Yesterday I watched on my television a group of a few hundred people, consisting mostly of old men from privileged backgrounds, stand up in a large hall and make proclamations about whether or not I should be allowed to get married. Key among them was Sir Gerald Howarth, a Conservative MP who represents Aldershot. Howarth spat out many of the old tropes that have been used to deny equality to gay people since the Victorian period. He referred to the "aggressive homosexual community". MP Edward Leigh said ‘If you dare disagree with the orthodoxy that gay marriage is the best thing since sliced bread, you are breaking a new taboo... The outlandish views of the loony left of the 1980s have now become embedded in high places’. Another MP, Tim Loughton, tried to introduce a bill to allow heterosexual people to have civil partnerships. This was championed as a form of equality, although the real reason was to wreck the gay marriage bill. Mary Douglas complained that there was "no mandate" for the reform, perhaps forgetting that many Tories want a vote on UK's position in the EU, despite the fact that there was "no mandate" for that either. David Burrowes, an evangelical Christian who has been involved with a "gay cure" charity in the past, said that "This is not a marriage bill, it's an unfair dismissal bill" (for registrars and others with conscientious and religious objections)."
I'd produced one of those "bingo cards" so people could tick off the predictable phrases as they were spoken during the debate.
Outside Parliament, what can only be described as a Coven of Hatred held up signs claiming that marriage was between a man and a woman while chanting and wailing in a disturbing chorus.
Sometimes I forget just how much people who have never met me hate me.
I view these Haterz as stupid in many ways - stupid because their arguments can be easily deconstructed - "we're casting aside tradition and it's terrible" - "but who said tradition's always good - what about the tradition of slavery?". But stupid because deep down, they must know that they are going to lose - and that history will not remember them kindly. Perhaps they really do have deeply held religious convictions - but in that case, they're too stupid to understand that religion is pretty much all in the interpretation and you can fix it any way you like. Stupid too because they're arguing about something which is unlikely to have any real impact in their own lives. Nobody's taking their own marriage away. (Clearly) they don't have gay friends. It won't make much difference to them.
A documentary about the moral panic over video nasties in the 1980s I saw recently ended with the message that the right-wing don't care when they lose debates due to times changing. They just cheerfully forget it all and move on to the next thing they can attack. Their only interest is in retaining power and in shaping the national dialogue for the present. It is in their own interests for their defeats to be forgotten, so they can use similar techniques of outrage for the next time. So Tory defence secretary Philip Hammond, on Question Time last week argued that there was no huge demand for gay marriage, and that civil partnerships had dealt with "the very real disadvantage" that gay couples faced, making him sound almost reasonable. Yet he was somewhat stumped when Labour MP Chris Bryant reminded him of his voting record on gay rights saying "I'd accept your argument more if you'd ever voted for an equal age of consent, for gays to be allowed to adopt, for gays in the military to be able to peruse their career or for that matter if you had voted for civil partnerships. "There have been 23 votes in the time you've been in parliament on these issues, on 12 of them you've not even bothered to turn up and on 11 you've voted against." People like Hammond want us to forget how much of a bigot he was in the past, so he can pretend he isn't one now.
And amid all this, on Saturday night, one of my friends, co-incidentally also called Chris(topher) Bryant was walking home after celebrating his birthday with his partner. Chris is the editor of an online gay magazine Polari which I've written articles for a few times. Polari magazine had just done a series of articles to mark IDAHOBIT the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphohia and Transphobia on May 17th, where people had written in with their stories of encountering homophobia.
Shockingly, the couple were attacked by six men who beat and robbed them, yelling "stay down faggot". It's on the front page of today's Independent.
In a world where the most powerful people in the country can stand up, shamelessly in Parliament and use pitifully poor reasons to deny gay people a basic right to equality, it is hardly surprising that just a few miles away, unexpected, unprovoked physical violence can be committed against gay people. It is hard to see how the two are not linked. Yet it is these bigots who complain about gay people being aggressive and having their own rights (the right to hate others) being taken away. I wonder if Hammond, Haworth and Loughton have ever been physically beaten or screamed at just for being heterosexual. I wonder if they have had the word "straight" used as an insult on them, or if they have heard it used routinely around them, as I heard one of the students in my department use the word "gay" as an insult, outside my office yesterday. For them to talk about the "aggressive homosexual community" would be funny - if it wasn't for pictures like the one on the front of the Independent.
Philip Hammond, Gerald Howarth, Edward Leigh, Mary Douglas, Tim Loughton. They're middle-aged. I'd be surprised if any of them are around in 35-50 years time. But I hope their names won't be forgotten. If we are to improve as a species, we must not forget our worst exemplars of humanity - what we are capable of, so we can avoid making those mistakes again.