night (the post below) and as I said then, PinkNews still seem to be standing by the story. The Stonewall press release can be viewed in full here. The trouble is, this statement from Stonewall doesn't seem to clarify things. Whilst it certainly adds a bit more detail - Stonewall were opposed to a specific motion at the Lib Dem marriage rather than the whole concept of same-sex marriage - the statement then re-states the point that caused the confusion in the first place by revisiting the issue of cost. The central criticism - that cost trumps principal is a fair enough comment from a Government but not from a pressure group fighting for a cause. There are of course questions about that cost of any form of relationship recognition- and the state benefits that go with marriage but that is not the sort of reason to trump equality. That's a reason to look at those costs.

You can examine those cost aspects and thus reduce the 'cost' of marriage whilst still promoting the principal of equality. The introduction of Civil Partnerships meant additional costs on training, additional pressures on administration and delivery of partnership ceremonies and services. Imagine if the leading gay rights campaign group had said then "hang on guys, it's gonna cost too much". Yet, that is - even with this clarifying statement - what they still seem to be saying about same-sex marriage.

Stonewall does not appear (although I'm sure they must) to recognise that you can support the right to marry whilst also rejecting marriage yourself. You can (and I would argue should) argue for a diverse and flexible range of relationship recognition options that move beyond the narrow choices that exist today.

They are right to highlight that this is a complex area and real debate needs to take place about relationship structures but I'm still far from clear that Ben Summerskill was doing that. Rather, it seems he made a cack-handed intervention that sadly chimed with many people's existing perceptions about the failings of Stonewall.

Nonetheless, I hate all this Stonewall bashing. They do some great work but as I keep saying, they need to listen and re-engage with their stakeholders beyond the narrow metropolitan elites. If they do that, they will return to being the appreciated and much valued service and campaigning organisation so many of us want them to be.

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