It's been a great week for homophobes

These issues concerning the rights of homosexuals ought to have been settled long ago
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The Independent Culture
FRANKLY, YOU might have expected that these issues would be settled by now. In most arguments it's worth respecting the other point of view, agreeing to differ. In some situations, however, respecting the other point of view is tantamount to the suppression of human rights.

We do not respect the other point of view in the matter of racial discrimination; nor do we consult the majority, and act according to their prejudiced and ignorant views, when it comes to the question of capital punishment. We expect, for instance, our law-givers to do whatever is right, and to be civilised and protect minorities, whatever the majority of the population would like to do to them, rather than simply courting popularity by ignoring the rights of a section of the electorate.

Two issues concerning the rights of homosexuals surfaced again this week. They ought to have been settled long ago, to be honest.

In the first case, it's certainly possible to have doubts about the particular circumstances, even though there is, or ought to be, no doubt about the general principle of the thing. Two Essex millionaires in a stable relationship, having been turned down several times by social services as potential adopters of children, went to America and hired a surrogate mother to bear twins.

A certain amount of got-up outrage greeted this news, but I can't say that it constitutes a terribly new social situation. As Ivy Compton-Burnett used to say: "More things happen in families than you know." And our age is perhaps the extraordinary one in its insistence that the only normal state of affairs is one in which a man and a woman, married to each other, bring up their own children.

In the past, as any reader of the classic English novels knows, children have been taken into other families, brought up by one parent or neither, and to no very obvious detriment. A situation in which a child is brought up not by his mother but by his father and his father's male lover may sound a little odd to us, but I'm sure it wouldn't have sounded like that to the Victorians; they just wouldn't have talked about it.

And this case was perhaps unusual only in that it got into the newspapers. As most gay people do, I have probably half a dozen acquaintances who have entered into a similar but less regulated arrangement, and now find themselves pushing prams round the park on a Sunday morning.

That, by now, is a fait accompli, and, though it is nobody's right to have children, it is certainly a freedom which many gay people are determined to exercise. The deplorable thing would be if it were exercised, as in this case, only by the extremely rich; the stupid state of affairs is that no adoption agency in the country is prepared to assess each case on its own merits, and allow gay people to adopt.

Children have always been brought up by gay people, and no one has ever demonstrated, despite a great deal of concerted effort to do so, that they are harmed by such an upbringing.

The other case this week was even more eye-opening. "Defence chiefs" have been busy lobbying the newspapers against any change in the present ban on gay people serving in the military, and, a new one, this, against the suggested appointment of Peter Mandelson as Defence Secretary. This second line of attack demonstrates fairly conclusively that there is absolutely nothing to their objections except sheer bigotry. I mean, their favourite argument, that "the men" have to take showers together, hardly seems to apply to the Defence Secretary.

Is it worth paying attention to these views? They are startlingly reminiscent of the things the same people were saying 20 years ago about "the blacks"; we could not have people from racial minorities in the Guards, because "the men" wouldn't stand for it, because it would be bad for discipline, or even because they were innately immoral. The Government, quite rightly, wouldn't stand for any such argument in the one case. Why on earth it seems to be shifting ground in the other beats me. There are signs that it will put off a review until after the next election, and then put it to a free vote, which is about as lily-livered as you can get.

Sometimes, a government just has to do the right thing; not lower the age of consent once the focus groups say they don't object, not invest first in the things voters say they care about, but just to do the right thing. And it is difficult to think of anything more clearly right than enabling a substantial section of the community to serve their country in whatever way they wish.

The mad homophobic lobby is going to carry on for a while yet; only this week, a Mr Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education was to be found complaining about a poster issued by the Terrence Higgins Trust, warning against homophobic bullying in schools. Every year, teenagers commit suicide because of such bullying, and Mr Seaton's comment was that children shouldn't "have their values", meaning homophobia, "interfered with".

Mr Seaton's views are clearly distasteful, but the worrying thing is that he and his kind are listened to, and their advice is even taken, by people who wouldn't give racists the time of day. All in all, a fairly depressing week if you believe that your own life is nobody's business but your own.