There is still a long way to go when it comes to the march for LGBT equality. There are a number of battles that need to be fought around the world from the embryonic struggle to end the criminalisation of homosexual activity to more complex areas like systemic homophobia in public institutions. In the case of the latter the ultimate symbol of progress is the choice of an LGBT person to become the leader of a country. However it is important to stress that this symbolism has a different significance in different political cultures.
LGBT people across England, Scotland and Wales have been getting married for up to four years now but marriage equality has still yet to be achieved in Northern Ireland. A number of separate attempts have been made to legalise the practice through legislation at Stormont, but so far all have been unsuccessful. These attempts include one vote where a majority of MLAs backed same-sex marriage but didn’t pass because of a unionist petition of concern. However it does appear that political leaders in Northern Ireland are beginning to change their tune as public opinion has shifted. Although the existing dispute goes largely down green and orange lines, some unionist politicians seem to be softening their stance.
In the last few years that has been an increase in public awareness about the so-called ‘tampon tax’. The tampon tax is not actually a specific tax on tampons, but a decision by the Treasury to classify tampons as ‘luxury items’ and thus liable for VAT. Although I am not a woman, I am somewhat aware of what my sisters go through on a monthly basis and to say that tampons are a luxury item is fucking ridiculous. However to add insult to injury, it has been revealed that some of the money from the Treasury has been funneled into the coffers of the anti-abortion group Life. Unacceptable doesn’t cover how unjust this situation is.
In some European countries the idea of legal same-sex marriage is largely uncontroversial. For instance the Netherlands has had equal marriage since 2001, it being the first nation in the world to act. However the more eastward one travels, the more socially conservative countries appear to be on LGBT rights. I contend that 2017 will be an important year because it could be a watershed moment in the history of the European gay liberation movement. Evidently I may have been proven correct already as there has been progress in some parts of Europe in this very area. But even more can be made this year given the changes in public opinion in some European countries.
A heterosexual couple in Britain has been refused the right to enter into a civil partnership after losing a legal battle at the Court of Appeal. Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan had argued that the first ruling against them had been discriminatory because they were prohibited from this legal status because of their sexual orientation. The pair have said that they intend to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. The court case is important because it addresses the issue of inequality in our society but from a perspective that is often ignored, and the questions raised by refusing civil partnerships to heterosexual couples are interesting.
Last week I covered a news story about how Britain had recently passed a law that would retroactively pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men who had been prosecuted for ‘indecent acts’, also known as homosexual sex. At the time of writing I said: “work on this issue still needs to be done”. Admittedly I was referring to Northern Ireland and Scotland, but the same is true around the world; men convicted of the crime of having sex with other men should have those convictions overturned. For a number of years activists in New Zealand had been lobbying the government to get exactly that, and on Thursday the government agreed.
This weekend the Premier League and Rugby Football Union (RFU) shall formally throw their support behind the Rainbow Laces campaign, a pro-LGBT right movement that seeks to tackle homophobia in sport. These two organisations shall do this by providing rainbow laces for referees in the competitive fixtures taking place over the weekend. Sport is one of the final frontiers of LGBT acceptance in British secular society and I think most people shall look at games this weekend and feel a sense of pride, no pun intended, about how far we have come as a society.