Marriage Equality and Religious Freedom

The proposal by the coalition government for a consultation on gay marriage has become very controversial. Over 440000 people have signed the petition from the Coalition for Marriage, opposing the government’s move; but a Populus poll in 2009 found that 61% of the public believe: “Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships.”

Not only is opinion divided, but myths and misinformation are common on both sides of the debate. It
It is important to understand exactly what this debate is about; and to acknowledge the strongly held opinions on both sides.

There are currently three separate arrangements available:

  • Religious marriages between a man and a woman
  • Civil marriages between a man and a woman
  • Civil partnerships between two men, or between two women.

Religious marriages are only legally civil marriages as well if a separate ceremony (signing the register) accompanies the religious service, and Christian churches are registered with the state to be able to perform that function.

The concession originally made to the Churches was that civil partnerships were NOT civil marriages, that religious institutions could not register to have civil partnerships at their premises, and that religious ceremony could not be held at civil partnership.

The Equality Act 2010 introduced a change to allow (though not compel) religious organisations to host civil partnerships. Religious language is also permitted within the ceremonies.

It is necessary to understand how the current situation came about, as a compromise between the desire for the Labour government to introduce equality for lesbian and gay couples, and the concerns by religious groups about the meaning of marriage being redefined.

For the overwhelming majority of Christians, marriage is the sacred union between a man and a woman based upon scriptural authority. This is also true for most schools of Islamic thought and for Orthodox Jews. In addition to scriptural authority, the Christian doctrine of Natural Law (lex naturalis) and the Islamic doctrine that the natural world is a divine revelation (al-Kitab al-manshur) are held up by some religious people as evidence that sex which can lead to procreation of children is especially virtuous.

Furthermore, as a social institution, marriage is fundamentally important to Christians, as they see it as a basic unit of solidarity and compassion, and that central to the traditional marriage is the production and rearing of children.

Notwithstanding socialist or feminist critiques of power relationships and patriarchy within the family, there is of course some value in the Christian view, as it reflects the experience of millions of people, at least partially.

That is why the churches campaigned for there to be a legal distinction between marriage and civil partnership. 

However, there is a debate within the religious communities about whether the definition of marriage as only being between a man and a woman is something that reflects the social conditions of a previous era; and there is a debate within the Anglican communion that the church should solemnise civil partnerships. That is, while people may believe that scripture is of divine providence and is the word of God, there is still space to recognise that the recording of scripture and the mechanisms of its interpretation are social human activities, and therefore subject to revision.

There is a lot to unravel there; but the current arrangements have the following unfortunate (and deliberate) consequence: that there is a legal distinction between same gender partnerships, and heterosexual civil marriages.

The Equal Love campaign argues compellingly that there should be an end to the twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships. Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at King’s College London, argues that as there are no significant differences in the rights and responsibilities involved in civil marriages and civil partnerships, there can be no justification for the segregation of gay and straight couples into two mutually exclusive legal systems. It is discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The government’s consultation is only about the proposal to equalise civil partnerships and civil marriages. There is no proposal whatsoever to interfere with the freedom of religious institutions to define marriage in whatever way they choose. So there is some irresponsible scare mongering from church groups, which could encourage homophobia.

So why is there so much controversy? Some church leaders, like the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, say that the government cannot define what marriage means. However, this argument was really lost as long ago as 1857 when the Matrimonial Causes Act legalised divorce; even though Christian churches could still refuse to acknowledge divorces and choose not to solemnise second marriages. This means that the state does already define marriage contrary to traditional Christian doctrine.

The opponents of marriage equality point out that currently both civil marriages and civil partnerships mirror the concept of monogamous romantic and sexual love derived from traditional religious marriage. Other loving and committed relationships, for example, between a parent and child, or between several people in a polyandrous relationship, cannot be solemnised by law. They argue that once marriage is redefined, then it could be redefined again to include other relationships.

While religious institutions are entitled to argue this position, it is a question for the secular political authorities, democratically accountable to the electorate, to define civil marriage. Arguing against hypothetical future redefinitions is a red herring.

Some campaigners against marriage equality, have used offensive and inflammatory language to denigrate the love and commitment of gay and lesbian couples. Undoubtedly some objections to marriage equality are simply homophobia.

However it is also important that religious communities can define for themselves what they believe a marriage to be within their own faith community. Unfortunately some of Peter Tatchell’s  arguments are inflamatory and would encourage the feeling among Christians that they are under attack, for example Tatchell insulting the authority of the Archbishop of York, and arguing for Anglican clergy to defy the authority of the House of Bishops. Surely is we accept that the churches do not have the right to define marriage for peopple outside their faith community, then we have to respect the church’s rights to make its own decisions by its own processes?

Nevertheless, the government has a right to define what marriage is by law; and therefore marriage equality should be welcomed and campaigned for.

Real Londoners Not Actors: Yes We Ken

You may have seen that Labour’s opponents now claim that the people shown in our election broadcast were actors.

Today Ken’s campaign is releasing this video of some of the people in the broadcast. They answer for themselves how they are the real deal, and how London will be better of with Ken. In its own quiet way it says more than a thousand hysterical Tory attacks: real Londoners explaining why they chose to back Labour in this election.

Which Side Are You On?

by Conrad Landin
 

The Daily Telegraph supporting Boris Johnson? Surely not! For many, Andrew Gilligan’s promotion to the paper came as a relief. No longer would his hysterical opinions be broadcast to the capital’s retreating commuters as a point of course.

But when self-proclaimed Labour supporters take to its pages to shaft their own party less than a month before a crucial election, we can no longer be passive.

Lynton Crosby, the hard-right Tory campaign director, emailed the Tory members this weekend.

In an attempt to string out the mayoral tax row, Crosby invokes a number of sources, including the Telegraph, Lib Dem Brian Paddick and The Times. No surprises there. But Crosby also lists apparently ‘Labour’ commentators. “This isn’t just my view,” he writes. “See what others, including Labour activists, are now saying about Ken Livingstone’s hypocrisy.”

The Labour members he lists are Atul Hatwal, Jonathan Roberts, and Dan Hodges (who is quoted supporting Andrew Gilligan, who, like Hodges and Boris Johnson, is paid by the Telegraph).

It is time to call this what it is: Labour members undermining the Labour campaign for the mayor of London by doing and saying things the Tories want them to do.

They are acting as agents of the Tories’ line and the Tories’ strategy by throwing hand-grenades around our own trenches, rather than targeting the opposition.

Describing these figures as Labour activists is a insult to the hard work of the thousands of volunteers who have brought bread and butter issues such as transport fares up the agenda. And I’ll sort out a VIP ticket to my ward’s next canvassing session for any proven sighting of Dan Hodges on the doorstep.

None of these people have shown any interest in Labour winning this election. When the polls have shown the election to be on a knife-edge, they stay eerily silent. And then we see them pile in behind a newly negative and unpleasant Tory campaign. Self-describing tribalists like Hodges know too that when you’re close to an election, you can only pick your side. They have picked theirs: that of the Tory mayor.

Whilst Labour and its members are piling everything into this campaign, some people prefer to indulge themselves and their egos.

We only have to read the introduction of Crosby’s email to see the Tories’ vulnerability in this election. He is worried that his main election argument has gone into a tailspin. “Today, the national media are focusing on what disclosure means for the future direction of British politics and others are saying that it is a sideshow – just politicians spatting,” he says, adding that “These claims may serve Ken Livingstone’s purpose…

He should be worried – his strategy has veered off into a different debate: whether total disclosure is healthy for British public life. He and Johnson have poisoned the well. Many commentators are urging for the debate to move on.

Even Tory ex-minister John Redwood now says the tax debate is “crowding out the more important matters of what Ken or Boris would do to the Council Tax, the policing, and the transport of London,” he argues.

Johnson’s campaign is trying to divert Londoners’ attention from understanding that they will be £1,000 or more better off with Labour’s Ken Livingstone, through the reduction of fares and other key pledges – or, put another way, they will be £1,000 or more worse off with Johnson and the Conservatives.

If we can get this message out, then Ken will win. In a cynical attempt to deceive the electorate, the Tories have made a song and dance distraction.

Crosby’s strategy can be taken down. Real Labour activists will be doing just this in the coming weeks. Those few Labour members who continue to snipe must accept that they are simply the Tories’ useful idiots.

This article first appeared at Next Generation Labour.

Tax is a Distraction in London Mayoral Race

by Ken Livingstone from Guardian CiF

The London mayoral election is that most unusual thing in politics – the chance for voters in tough times to make themselves better off, by £1,000, or more. Fear that this message may get through leaves the Conservative party with only one strategy: distraction. It is the tactic of the right everywhere.

While people are facing the most difficult economic times they have ever experienced, the Conservative campaign in London has sought to make the issue about the candidates’ tax arrangements. This space existed because of the relentless drive to personalise politics, a trend that has accelerated in recent years. It is an Americanisation of British political discourse that is challenged even by Conservatives who want politicians to address what the voters care about.

As the campaign moves on from this distraction, for one of the very rare occasions in my life I agree with John Redwood, who writes: “The media fascination with the exchanges between Boris and Ken over personal tax and income is crowding out the more important matters of what Ken or Boris would do to the council tax, the policing, and the transport of London.”

None of this is surprising – in London, the Conservatives have absolutely nothing positive to say at all. Ask yourself if you know what Boris Johnson is even offering.

British politics appears to be at a log-jam. The Conservatives are facing a period of sustained unpopularity. The main driver of this is the budget for millionaires and the disastrous decisions taken by David Cameron and George Osborne over the economy. The country is run by a government with no mandate for its brutal onslaught on the NHS and the public finances.

Last Friday 72,600 London households had tax credits taken away. Overall 118,805 of the capital’s households lost out in all of Friday’s changes – at least 250,000 Londoners were affected. Still the government maintains the attack.

The majority are left feeling voiceless. They know Labour will get their vote in three years’ time to form a new government – but what to do now?

London Labour’s programme for the voiceless majority gives a chance of real change. Through our fares cut the average London farepayer will be £1,000 better off over four years: a real improvement in living standards when times are tough. We will do it through using the annual surplus, not touching either the underspent investment budget or affecting existing services.

An energy co-op and a programme to insulate London homes will cut household bills, making people £150 or more better off. A non-profit lettings agency will cut out rip-off fees for tenants. The government has an intense phobia of young people but I will restore education maintenance allowance of £30 a week for young people who want to stay in education; and through a programme of loans and grants we will start work to reduce childcare costs.

That is the scale of difference an elected mayor can make and why that system is likely to spread to other parts of the country.

To get this change London needs to build movements: of farepayers; of the young robbed through the EMA cuts and student fees hikes; of older Londoners treated with contempt through winter fuel allowance cuts and a pensions grab.

In pursuit of this we have mobilised activists as never before. On 10 April , hundreds will gather at stations across London to campaign to slash fares. Next weekend our supporters will talk to 10 neighbours each about how they will be £1,000 better off. We are the first to have an online supporter community, YourKen.org. The strategy of the right in the face of this is very simple – diversion, over the past few days, through a peripheral focus on personal finances.

Elections in the nations, regions and localities of Britain give people the chance to vote for an alternative that protects them to the maximum possible extent against difficult economic conditions and an uncaring Conservative establishment. London now has that chance, too.

Livingstone: a London Mayor for the Many Not the Few

 

Ken unveils pledges to make older Londoners Better Off

In the wake of Tory Boris Johnson’s successful campaign to cut the top rate of tax, which has left 410,000 London pensioners worse off with the so-called ‘granny tax’, Ken Livingstone today published his policies for older Londoners. Ken is pledging to campaign against the Tory pensions rip off and stressing his key pledge to cut Londoners’ heating bills with better insulation and an energy co-op.  

In his older Londoners’ manifesto ‘Older Londoners – better off with Ken’, Ken set out five key pledges to improve the quality of life for older people in London including:
1.    A cut in energy bills
2.    Campaign against George Osborne and Boris Johnson’s Tory budget tax assault on pensioners.
3.    Protect the Freedom Pass by cutting the fares and reducing the eligibility age to 60.
4.    Provide better local bus services and improve door to door and community transport
5.    Extend the Freedom Pass to the cycle hire scheme, to give older Londoners free use

Labour has made the fight for pensioners’ votes a key battleground in the London Mayoral election. Just over one in seven Londoners are over the age of 60 – more than a million people.

Boris Johnson is under fire over his central role in the ‘pensions robbery’ following the budget, his threat to the Freedom Pass and his failure to lift a finger while older Londoners’ fuel bills have risen sharply.

Last week’s budget means 44% of all pensioners in London will lose out thanks to the Conservative party. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has pointed the finger at the Tory Mayor, saying: “Boris Johnson was the most prominent and powerful Tory calling for a £3 billion cut in the top rate of tax right now, making him the main accomplice to George Osborne’s tax grab on pensioners whilst cutting taxes for the richest.”  

Ken Livingstone said today:

“Older Londoners need a Mayor who will put them first, not a handful of the richest. The Conservative candidate in this election has got his way, with a tax cut for the richest, but 400,000 London pensioners are being made to pay for it. At the same time the Tory Mayor has failed to deliver on his plans to cut energy bills for London households.

“Older Londoners who are angry at the top-rate tax cut pensions grab can join my campaign to stand up to the Conservatives and help me cut heating bills for pensioners.

“Every year on a Tory Mayor’s watch the qualifying age for the Freedom Pass has risen and he has stood idly by. Only a Labour mayor can be trusted to protect the Freedom Pass long-term.

“As the budget made clear Boris Johnson is more interested in campaigning for a tax cut for the super rich than standing up for ordinary Londoners. I will put the majority first.

“Grey power can bring positive change. Let’s use it to make London fairer.”

Ken for London

Ken for LondonThe election for London mayor will be of national significance, because despite Boris Johnson’s efforts to distance his personal brand from that of the Tory Party, the current London mayor is a class-war Conservative, and Cameron needs to hold London as a stepping stone to defending his government at the next general election. On Boris Johnson’s carefully cultivated maverick image, Dave Hill has spelled out how superficial this is:

Johnson is tightly aligned with the direction of Cameron’s Conservatives and the interest groups they are closest to. Look past his over-publicised sniping against the 50 pence tax rate or his dismissal of the prime minister’s “broken society” riff as “piffle” and focus instead on his achievements at City Hall and the connections that help sustain brand Boris. To do so is to meet a total Tory in the raw.

Like the party he represents, Johnson’s political machine has been fuelled by friendly powers in the rightwing media and the Square Mile. His hospitality history shows that the Telegraph group, which pays him £250,000 a year to write a weekly column, is not the only news organisation he’s on good terms with. Various Murdochs and their lieutenants feature among big media figures on his wining and dining freebie list. News Corp has offered him a handy platform, including for claims about youth crime and justice that are less scientific than they seem.

Scroll back to his 2008 mayoral election campaign and be reminded that its cost was mostly met by City money (search for “regulated donees published 2008“). Donors included hedge fund chiefs Michael Hintze, who has more recently backed the activities of Liam Fox and Adam Werritty, and Edmund Lazarus, who gave £22,500 and was appointed by Johnson to the board of his London Development Agency shortly after his victory. The Party of European Socialists drew pointed attention to Johnson’s hedge fund backers when, in October 2009, he went to Brussels to lobby against European Union proposals to regulate them more tightly.

The media and money circles Johnson moves in overlap with each other and with mayoral initiatives. A recent example was his speech at the annual dinner of the Norwood charity at a Park Lane hotel. Norwood’s president is Richard Desmond, proprietor of the Daily Express. Desmond, another big name on Johnson’s hospitality list, is also named as a “major funding partner”, giving more than £250,000 to the Mayor’s Fund for London, a philanthropic project Johnson set up (see page 46 of the Mayor’s Fund for London Annual Report 2010).

The Mayor’s Fund receives cash from several big City names or their charitable vehicles. Barclays Capital, the investment division of Barclays bank, is named as its “founding strategic partner”. The City AM newspaper has described a star-studded Savoy breakfast at which Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond “flipped open his chequebook” and gave £50,000 to the fund.

Barclays, of course, is the conspicuous sponsor of the most prominent of Johnson’s cycling policies: his “superhighways” and his so-called “Boris Bikes” hire scheme. BBC London has reported that some believe Barclays secured a very attractive deal. Critics observe that many of the scheme’s most frequent users are commuters making their daily way from Waterloo to the Square Mile for less than a pound a week with a large helping hand from the taxpayer.

Meanwhile, across the metropolis, the cost of travelling by underground or bus has risen steeply under Johnson, and the price of a single Oyster journey on a bus — the transport mode most favoured by London’s lowest-paid — will soon be 56% higher than when Johnson came to power in 2008. The “cycling mayor” is reluctant to let pedal power inconvenience his top priority, the motorist. Improving air quality has come second best to the polluting van.

Bedrock Tory instincts have informed all his other significant mayoral policies too. He’s backed street policing that can be presented as tough but seems of questionable worth, while knife and serious youth crime have risen during his term. In housing he has encouraged first steps towards home ownership, when London’s crying need is for far more homes for social rent. He hasn’t complained that the government’s new “affordable rent” product will produce homes whose rents most Londoners can’t afford. His famous pledge that there would be no “Kosovo-style social cleansing” as a result of reforms to housing benefit was seen as a rebuke to his allies in Westminster, but Johnson himself has set the record straight .

We may or may not be content with Johnson’s record in public office or his warm relationship with private wealth. But the point is that they confirm him to be truly, madly and deeply Conservative in every fragment of his being.

Labour’s campaign – as Simon Fletcher has correctly argued - needs to pin that blue Rosette on Johnson at every opportunity; and despite some superficially disappointing polls recently, this contest is there for laobour to win.

As Ken Livingstone recenty argued at Comment is Free:

Labour will make this [mayoral] election about a real alternative. Central to that is fares. The Tories are committed to raising fares above inflation for years to come. To tax so hard in this way when household finances are under such pressure is shameful. So I will introduce an emergency fares package in October that will wipe out this January’s rise, with a 7% cut. I will freeze fares throughout 2013 and then ensure they rise overall by no more than inflation after that. On the issue of fares it will be a referendum on the Tories’ rising prices.

Tomorrow is the first work day after Boris Johnson’s new fare rises take effect, and it will directly hit Londoner’s in the pocket, and make voters aware that the mayor, for all his clownish bon-homie, is not on the side of ordinary Londoners. Ken is, and that is why he can win.

A Tale of Two Campaigns

by Cat Smith from Next Generation Labour

There are two campaigns being fought in London. The first is the one that is seeing record numbers of people being mobilised in action days and phone banks – and now new campaigning like the Fare Ride. The other is the one the armchair experts like to comment on.

On Saturday, London Labour launched its new weekend action days – dividing London into four quarters and funnelling activists into key localities in each of those quarters. Over two hundred people were mobilised into target areas on Saturday in this way.

With YourKen.org and the innovative use of text mobilisation London’s campaign is showing that however much it will be outspent by the Tories it intends to out-organise them all the way.

Tuesday sees another stage in London Labour’s campaign offensive.

Next Generation Labour is joining Fare Ride this Tuesday morning to protest against annual fare rises – and to back Ken Livingstone’s alternative of a fares cut. It will see the official launch of Labour’s fares cut campaign and the start of the work to explain to Londoners how they will benefit from a better way to organise the transport finances.

Hundreds of campaigners will hit the transport system on Tuesday, not only leafleting outside stations but going onto the system and talking to Londoners about the cost of their commute. It’s a new, mobile, way to campaign. Next Gen Labour will be helping out on routes across London.

Fares cut supporters will campaign on the transport network and converge with Ken Livingstone towards the end of the morning’s activity. The hashtag will be #fareride

Like Ed Balls’s plan for a VAT cut, Ken’s fares cut will help reduce the pressure on people in tough times and put money back into peoples’ pockets.

Conservative Boris Johnson is committed to above inflation fare rises every year. He has committed the transport business plan to these rises for twenty years. That already means a single bus fare rising 56 per cent under this mayor.

Terrified at the appeal of this simple, clear alternative to years of endless fare rises, Boris Johnson’s Tory advisers are desperately spinning that it will damage investment. But the fact is that every single year Boris Johnson raises more in revenue from Londoners’ fares than his own business plan projections say he will – £728 million this year. This is spare money accumulated by TfL, while Londoners are being hit hard by rises in their fares and living costs. It is not being invested in capital infrastructure or improved services for Londoners. Ken’s proposals will use a proportion of this money to help Londoners during difficult times when families are facing the biggest squeeze in their living standards for a generation.

Not a penny of the fares cut will come from reductions in existing services or cuts to the investment budget.

Fares cut campaigners will be out in force from Eltham to Hounslow Central, Walthamstow to Willesden Green, Finsbury Park to Ealing Broadway, Hammersmith to New Malden, Leyton to Abbey Wood. Every single London borough will see campaigners out spreading the word on rail, tram, bus and tube.

But then there is that second campaign – the one that exists in the blogs and articles of the armchair experts who know little and care less about the issues being debated and the rising levels of activism and campaigning.

Progress has devoted its current cover story not to ‘How Ken can win’ or ‘How to help Ken win’ but ‘Can Ken win?’ Its author, Dan Hodges, has said of the London election: “I don’t care about the politics. I don’t care if Labour wins in London, or if the Tories get a good hiding. All I care about now is that Londoners win in London. I’ll vote Tory. I’ll vote Green. I’ll vote independent. I still hope and pray I’ll be able to vote Labour. But I’m not helping place my city back into the hands of a clapped out revolutionary or an Etonian comic.”

The Tories fear Ken Livingstone in this election because there has never been another Labour politician ever to show any prospect of getting anywhere near Boris Johnson’s poll ratings other than Ken. They need our side to show weakness. Hodges and the rest offer them a small opening, which should be brushed aside by a disciplined Labour side that wants to win. The narrative that Johnson’s right wing campaign supremo Lynton Crosby wants is the one that Progress, Dan Hodges and others foster.

The closer we get to the election the more that those who buy-in to the Progress line on London will watch as it races past them. Many Progress readers will baulk at the line they have taken and will ignore them. Thousands will be mobilised, millions will vote. Our job is to contribute by campaigning to win, and to mobilise to make it possible.

We need a mayor who’s on the side of Londoners and offers a fairer deal. That person is Ken Livingstone. We’ll be out campaigning for a fares cut this Tuesday. Join us for a fares cut and help Ken take the case to Londoners.

* Sign up for the #fareride on Ken Livingstone’s website here.

Jon Lansman explains the scale of Progress as a party within a party here