Uniting two people, dividing a continent

Left-wing lawmakers stomp on conservative toes with gay marriage bill

Mexico City lawmakers made a leap yesterday to become the first city in Latin America to allow gay marriage, passing a bill that is widely expected to be signed into law by the leftist mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, of the Democratic Revolution Party.

However, the left may be going a little too far for the liking of strongly conservative and Roman Catholic Mexico, not to mention the whole of Latin America. The bill, although it has given hope to liberals across the continent, threatens to pull the two sides further apart.

The assembly has already stepped on conservatives' toes with a number of unpopular decisions, including legalising abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. That decision was followed by a backlash, with the majority of Mexico's other 32 states enacting legislation stating life begins at conception. Roughly 90 per cent of Mexico's 108 million-strong population identify themselves as Catholic.

Moreover, while certain cities in South America do permit same-sex civil unions, the halting of possibly the continent's most controversial marriage earlier this month is a reminder that there is only so much that Latin Americans are willing to accept.

The Argentinians Alex Freyre and José Maria di Bello were to be married on 1 December after they were granted a marriage licence by a city court judge who ruled that it was unconstitutional for civil law to stipulate that a marriage can exist only between a man and a woman. The ruling, which was greeted with furious debate in the media and hostile posters across Buenos Aires, was halted by another judge.

Despite the murmurs of discontent, it appears that Mexico City legislators, who have also already legalised abortion, have more up their sleeve. According to the BBC, a spokesman told the AFP news agency that city legislators were now including a measure in the bill that would allow married same-sex couples to adopt children.

President Felipe Calderón's conservative National Action Party, or PAN, has vowed to challenge the gay marriage law in the courts. Church leaders are also expected to pressure Ebrard to veto the bill.

"Recognising homosexual civil unions as marriage goes against the public good and the emotional development of our children," Giovanni Gutierrez, a PAN city lawmaker, told the Financial Times.

 

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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.