Thursday, 3 May 2012

TDC Equal Civil Marriage Debate Transcript

Chair (Cllr Doug Clark): Agenda item 8a - Notice of Motion - the Equal Civil Marriage. I call upon Cllr Driver.

Cllr Ian Driver: Thanks Chair. This motion is about fairness and equality. Nothing more and nothing less and there are two fundamental questions that we need to be concerned about, should two people of the same sex have a legal right to get married, and can a married person who changes his or her gender remain married? In probably one of the most unique examples Ive seen recently of cross party political agreement, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Caroline Lucas all agree that same-sex marriage should be made legal and they all agree that anyone who changes gender when they’re married can remain married. And opinion poll after opinion poll shows that a majority of British people agree with the Government proposals to update and modernise civil marriage. Mr Chairman, we live in modern times and people are becoming more intolerant, more tolerant and more inclusive than they used to be and I welcome that. And its only a small minority of people who don’t agree with the Government. People who are not happy about the proposals for inclusion, for acceptance, for social progress and one of the things, one of the big objections that these people bring up, is that people already have the benefits of civil partnerships and that provides recognition legally for same-sex relationships, so why go any further than we are at the moment?

Well, Stonewall for example, they represent 3.7 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the United Kingdom and they have said that having separate and different legal processes for same-sex couples is reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa. It’s discriminatory, its morally and ethically wrong and they also say that civil partnerships perpetuate a damaging and prejudicial belief that same-sex relationships are less valuable, less important than heterosexual relationships and heterosexual marriage. Mr Chairman, love and commitment are part of the human condition and I say that same-sex couples should have exactly the same civil marriage rights as heterosexual couples and not be forced to accept second best as they are at the moment. Now, many religious leaders say that same-sex marriages are against their teachings (timer chimes) and should not be allowed. 
Sorry. I think Ive got five minutes not three minutes. (Chair: Yes carry on) Can I carry on? Yep. As I said, many religious leaders are saying…sorry?

Chair: You do have three but carry on.

Driver: I have five I believe for moving a motion…its five

Chair: Five for the Leader.

Harvey Patterson (Officer): The Leader and Chairman of Committee have five, as you are neither, its three.

Driver: Ill quickly get on and make my point. Lots of religious leaders object on the grounds that their teachings don’t allow same-sex marriages. Well, the Government has made it perfectly and absolutely clear that their change in legislation does not affect the rights of churches and religions. It doesn’t force them to marry people of the same sex and my closing point is this, that same-sex marriage already exists in 12 countries across the world and I am unaware of a single shred of evidence to suggest that the churches in these twelve countries are under any pressure to introduce same-sex marriage, so to say that civil marriage affects the rights of the church is wrong and is a smokescreen. So I say that... [Chair: Cllr Driver] you should support the motion tonight. Thank you
[APPLAUSE]

Chair: Do I have a seconder? Thank you.  Now would members please note that the Council alone has the ability to decide whether or not it supports this motion.  The motion cannot be referred to Cabinet or Committee of the Council. That being the case, if Council decides not to debate the motion, the motion will fall. Do I have a proposal that the motion be debated?

Cllr Peter Campbell: I propose the motion be debated.

Chair: Do I have a seconder?

Cllr Michelle Fenner: Thank you Mr Chairman and I would like to say that as a new, progressive and inclusive administration at TDC, we always take consultation seriously and we encourage… (Chair: You can speak in the debate) I am seconding the debate. I am seconding the fact that we are debating this motion and I am explaining why I want to second the debate. I can. I would like to explain that we do encourage debate

Chair: You cant explain it now but you can explain it later if it is debated. So you seconded it and that’s it…would you please sit down?

Cllr Fenner: I am not seconding at this stage the motion itself. I am seconding the fact that we do want a debate of this motion in this Council and I am trying to explain…

Chair: We have a proposal that it is debated and it is seconded by (Fenner: By me). Yes, that’s quite clear and so I can determine that fact, whether it can be debated or not. So all those in favour that the matter be debated please show…please be quiet in the public gallery because I don’t want to have to clear the gallery but I will if you interrupt…against…abstentions…the motion is carried.
Now I’d advise members that in the interests of management of time, I have ruled out repetition in debate. I call upon the Leader. Sorry, I call upon Cllr Bayford.

Cllr Bob Bayford: Ex-Leader Chairman. What I would like to do and I have to address the Chair but I’m really speaking to the public gallery I’m going to use probably most of my three minutes explaining why the Group this side didn’t vote for the debate. The Conservative Group…

Cllr Fenner: Chair. I’m sorry but there’s a position there. If the Leader of the Opposition explaining why he didn’t want a debate and I wasn’t able to explain why.

Cllr Bayford: We are having a proper debate

Chair: We are in debate now.

Cllr Bayford: As I said, I have to address the Chair but Im actually speaking as much to the public gallery as I am to the Chairman. The Conservative Group discussed at length the question of whether this motion should be put at a Council meeting. We agreed unanimously that regardless of Member’s individual views on the subject, it is not within our brief as local District Councillors to debate matters over which we have no authority. We are not an authorised body for conducting marriages or civil partnerships. That responsibility lies with Kent County Council. For that reason alone there was absolute agreement at out Group Meeting that we should oppose this motion being put, but I want to stress that to suggest our reluctance to debate this motion reflects our personal views on the subject would be to completely misrepresent the Conservative Group’s position. We agreed unanimously that should there be a vote for debate, that each Councillor on this side of the Chamber would enjoy the same freedom to express their views as those who voted for the debate so the Conservative Group have no whip on this motion. We merely seek to separate the appropriateness of the subject for District to debate from the subject of any ensuing debate. So I hope that explains why we’ve done what we’ve done.

In the time remaining, I will attempt to put my personal view. I personally have no strong feelings about equal marriage, one way or the other. I believe, contrary to what Cllr Driver may have said, that civil partnerships do confer most of the rights and benefits associated with marriage but I’m also aware that many people have strong faith-based views on the issue and believe that those views should be respected. That said, I don’t believe that I can vote on this matter. I find myself in a dilemma, because as a Councillor my vote should represent the views of my constituents but I know for a fact that amongst those people there is a wide range of views on the subject. A vote one way or the other would do an injustice to a significant section of that group. Furthermore, I don’t think that I was primarily elected to speak on their behalf on moral or ethical matters and therefore my personal views in this debate I think are irrelevant and for those reasons, I will abstain when it comes to the vote. Thank you Chairman.

Chair: Cllr Will Scobie.

Cllr Will Scobie: In difference to the previous speaker I do actually have strong opinions on this and I will be voting accordingly. I agree that as Councillors we should pay our respects to what the communities think, but we also have political parties and our own personal views and it should be a complete union of those three different parts, which we should base our vote on. Despite a lot of progress in the last 20 years, homophobic discrimination still exists. Rather than speaking in hyperbole and wild generalisations, lets first look at some of the statistics of this discrimination before we continue into the main debate. Susan Burden in her 2005 book Rethinking Sexual Identity in Education, conducted a study which found that homosexuality is the third leading cause of suicide in the 15-24 age bracket. This is backed up by the Steven Lee and Marvin Fine in their 2001 book Handbook of Diversity of Parent  Education, which furthers this point by finding that 30% of annual youth suicides are LGBT related. In their analysis they also found that LGBTs are three times more likely to attempt suicide because of their sexuality, that 45 per cent of gay men and 20% of gay women have experienced verbal or even physical assault because of their sexuality and of the Homeless Youth Today study found 42 per cent of them identified themselves as LGBT and 25% of these youths said they had been forced out of their homes and of their own families because of their sexuality.

Susan Burden also looked into this statistic that found that one child in four is forced out of their homes because of their sexuality and it is true that we are moving in the right direction with regards to tolerance for different people yet we must continue to fight for equality because these statistics demonstrate that homophobic ideals are still prevalent in our society. We live in a hetero-normative society where everybody is presumed straight unless proven otherwise, where a non-heterosexual relationship holds no value to the majority, and where society fails to challenge homophobic remarks which in turns gives validation to the homophobic beliefs held by some. Freedom from intolerance is not an ideal that we can selectively implement. It is the birthright for all. Homophobia is the last accepted form of discrimination.

The main justification that we hear for not having equal marriage is predicated solely on the religious definition of what marriage is. However, marriage has evolved beyond that in society and you can now get married outside of a church with your own vows and no input whatsoever from organised religion. To follow this religious argument, you would therefore negate all marriages that took place outside of religious institutions because they too do not follow the religious definition of marriage being a union between two people before God. Legal marriages happen in registry offices every day and they have nothing to do with religion, and by excluding homosexuals from having this legal right to a civil marriage we are discriminating against homosexuals and destroying the notion that this country is founded upon equal rights for all. I come from a political party founded on social justice, equality and I will be proud to vote in favour of this motion.[APPLAUSE]

Cllr Kim Gibson: Thank you Chair. As we’ve heard and I know you don’t want me to repeat but basically I have to read from my phone I’m afraid, during the Prime Ministers speech he did say that one of the main things was that saying your vows in front of people keep families together more. We believe this is one of the things that we exist on and the other thing really I shouldn’t read from that, is that we are talking about equality and I know that I myself do go to church and I did have thoughts about this moral side of it but this is nothing to do with the churches. This is about law, this is about equality in law. The churches will still make their own rites, some churches still don’t marry divorced people, that is their right to choose and they would still have their right. We need to get away from this idea. It’s not moral in the sense that this is law. Do we have equality in law? I believe we should have. I will be voting for this. Thank you.

Chair: Cllr Fenner.

Cllr Michelle Fenner: Thank you Mr Chairman. I would like to address the issue first of all of whether it is appropriate for TDC to take part in this consultation. It is a consultation set up by the Government and they invite representations from any group so in this sense TDC representing through its elected Members, the local community has a valid point to make in this consultation. We are a progressive and inclusive administration. We welcome the debate on equal marriage and the consultation that is taking place. We want to advance the equalities and diversity agenda, not just within the Council but within our local community. And it is a moral issue, it is a moral issue in the sense that its to do with equalities. This is why the Labour Group was happy for me to second the motion presented it for the debate. Some people try to stop the debate, some people try to muddy the water in this debate by introducing the definition of marriage through religious beliefs. This consultation is to do with civil ceremony with implications in fighting against discrimination and what I can only describe as the forces of conservatism which stops society from moving on.

Civil partnership and marriage are two separate institutions with two separate legal situations. Separate is not equal and as long as civil partnership is for same-sex couples only and is the only form of legal recognition available to them, informing an employer or a service provider of a civil partnership is equivalent to declaring sexual orientation and that amounts to discrimination. The theory is that there is similar rights though Cllr, that it was argued earlier that most rights, but the reality is different. Often for instance when filling out a form we are asked for the name of our spouse, not of our partner. There are some difficulties that have been reported when dealing with pension benefits or when travelling abroad when a civil partnership is not recognised. There is also a problem with transgender people [timer chimes] who currently have to end their civil partnership or their marriage. Transgender people applying for gender recognition are forced to end any current marriage or civil partnership. The process for starting a new marriage or civil partnership is bureaucratic and humiliating therefore if this motion is agreed and voted on tonight we will send our motion to Central Government as part of the consultation process. The old adage “Live and let live” is not enough.

Chair. That’s sufficient thank you. You’re well over your time. Cllr Clive Hart.

Cllr Clive Hart: Thank you Chairman. I would have to argue with Cllr Bayford who says this is not a matter for, wasn’t elected to discuss this or make any sort of decisions. Just when questions get awkward or difficult, that is no time to shirk them or shy them, and try to bury it on the basis that you weren’t elected for it, that’s exactly what we were elected to do. It’s certainly what I stood for as a Labour Councillor for equality. It’s absolutely what I stand for. It’s at the core belief of the Labour Party for equality, and it’s also a core belief of this new administration to have an open and transparent debate on anything we possibly can within the scope of our Council, so our Group was indeed all voted unanimously to debate this issue, absolutely unanimously, we are not whipped on how we vote with the final vote on how things go, but what I would say is that as Labour Councillors, all our Labour Councillors are firmly minded for equality, it’s our core value and that’s what will guide the way I vote. Thank you, Chairman.

Chair: Thank you. Cllr Wells.

Cllr Chris Wells: Thank you Mr Chairman. I apologise in advance, I’m going to spoil the party. I am personally deeply concerned about both the Government consultation and the manner in which this issue has been exploited locally. I wish to formally record my disappointment that as Chairman of the Council sir, you have allowed this debate this evening when it is clear that no member, no member has any remit from their electorate on this matter. What has gone before and been said so far and what is to come afterwards are no more than the personal views of each member. It would have been far better to have simply made the public aware of the consultation and how and where they could record their views as we did with animal exports and those of us who have read the consultation and responded to it can attest the consultation itself as a document, it’s framed more for personal response than anything else. Why this Council with no power over registrars and operations is pushed to consider this is a story of two Councillors, both of whom have already abandoned the ticket on which they were elected after less than a year. They seek to define difference between themselves, the voters and colleagues have variously abandoned. It’s the tale which must cast doubt on the individual integrity and commitment, ironically the key elements of successful marriage, the issue they have chosen to exploit.

As this day has got closer, we have all heard the accusations of homophobia, the refusal to countenance any view not in accord with the campaigners’ demands, including a disgraceful public demeaning dismissal of a local priest’s mild contribution to debate. So let me deal with that first.  I have professionally worked with the LGBT groups in Manchester and Brighton and celebrated my own son’s civil partnership here in Thanet less than two years ago. So let’s get this straight and dispense with the Pavlovian automated response of homophobia that allows one to duck proper debate. I simply ask that the Council should listen to what I say next and weigh it carefully in their considerations. I currently oppose the introduction of civil marriage equality for two very simply reasons. Firstly, to an extent it reduces the role of marriage in our society, from a 3-dimensional form to a two dimensional institution. Traditionally, Marriage has been about the loving relationship of two people, and the family that is naturally created through that union. Families that, we are told by researchers, produce more stable, rounded and secure young people than other forms of union. [Loud Murmuring] The discourse of consultation and campaign which airbrushes the fundamental importance of children and their upbringing from marriage is and must be fatally flawed. All in this Chamber know only too well the problems that crumbling family life bring [Chair: Can you wind up now?] Equality and diversity are the watchbirds which underpin this and many other changes in society. My point is simple. The LGBT community already has equality before the law. [Public: Time!] Why is it such a terror to commit to diversity for others? Isnt that the very point heterosexuals are often berated with.

Chair: Thank you. Cllr Moores.

Cllr Simon Moores: Thank you Chair. Whether we like it or not this is a matter that will be decided by Members of Parliament. We need to remind ourselves as I’m sure speaking as I said beforehand, local Councils, District Councils such as ourselves is there to provide services, we provide services such as emptying the bins, providing entertainment on our sands, making Thanet a better place, it’s been argued it is not for us to actually make moral decisions on the part of the people we represent. Now the Government is seeking local authority responses to a government consultation and it says clearly that “Do you agree or disagree with enabling all couples, regardless of their gender to have a civil marriage ceremony?” and it further adds “Please explain the reasons for your answer. Please respond within 1,225 characters which is approximately 200 words”. I see nothing in the consultation which suggests that we here tonight should be having a debate on this matter. The consultation is about how we might best remove the ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage, not whether or not this should actually happen and I can’t see how Thanet District Council should respond to this, except to say that it’s not actually within our remit.

So I would urge members to think very clearly about this, we are a District Council, we are not Kent County Council, we’re not registrars for births marriages and deaths and we are not here to make moral decisions on part of the residents. We are here to clean their streets, we are here to collect their community charge, [shouting] we provide some 600 different services which are [Chair: Please be quiet in the public gallery] some 600 or so different services which our residents expect from us in return for the taxes they pay. The decisions on whether this should or should not happen, the implementation as part of the consultation is a matter for Members of Parliament. It is way beyond our pay grade and yes by all means let us consult on how we might best, and I stress how we might best implement this, not challenge it, not discuss it, but implement it and that’s all really our role happens to be. Thank you Chairman.

Chair: Cllr Mrs Johnston.

Cllr Iris Johnston: Thank you very much Chairman. There have been a number of times when the opposite side were in control there were consultations sent to this Council that never came before this Council for us to debate. I brought the one particularly on maternity issues at the QEQM and I asked a question then in opposition of the then Cabinet member and I got a silly answer. We took control and I then further went ahead to deal with this question of maternity services and the Officer told me that she had been instructed to write the answer herself. That is not how the Council works now. If a consultation and somebody asks us to do something as a Council and it comes to an Officer and I want it to be a named Officer as in the Chief Executive, it should then go to a Senior Management Team and should then go to the rest of the Council. So what I did over the maternity services was to send out a letter to all of you, very short notice to all of you and if you were all happy 56 we would send it as the Council response. Im telling you this very briefly as an example of how this Council should be dealing with consultations [Chair: Can we keep to the subject please?].

I'm coming to the subject cause this is extremely relevant, its extremely relevant and that Council I have read the document from your Government and your Coalition Government and it does say “local authorities including registrars”. We are consultees, we are a target for consultation. Now somewhere that application has come into this Council. I think Im reasonably on the ball but I didn’t know about it until I saw Cllr Drivers motion so I asked the question “When did it come into the Council? Has anyone seen it because I haven’t. So it’s something we have to get right Chairman, and you are our Chairman, get our house in order about consultations that come in. I have read the document from cover to cover, back and front. I am an Irish-Protestant. I come from 32 clergy background including the odd bishop so I know a little about religion but this is actuallyabout equal rights for people. Treating people equally. I looked into equal partnerships as opposed to equal marriage and there is definitely an issue. If you ever went for a job and the cheek of it they asked if you were married or single or divorced or anything else, you have to tick a box, but if you have to put in another line to say “civil partner” as you said Cllr Fenner, it immediately says what your sexual orientation is. None of their business. They used to ask you how many children you had and when I said five that was it. I’m sure Cllr Wells when you said twelve, you were finished [laughter] .

So I’m sorry, I will be supporting this and will be supporting both parts of the answer and I’ll tell you why on the transsexual side of it and I really did question and worry about this one, because I’ve known people who have suddenly, 30 years into a marriage, decided they were actually women instead of men, and how does the other person the woman on the other side feel and what should happen, and what the reason [Chair: Wind up please] the reason I’m supporting it is that if you still love each other whatever your sexuality and two people who married 45 years ago and still love each other, if they have to divorce, that other person, the woman who’s already feeling upset, loses every right to the man’s pension. So we’ve got to support it. I’m doing it. I’m an old Irish Protestant. I have all of that background of clergy and everything else. It’s not a religious matter for me tonight, its an equality matter. [Applause]

Chair: Thank you. Cllr Worrow.

Cllr John Worrow: Yeah, thank you very much. It’s amazing how the Councillor for Westgate-on-Sea didn’t object to debating on live animal exports, I wonder why did you allow that to go ahead, why did you debate Margate football ground for example [Chair: Can you keep to the point please?]. I will keep to the point. For the benefit of Thanet’s unique version of the Conservative Party because they do not represent, I have spoken to people around the country that are Conservatives that find this situation quite embarrassing. When I was a Conservative before I resigned the whip, I was made to feel quite uncomfortable and on the 8th December one of the reasons why I voted for a more progressive administration was because the behaviour, particularly of the so-called Conservative Cabinet, the unique version of the Conservative Cabinet, who do not represent the Conservatives throughout the country, who have no women, not one [Chair: Cllr Worrow, Cllr Worrow, you are wandering off the subject . Can you return to it?] They have not one single woman on the frontbench. That tells you what they think about equality.

I’m going to read a passage from our Prime Minister, David Cameron, OK? In his speech, David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the Conservative Party, the proper one, said “I once stood before a Conservative Conference and said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. You applauded me for that. Five years on we are consulting on legal gay marriage and to anyone who has reservations I say, yes, its about equality. But its also about something else. Commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us, that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other". David Cameron said he doesn’t support equal marriage despite being a Conservative. He said he supports equal marriage because he’s a Conservative.

I know, from firsthand experience, from speaking to South Thanet MP Laura Sandys, that she, Laura Sandys, supports equal marriage. So Laura, if you are watching this webcast, I ask you to go public and declare your support for equal marriage because you’re a proper Conservative. You are not part of the unique version of the Conservative Party here in Thanet which I resigned from. As for Sir Roger Gale, he may be entitled to his opinion but at a time when so many young gay people are taking their lives and the likes of the Cllr for Westgate-on-Sea makes fun of gay people on the blog, at a time when young gay people are taking their lives, I think it’s very irresponsible for the MP for Thanet North to refer to people as “militant homosexuals”. You are sitting over there [timer chimes] and you know why. [Applause]

Chair: Cllr Mrs Tomlinson.

Cllr Shirley Tomlinson: Firstly thank you Chairman. Cllr Worrow has never talked to me about my views but I think he probably knows my view because I have very very many LGB and T friends [ Cllr Worrow: Ive got one friend…whoo!]  and I have black friends as well [Worrow: Im sure you do]. However I will be abstaining tonight because I have not got the views of all the residents that myself and Cllr Gregory represent. Probably a third, so I cant stand here and vote either for or against. I have a gay son-in-law, step son I mean, and I am very proud of him and I am proud of all my gay and lesbian friends. Thank you.

Chair: Right. Cllr Cohen.

Cllr Jack Cohen: Thank you Mr Chairman. When I look at what we’re discussing tonight is in two parts, a) and b), and I do hope we will be taking separate votes on these, Mr Chairman, because they are two different proposals and have different connotations to them. If you look certainly on the transsexuals side, there is a serious, shall we say, injustice with the possibility of loss of pensions and loss of security and even such things as inheritance tax and everything else, that could come into this, and it would be very sad if people after such a long association have to face this prospect.

As for the part a) of this supports the removal of the ban of same-sex couples being able to have a civil ceremony, yes. I look at it, but I look at it as a certain degree of concern because, as it is established, then comes in the question of equal rights, and we see all these equal rights and what happens with these equal rights not being able to remove from this country that it might be very undesirable and maybe equal rights does play a part here because once a person has a civil marriage, they then possibly have a strong entitlement to a religious marriage and that then the civil rights could be, civil equal rights could come in, and then we could be in a situation of where religious groups are really forced, almost virtually forced to go ahead, and that’s what really worries me. I worry really sincerely and I have very great reservations on that particular problem. Thank you Mr Chairman.

Chair: Thank you. Cllr Bruce.

Cllr Alasdair Bruce: Thank you Chair. Cllr Worrow’s made a rather sweeping accusation about Cabinet. He may wish to reconsider that because as he might recall he came to me and asked me about his preference. I gave him my opinion, unambiguous, he knows it today as it was when he first asked me and I shall be voting accordingly.

Cllr Worrow. I was referring to the…
Chair: No
Cllr Worrow: I was referring to the relevant Members of the Cabinet…
Chair. No, no no. Sorry, sit down please. Cllr Nicholson please.

Cllr Richard Nicholson: Yes, thank you Chairman. Much has been said about the morality of what is before us this evening, also about how can we vote because we haven’t talked to all our residents in our particular wards. No one in this Chamber has ever spoken to all their constituents on every subject. We’ve got about 80 in front of us this evening, I wonder how many of them find Members will stand up and say they’ve spoken to everyone in my ward who want my opinion on this. Partly here to make decisions, they’re not always easy decisions but we are here to make decisions. As to the morality, that morality has no place in Thanet and District Council, I think that’s a terrible thing to say, absolutely terrible and reminds me of the poem.  This is not word perfect by any means. Yeah, first of all they came for the Communists and I said nothing. Then they came for the mentally disabled and I said nothing. Then they came for the Socialists and I said nothing. Came for the Trade Unions and I said nothing, and on and on and on. And the point he was making was that eventually they came for me and he was a German Minister pre, in the Nazi era, died in a concentration camp because he said nothing, so I think people need to think long and hard before they think morals has got no part to play in our level of government or any level of government. I think we all have a duty to speak out and we should continue to do so. Thank you.

Chair: Cllr Harrison.

Cllr Mike Harrison: Yeah, I reiterate what Cllr Nicholsons said right at the beginning. I certainly, and Im sure that other Members in this Chamber haven’t consulted any of my constituents, I have actually spoken to a couple of mine about this issue but I haven’t spoken to them about the Draft Corporate Plan, the Housing Revenue Account, the Parking fees, the Strategic Assessment, the Community Safety bit, Ive not spoken to any of them about that, and Im sure that by saying that, Members opposite are taking the soft option. They are taking the cop-out. In fact if that’s the case, they should never ever vote on anything. Of course I suppose its no suprize to me that they take the soft option, they take the line of least resistance because it is a contentious issue by all means, and it is also an equality issue but I personally think it’s about more than equality. I actually think it’s about freedom of choice. People have freedom of choice to live in this country in the manner in which they see fit. Now by having civil partnerships and/or a marriage and both, either or whatever, it’s about making a commitment to somebody for the rest of your life.

Now, I’m going to a wedding on Sunday and as it happens its being held at a Barn near Rochester, but it’s a civil ceremony. But I’m sure my niece and her husband to be will be no less married on Sunday evening than they were than my nephew who got married in a church. They are married, end of story. It’s not a religious ceremony, it’s not about religion, it’s about the legal position of two people living together, joining together and making a commitment to each other. It’s a legal position and it’s the consequences of the legal position that I think we should be concerned about Chairman. As has been said, this is a request by Government to respond to a consultation. We can respond to that consultation as best we can and it is perfectly valid to do so. So I for one will be supporting this Chairman. I’m proud to support this and I’m not ashamed to say I support this for a long time as somebody who worked in an industry that for some reason seemed to attract quite a few gay people and having attended at least two gay weddings in my time I know how happy these people are and I’m sure there are some very strong relationships that last and last and last and you don’t have to be male and female to enter into that sort of a commitment. 

There are a lot of loving long lasting relationships and I think it’s incumbent upon us as politicians of whatever level to make sure those people that enter into a relationships are given some sort of legal protection in fact that’s a lot of what is having legal protection whether you die or your partner takes on your pension, or the fact that the reverse applies if you split up, there’s quite often unfortunately as I’m able to know at my cost, a dispute about property. Now, if you are in a legally agreed marriage [timer chimes] you also have some protection about property rights as well Chairman, So I think Council should support this we should send a really very strong message to the gay community in Thanet in general that you are now living in an area that is governed by an administration that believes in equality and freedom of choice [applause]

Chair: Cllr Gideon.

Cllr Jo Gideon: Thank you Chairman. I think it’s a great shame but it doesn’t surprise me sadly that the debate has become polarised in a sort of, if you believe in equality and progressive Government, then you must be a Labour Party member or Independent. If you’re not then you’re homophobic and you sit on the Conservative benches. [murmering] Sorry. Im sorry we actually have that part of the debate. It is very very sad and it does us no credit as Councillors. I think most people who know me know that and Cllr Driver will agree with this, that I have campaigned throughout my time as a Councillor on the equalities agenda. I have sat with Officers and have ensured as far as it was in my power that the Council treats people in Thanet…the equalities agenda is really important in its role as a Council. That is quite different from what we have before us tonight. My personal view is irrelevant here.

I stand here as a Ward Councillor and that I can tell you as a Ward Councillor that the representations I have had from my ward have sadly, sorry that’s less than you know what my view is, but have been entirely against the motion and therefore I think it would be dishonest of me in my role as a Ward Councillor to support the debate [Chair :Would you please be quiet in the public gallery?]. However then to categorise me, you know somehow a progressive as in some way not supporting equalities would be grossly unfair and I would say to everybody here is that, part of equalities, part of progressive community is actually being tolerant of other people’s views. Other people’s views, if they don’t agree with you on things are not necessarily wrong views and tolerance and equality are listening to other people and respecting diverse views, and I hope you reflect on that.

Chair. Thank you. I’ve got another two speakers and then I propose to go to Cllr Driver to wind the matter up.

Cllr Martin Wise: Thank you Mr Chairman. I find myself in a, beg your pardon, “speak to the Chair” [Cllr Fenner motioning at Cllr Wise], you want me to turn my back on you you mean? Or my back on the audience… Mr Chairman, turning my back on the people who have turned up to hear us tonight, I find myself in a rather difficult position because I am someone whose belief that marriage was a union between two people for the procreation and stability of children and now I am being asked to change the way that I’ve thought since I can remember. Beg your pardon? I am… [Chair: Cllr Wise, it’s not helping is it?] I’d like to barrack back actually, but I find myself in the position where I’m having to be forced to think over the last 6 weeks, two months, whatever because there doesn’t seem to be anything else going on in Thanet politics for the last 6 weeks, two months, certainly the debate that has come amongst the people…Have I? [Clark: Will you please address the Chair?]  People keep talking to me Chair [Well, just ignore them at the moment, Campbell – Not got the experience then] …are actually in a position where I’m considering whether I should change that view Chairman, the view I’ve held all those years, but does seem that the people who are trying to force this on me are trying to do it in a way that runs roughshot over what I believe, what millions of other people believe and have no interest or sensitivity of any of those views.

And I take great exception to the fact that these two mavericks in the Council who are unrepresentatives, unrepresentative in their wards have been allowed to bring this to the Council when frankly there are a million more important things for us that they could’ve brought to this, for example we could talk about people in the Third World that don’t have clean water to drink, or sanitation [Fenner: Its TDC, Clark: if the public gallery continues to upset this meeting, I shall clear the gallery, I don’t want to do that so please be quiet] There are a million things that we could talk about but this self important, self-righteous, self-absorbed group of mavericks have chosen to bring this to the Council. I tell you, I have changed my view Chairman. I am going to vote for the motion, because [applause] I believe that is the right thing but that should not make anybody believe that I believe the two people who brought this to the Council have had anything really positive to bring because I do not believe they have any integrity and I do not believe you are fit to sit in this Council. Don’t kiss me, Cllr Worrow.

Chair: Thank you. Cllr Green.

Cllr David Green: Thank you Chair. First of all I’d like to disassociate myself from some of the remarks that have been made in public by the person bringing this motion, firstly about Roger Gale and secondly about people with religious beliefs. I do not hold any of those views whatsoever. However I have listened to the arguments against this motion and the only one that I think still needs answering is this question about marriage being for the bringing up of children. Well, it made me think of at least two of my relations who in comparatively recent past, got married, both past the age of 60, in a church, and very happy they are through having done that.

So the question about whether marriage is for bringing up children is frankly rubbish and the church doesn’t recognise it either. So that made me think of what this civil partnerships thing is about. I mean if there really is very little difference between it legally and marriage , then the only effect it has is against equality and it discriminates against a minority group of people and therefore I’m against it. I’ve always been against discrimination, particularly discrimination against people for things they can do nothing about. That to me is morally wrong and that is why I will be voting for this motion. [Applause]

Chair: Thank you, Cllr Driver to wind up please.

Cllr Ian Driver: Thanks Chair. A lot of what I was going to say has already been said so I’ll try and be as brief as possible. I am quite disappointed by the lame excuses and the clever words and the ducking of the issues that many of the Conservatives have indulged in tonight and trying to suggest this is not a matter for Thanet Council to discuss. Chairman, there are several thousand LGBT people living in Thanet and to deny those people their democratic right to have a 30 minute debate does say a lot about the Conservative Party in Thanet, their attitude towards the LGBT community. That silence, that manipulation, that manoeuvering does say a lot about their attitude.

One thing that’s not been said and actually makes this issue very very relevant to Thanet Council is the local economy and the economic impact of equal marriage on Thanet and it’s been estimated that the average wedding, people spent  £15,000 a heck of a lot of money and by a very very conservative estimate, there’s probably gonna be at least, if this legislation is passed, 20 to 25 equal marriages taking place in Thanet every year, year in, year out and that’s £300,000 going into the pockets of local businesses creating local jobs, so anybody who opposes equal marriage, opposes the creation of local jobs and the stimulation of a local economy [applause]. Lets say another thing, if Thanet tonight passes this motion, it will be the first Council in England to do so, it will also be the first Council in Kent to do so and it will send out a message loud and clear that Thanet is an LGBT friendly place for people to visit, for people to set up businesses, for people to come and live and for people to bring up families, and I say[applause] I say if this motion is passed tonight, lets fly the rainbow flag on top of the Council. Lets fly the rainbow flag on the Turner Contemporary and tell the bigots and the homophobes that Thanet is no place for you. Grow up and get over it.

Chair: Thank you. I am now going to put it to a vote. 

3 comments:

Michael Child said...

Stirling work there James, thanks for making the effort, which presumably wasn’t small.

simon moores said...

Well done James!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. We'll put a link on Thanet Watch page
Old Mole