2013 marks the 26th anniversary of the first time that I came out of the closet. I can still feel the sheer terror of the occasion , which wasn’t helped by the fact that I was hopelessly in love with the schoolfriend to whom my revelations were aimed. He was refreshingly sympathetic. So was my next friend. And then to medical school , where each person that I came out to seemed uninterested and unsurprised. The exception was Pankaj Maini , who refused to share a house with me lest he catch AIDS from the cutlery. But he was the exception. I consider myself very lucky. This was an era of AIDS scaremongering,Section 28 , an unequal age of consent , gay people banned from the armed services , and an era where a ferociously rightwing press regularly ridiculed the notion of human rights for homosexuals , where Garry Bushell would attack the idea of AIDS charities as the victims had brought it on themselves. In the midst of that era , I came out to my medical school by having a houseparty where the Take That posters that festooned my bedroom wall were not hidden at all. Nobody batted an eyelid. The response of my medical friends seemed a far cry from the relentless homophobia of politicians and press.
How things have changed , not least that Mark Owen isn’t sexy anymore. I remember the 1994 debate on the equalisation of the Age of Consent very well , the visceral fury of the rightwingers , and Ian Paisley senior being rebuked by the Speaker for describing anal sex in detail. Compared to 1994 , yesterday’s debate on gay marriage was very civil.
It was a good exercise for me to listen to the views of people with whom I profoundly disagreed again and again. Though not one of them managed to explain how anyone’s heterosexual marriage would be undermined by this. A lot of them lied about public support claiming that the public were against it. They should be asked to wear a T shirt which reads ” Virtually every opinion poll of the last 12 months shows a clear majority of the British public are in favour of gay marriage”. Rightwing MP Gerald Howarth accepted this fact , and blamed the British public for not understanding the issues.
To me it is clear that calling them all bigots is not correct. If I have done that before as I suspect I have , then I apologise. A lot of the anti’s clearly had sincere concerns that had been thought through and politely expressed. But their arguments did not stand up to scrutiny. When they ran out of ideas , they turned to falsehoods like “marriage is primarily about children”. A lot of them seemed happy to use their postbag as evidence of public displeasure. Which is intellectually vapid. An MP’ postbag is by its very nature going to contain the missives of unhappy people , not happy people.
Then there were the bigots. Yesterday was a bad day for the DUP whose members looked like desperate dinosaurs of a bygone age. Ian Paisley Junior managed the impressive feat of sounding more idiotic than his father. I do wonder how he felt when he was being laughed down by his colleagues at his ludicrous claims about Spanish and Portugese heterosexuals not getting married because of gay marriage.
And then there was David Simpson. The DUP MP for Upper Bann. Supporter of creationism and homeopathy. His big moment arrived. What was his big argument ?
“In the Garden of Eden , it was Adam and Steve”
His one chance to make a moronic , irrelevant point. And he blew it. It was hilarious.
It was almost as hilarious as the frothing at the mouth of Tory Roger Gale – so committed to the sanctity of marriage he has divorced twice – and Bob Blackman – who had an 11 year affair behind his wife’s back. It seems that some members of the Tory right have no shame in embracing both “family values” and “hypocrisy”
I doubt whether anyone’s opinion would have been changed by yesterday’s debate , but it was good to watch , and I do feel that free votes give us a better, less stage managed debate , and it is surely healthy that politicians can express their opinion without fear of party rebuke. I have no desire to conduct an ideological witch hunt against those who voted against , I don’t think consensus is a politically healthy thing.
But I am jubilant that the constant lies of the Mail and the Telegraph about the issues only had one effect – to harden public support in favour of gay marriage.
I am happy that we have now reached a stage where to be homophobic is considered more risible than to be homosexual.
I am glad that the DUP and certain members of the Tory right exposed themselves horribly yesterday.
And I am pleased and grateful to the hard work over decades of the “gay rights lobby”. Bashed in the media and sometimes literally , they fought the good fight for years with very little gratitude from the people whom they sought to defend. Their reward was for two politicians , Tony Blair and David Cameron, to fight their cause on a point of principle. It is an irony that two of the most reviled politicians of the modern age should be the ones to make a difference. Neither man is exactly renowned for his principles. I’d like to thank them both.