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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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser