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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.