As the European Elections are approaching it’s worth taking stock and considering where the parties have stood on LGBT rights and where they’re heading.
The Conservatives have a more than chequered past when it comes to LGBT rights. Theresa May famously coined the term “The Nasty Party”, a term that perhaps fits to the party that introduced anti-LGBT laws and opposed the last Labour government on gay adoption, civil partnerships and repealing Section 28. That’s perhaps why it’s so surprising that they are the party to have legalised marriage equality.
Despite David Cameron’s spectacular change of direction, the modern Tory Party is still not purged of its Nasty Party tendencies. The marriage equality bill was opposed by more Tory MPs than those who supported it, with some Tory MPs and Lords likening being gay to incest and bestiality in unsavoury debates. Equally, the bill contains some nasty exemptions on an equal right to pensions for couples and some deeply troubling process for trans people where partners effectively have the right to veto recognition of their gender. Also Conservative MEPs in parliament refused to support efforts to stamp out homophobia and discrimination in the EU.
Verdict: “Can a Leopard Change its spots?”
Rating ** 1/2
The Labour Government of 1997-2010 was indisputably the most progressive government we’ve had when it comes to LGBT rights. The party of Blair brought in civil partnerships, repealed Section 28, legalised LGBT couples adopting and recognised gender reassignment. We undoubtedly owe a lot to Labour.
Yet does this make Labour perfect? It may be forgotten now, but LGBT activists were perpetually frustrated at the slow pace of change in the early 00s. It took Labour 6 years to repeal Section 28, 7 to bring in civil partnerships, and it was the only major party in the 2010 elections to refuse to commit to bringing in marriage equality. Also Labour was not without its MPs who opposed marriage equality, although a substantial minority, and Labour also didn’t support attempts to immediately ensure that LGBT couples were guaranteed equal pension rights as heterosexual couples, instead preferring further review of the proposals.
Verdict: “Good, could do better”
Rating **** 1/2
The Liberal Democrats have surprisingly prided themselves on liberal attitudes towards LGBT issues. The party was the first major party to come out in support of marriage equality, and certainly Lynne Featherstone MP did a lot to push the coalition to legalise marriage equality.
Yet it’s that involvement in what did become an imperfect bill that tarnishes the bill. The Liberal Democrats failed to introduce a marriage equality that treated everyone fairly and equally. Instead it means LGBT couples are not guaranteed equal pension rights and trans people face the threat of a deeply messy and troubling process of getting their gender recognised. Also again Liberal Democrat MPs were not universally in favour of marriage equality, and there was a significant minority opposed.
Verdict: “Doing well, until they actually had any power”
The Green Party
The Greens elected their first MP in 2010. Caroline Lucas MP since being in Parliament has (perhaps unsurprisingly for an MP that represents Brighton) been a vigorous supporter of marriage equality. She introduced a bill in Parliament that would guarantee all couples equal pension rights, only to see both Labour and the Conservatives reject it. Equally the Greens were the first party in England to support marriage equality.
But does it really matter? With a party with only 1 MP some may accuse it as all too easy to support equal rights.
Verdict: “Great on the issues, but lacking clout”
Rating ***** (but then does it matter?)
Ah UKIP, UKIP, UKIP. Where to start? The party refused to back marriage equality and litanies of members have made deeply offensive comments on LGBT people. From saying that gays cause floods, to gay adoption is child abuse, the party resolutely seems to attract those that want to roll back social attitudes to the 70s.
Indeed, there have been hints that such homophobic stances are ploys to garner support. The party fired its head of its youth wing, Olly Neville, after he supported marriage equality, saying he was spoiling their “growth strategy”. In the European Parliament UKIP MEPs have refused to support efforts to tackle homophobia across the EU.
Verdict: “Out nastying the nasty party”
Rating No Stars
All in all, I hope this serves a little reminder that might help you to vote come the European elections. Equally remember with UKIP positioned to do very well, perhaps registering to vote for anyone but UKIP might be worthwhile.