On 25 January, over 60 people took part in an LGBTQ rights protest at Royal Holloway University against Tory Minister for Defence, Philip Hammond, who is also the local MP for Runnymede and Weybridge.
Hammond was giving a talk at the the university. He is opposed to same-sex marriage and has voted against gay rights, including the repeal of Section 28.
When the planned protest gained momentum, the minister’s aides agreed to meet two students to hear our grievances. I was one, the other was Student Union Chair Joe Rayment.
We questioned Hammond about his opposition to the Same-Sex Marriage Bill, and he responded that the bill would “redefine marriage” and appealed to its “tradition”.
We responded that marriage, like many civil institutions, had not remained static, and that, regardless, equal rights should trump tradition.
Hammond objected to religious groups being forced to marry same-sex couples, ignoring that the bill does not do this. In any case, religious opinion about same-sex marriage ranges from conservative opposition to support (e.g. the Quakers).
He claimed that Maria Miller’s “quadruple lock” of exemptions is not “robust enough”.
Hammond suggested that civil partnerships were sufficient.
We stated that for many people, marriage was an important religious or cultural event, and that civil partnerships represented an “equal but separate” divide in the law.
As he wormed through his incoherent excuses, his homophobia surfaced. When questioned why I shouldn’t have the same rights as a heterosexual couple, he brushed the question aside as a “silly game” of talking about human rights.
When asked why the state should be allowed to say who can and who cannot have their relationship recognised by the law, he retorted that you wouldn’t allow “two siblings who loved each other to get married”. He equated the love of a same-sex couple with incest!*
This is the bile that the right-wing of the Tory party are pushing: the Victorian maxim that anything other than love between a man and a woman is as invalid as incest. He then abruptly left our meeting pausing only to call us juvenile as we refused to shake his hand.
We plan to continue the campaign, with a variety of talks, film showing and action-planning meetings arranged for LGBTQ History month (February), and will visit Hammond’s surgery to continue protesting.
The LGBTQ caucus of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts will publicise and support actions confronting homophobic politicians, and urge you to organise them too.
* This article was written directly after the meeting with Philip Hammond. We were not allowed recording equipment in the meeting itself and so had to jot down what he said afterwards.
This was complicated further by the mindset I was in after Mr Hammond refused to tell me that I shouldn’t be allowed to marry whom I love. When originally writing this I omitted the details concerning Hammond’s comparison of same-sex marriage with incest. Though he didn’t use the word “incest” but strongly implied that you wouldn’t let siblings marry.
Joe asked “What right does the state have to tell two people who love each other that can’t get married” he replied, “Well, you we don’t allow siblings to get married either”.