Fascinators and neo-Puritanism: why I’m conflicted about marriage equality

Is it right to accept something you want from someone who you know gives it with the most cynical of motives, asks Alex Andreou.

I have kept My Big Fat Greek Gob shut on the issue of same sex marriage. I have done so, in the knowledge that many people up and down the country desire it, some of them dear friends, and I had nothing helpful to add. I had nothing to add because my objections had only been general and my own Big Fat Greek Wedding a sadly diminishing future prospect. But I can do so no longer in good conscience.

My general objections, feel free to ignore. They extend to little more than a non-specific sense of dread that at the heart of this policy is a callous attempt to create economic value where it didn’t exist; to target the disposable income of gay couples and boost growth with a surge in the sales of clothes, gravy boats, novelty fascinators and other assorted meaningless paraphernalia.

I also fear that it will create an added pressure to conform. I recall fighting the early battles in Greece in the late eighties, when we occupied Exarheia Square, hand-in-hand with transsexual prostitutes and militant dykes; the first Pride march; being chased by police and beaten with clubs. What we were fighting for was an acceptance of all different ways of expressing love and sexuality; it was a desire for more, not less, sexual liberation. White picket fences and registration lists could not have been further from our minds.

What we have instead is an attempt to absorb that sexual freedom into conformism. Instead of dragging the world into liberation, we have somehow managed to drag the LGBT community into neo-Puritanism.

Having said all this, the issue of same sex marriage is at its heart an issue of civil rights and fundamental equalities.  And so, necessarily, these general concerns must pale into insignificance and I offer my support to all those fighting for it.

My specific objection on the other hand is much more pressing and I ask you to consider it with care. Is it right to accept something you want from someone that you know gives it with the most cynical of motives?

Those who oppose it within the party leading the coalition government speak of people like me with scorn. Why is the government “so hell-bent on upsetting so many thousands of our citizens in normal marriages?" asks Bob Stewart MP. The Telegraph wails against “gay wedding” hypocrites who are ignoring the will of decent people.

And what of those who support it? I find David Cameron’s formulation of the reasoning behind the policy – echoed almost verbatim by Maria Miller – very interesting: "I'm in favour of gay marriage, because I'm a massive supporter of marriage”. To me this is tantamount to saying “I support Rosa Parks’s fight against racial segregation, because I am a huge fan of buses.”

In short, my concern is that both support and opposition for marriage equality coming from the Tory benches is steeped in homophobia – expressed alternately in malevolent or benevolent terms.

“So what?” you might say. Issues of fundamental freedom are issues of principles. I have a niggling doubt that doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is not enough. It will serve to legitimise the pseudo-liberal credentials of a government that is simultaneously punishing the sick, the homeless, the unemployed, the poor, women, immigrants and every other minority on which they can lay their austere hands.

If we accept their condescension unquestioningly, we become complicit in a strategy designed to win votes and perpetuate a deeply right-wing party, many members of which twenty years ago were ordering the police to raid gay bars.

We risk becoming the latest in a sequence of elaborately constructed lies; hug a hoodie, hug a husky, hug a homo. Hug anyone who will let you and get re-elected.

And that I do have a problem with.

A very civil partnership. Photograph: Getty Images

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here You can find him on twitter @sturdyalex

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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”