The equalisation of marriage is an issue that demands unambiguous support from Scottish Labour, says JUDITH FISHER
Recent posts on LabourHame have highlighted the need for Scottish Labour to define itself around what we are for, rather than what we are against. The values identified are a commitment to social justice and to fighting for equality. I think there are few in our party who would disagree with that.
This begs the question then, why is the party in Scotland so quiet, so tentative, on equal marriage?
Equal marriage is not a complicated issue, nor a matter of conscience. It’s one of the most straightforward issues on the current political agenda, or it should be. Currently a minority in society are discriminated against by law; we are a party which believes in equality; therefore we should be firmly committed to the eradication of that discrimination. Yet bring up the subject of marriage equalisation and you’ll find an awful lot of uncomfortable seat shifting and a collective lack of eye contact.
I’m really not sure.
At a UK level, Ed Miliband is firmly committed to the equalisation of marriage, so this is not a reluctance to bound ahead of the Labour pack.
Is it that the scars from the bloody battle over Clause 2A have never really healed? Perhaps. But ten years on, Scotland is a healthier, more open, less oppressive society because we stuck in and fought for what we knew to be right. We won that one, and Scotland is a better place because of it.
It could be that despite a knowledge that the majority of Scots are in favour of equal marriage, a fear exists of the powerful and vocal minority, including, and let’s say it out loud, the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, who we know are likely to kick up a stink at the prospect of an end to the current discriminatory system. That is understandable, but it’s also tough. If you’re not willing to stand up for social justice, then you shouldn’t be in politics, and certainly not in the Labour Party.
In any case, looking at things from a more cynical point of view, those politicians who are worried about how the views of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church will influence the voting behaviour of their flock, need only look at the current birth rate for reassurance that the electorate are more than capable of making up their own minds on “social and moral” issues.
To paint this as a struggle between the rights of gay individuals and the rights of those who hold a religious belief is entirely false. For a start, many of those gay individuals are also religious, and many more of those who hold a religious belief are in favour of the equalisation of marriage. However, there are those, some of whom are religious, who are not in favour of same-sex marriage.
My advice to those who are against same-sex marriage would be to avoid entering into one.
There is a marked difference between ensuring that a citizen can exercise their right to practice their religion freely, and enabling that individual to prevent other people from exercising their right to have their relationship recognised as equal under the law.
I would protect the right of John Mason to spout as much homophobic claptrap as he sees fit – with every statement he lets us see the underbelly of the SNP. But I expect better from the Scottish Labour Party. I expect an unequivocal commitment to fight for equality and for social justice. I expect my party to stand up for those in society who are discriminated against and do everything in its power to end that discrimination.
Not pussy footing, not fence sitting, but the courage of our convictions. It’s time to stand up.
Judith Fisher is a member of Glasgow North West CLP and Scottish Convenor of LGBT Labour.