Debate and discussion: Blair is no heterophobe!

Submitted by Anon on 18 August, 2003 - 6:42

By Maria Exall

Peter Tatchell's articles in Solidarity (3/34) contain two arguments that are less than helpful in campaigning against homophobia in Britain today.

He attempts to define a new social phenomenon of "heterophobia" to explain why the Government is only proposing civil partnership registration for lesbian and gay couples. The Goverment's decision can however be more easily explained by their prioritising of good old fashioned money and marriage.

This year the Goverment has to introduce regulations to implement the "European Directive on Anti Discrimination on the basis of Sexual Orientation in Employment". However it has excluded pensions from these new laws. This means that public pension schemes will still be entitled to discriminate against couples who are not married, both straight or lesbian and gay. A continuing injustice when many in the private sector have the right to nominate who they choose as a beneficiary.

After civil partnerships come in, lesbian and gay couples who do not register their partnership, like unmarried straight couples, will still not be able to pass on their pension to their partners, in many areas of the public sector, most notably those working in education and health. This will save the Government millions of pounds.

The more obvious indirect discrimination that results from this is not "heterophobia" but sexism as more than two thirds of workers in this sector are women.

The other reason why heterosexual couples are to be excluded from the proposed civil partnership scheme is that conservative forces in the churches and elsewhere believe that straight couples participating in a civil scheme akin to marriage will undermine the increasingly unpopular institution of marriage.

It is the reactionaries who would preserve a narrow heterosexist model of partnership who have lobbied the Government to exclude straight couples not "heterophobes". Peter is right that "the laws should reflect and support diverse relationship choices and realities". This is best achieved by straight, lesbian, gay and bisexual people demanding partnership rights for all, not squabbling over who has more rights than whom.

The second unhelpful argument that Peter makes in his articles is a separating the demands for equality from the aim of liberation. As a debating point this is fine. However the vision of liberation is not tainted by the concrete fight for equal rights. Indeed calling for liberation without demanding an end to discrimination can mean liberation is reduced to a "liberationist agenda" far removed from the realities of ordinary peoples's lives. I would disagree with Peter in his programme for campaigning to eliminate "erotophobia" from our society, not because there is no truth in his claim that attitudes to sexual relationships in our society are screwed up, but because I would wish to prioritise different issues to camapign on.

Perhaps legalising under age sex or the removal of all censorship are not priorities. Maybe working to eradicate sexism and homophobia in eduaction are. We need to have the arguments on our political priorities for liberation in a democratic lesbian, gay and bi-sexual workers' movement. Unless we are organised our agenda will always be undermined by those whose goals are less than liberation.

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