Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Britain’s main gay lobby group, Stonewall, has reportedly defended his organisation’s refusal to campaign for marriage equality. He was speaking at the Liberal Democrat party conference LGBT fringe meeting on Monday night, 20 September.
Leading Lib Dems at the meeting – Stephen Gilbert MP, Evan Harris and equality minister, Lynne Featherstone MP – spoke out in favour of legalising same-sex marriage. Mr Summerskill did not. He explained why Stonewall was not campaigning on the issue.
According to a report on the Pink News website, he cited the cost of implementing marriage equality, which he claimed could total £5 billion – a figure that other campaigners question.
A recent online survey of LGBT readers by the Pink News website found that 98% want full marriage equality. Stonewall does not represent LGBT opinion on this issue. It is out of touch.
“Although Stonewall does a lot of valuable, important work, on this issue it is wrong,” said Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner and spokesperson for the LGBT group OutRage!
“It is, in effect, actively undermining the campaign for marriage equality.
“While many straight politicians now support same-sex civil marriage, Stonewall is refusing to campaign against the homophobic ban on gay and lesbian couples getting married. Among other reasons, it says equal marriage rights could cost £5 billion to implement.
“It is shocking to see a gay equality organisation declining to support equal rights legislation because it might cost too much. No other equality organisation makes equal human rights contingent on the cost. It is deplorable to insinuate that we can only have equality if it doesn’t cost too much.
“Where does Stonewall get this £5 billion figure from? If civil marriage and civil partnerships are the same, as Stonewall has always claimed, how could marriage equality cost more?
“Every other comparable LGBT organisation in the world is campaigning to end the ban on same-sex marriage, but not Stonewall. It is out of step with the British and global trend towards equal marriage rights,” said Mr Tatchell.
OutRage! has campaigned for marriage equality since 1992, when it launched the first UK challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage. Five lesbian and gay couples from OutRage! filed applications for gay marriage at Marylebone registry office in London on 19 March 1992. They were refused. But OutRage! has carried on the campaign ever since, and plans to file appeals against the ban to the European Court of Human Rights later this year.