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Saturday 12 July 2008
Letters: Gay marriage
The truth is out: 'civil partnership' really means 'gay marriage'
The gay community should be very happy at the decision in the case of Lillian Ladele vs Islington ("Registrar wins right to refuse gay weddings", 11 July). In finding for the applicant, the Tribunal has found that she believes civil partnerships are actually marriages. This was something the mealy-mouthed Blair administration was at pains to deny at the time.
If a civil partnership is not a marriage, which according to the church can only exist between a man and a woman, then the applicant cannot succeed in a claim since her beliefs are not violated. But if it really is a marriage then they might be, and she is entitled to the protection of that part of the law upon which she relies.
Most of us think that on the whole, if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. So too with Civil Partnerships. It seems that Ms Ladele agrees with everyone else, despite the teaching of the church, and the Tribunal does too.
I really am married – yippee!
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
Your report does nothing to clarify the problem of conscientious objection to registering civil partnerships. Civil partnership ceremonies are not "gay weddings". Marriage, which is a heterosexual institution, often carries religious or spiritual overtones: civil partnership is a purely legal matter and to refer to it as "gay marriage" and to civil-partnership registrations as "gay weddings" is wrong and misleading.
Your report does not make clear whether Lillian Ladele's contract with Islington Council specifically required her to register civil partnerships. If it did, she was in breach of contract by refusing to do so. While Islington Council's behaviour appears to have been unreasonable, it should nevertheless be borne in mind that the council is legally obliged to provide a civil-partnership service and failure to do so would put it in breach of the law. What would happen if all of the council's registrars had objections similar to Ms Ladele's? And are religious liberties more important than civil liberties?
DNA zealotry is no solution to crime
Johann Hari (9 July) persists in his apparent belief in the national DNA database as a panacea against crime. Like Hari, I am appalled that so few of the 50,000 reported rapes each year result in a conviction, but even a universal DNA database would not have a major impact on this scandal. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the identity of the alleged rapist is not in dispute, nor is the fact that the accused has had sex with the complainant; the defence is that the woman consented – and no DNA evidence can assist a jury in deciding this question.
Hari states that 114 murderers and 184 sex offenders have been caught because of the DNA database. The pertinent question is, how many, if any, of those offenders were caught on the basis of samples taken from individuals who were arrested but either never brought to trial or acquitted by a court? Can Hari cite a single case in which a serious crime was solved using one of the more than 100,000 samples taken from children? The offences for which children have been arrested and had DNA samples taken include drawing with chalk on a pavement – this was classed as "criminal damage"!
A quarter of the four million DNA samples on the database are from people who have either never faced charges or have been found innocent. If the DNA zealots prevail, huge numbers of samples will be held from people who have never been convicted, or in many cases even faced a court. Questionable forensic techniques, rejected by most countries including the US, will be used to detect minuscule quantities of DNA which may represent innocent contamination. There will be a high probability of mistaken accusations being made on the basis of innocent contamination of objects within a crime scene; it is almost inevitable that there will be miscarriages of justice.
Ken Campbell MSc
Johann Hari makes a poor argument in favour of the state being the bulwark of liberty. In countries where the state has taken to itself the right to monitor and intervene in individuals' daily lives, there is no evidence that the security of the people has increased as a consequence. On the contrary, crimes of murder, torture and rape have increased; crimes carried out in the most part by the state itself.
In the 19th century, when the state was much weaker, society regulated itself. My own county of West Sussex did not establish a full-time police force until 1857. Reading Mr Hari's article, one would assume that in such circumstances, pre-1857 West Sussex must have been the scene of unrestrained carnage, with rape and murder taking place on a regular basis. The crime statistics indicate that these crimes were far fewer, per capita, than they are today.
Society, in the absence of the state, regulated itself. Working-class communities responded rigorously to those who posed a threat and a danger. In particular, men who abused their wives or children were likely to receive "rough music" – a ritualised protest that was invariably successful. In the worst cases the abuser would be forced out of the community. From my own research, it is clear that people were far more ready to take to the streets to assert their grievances and to celebrate their community, than they are today.
The increasing power of the state has weakened us all. Instead of being assertive, we plaintively ask what "they" are going to do about problems that confront us.
I am far more frightened of the possibility of being mistakenly detained for 42 days, innocent female octogenarian though I am, than what seems to me the much lesser likelihood of being blown up by a terrorist.
The good, the bad and the waxwork
While the actions of the protester who decapitated the Hitler waxwork ("Debunking this myth of harmless celebrity", Philip Hensher, 7 July) are understandable, and Hensher's support of it equally so, there's a problem with this line of thinking.
As Johann Hari pointed out recently ("Our infantile search for heroic leaders", 26 June), even the most proudly remembered politicians of the 20th century, such as Gandhi and Churchill, committed acts the civilised world would now consider abhorrent.
Are there, indeed, any politicians or historical figures with sufficiently unblemished records? The answer is probably a few, but certainly not very many. By opening a process of "statue censorship", based on historical figures' contribution to the sum total of human suffering, we will have to justify which level of atrocity we consider unacceptable (five million innocents massacred?) and which are acceptable (six-hundred thousand?), and be able to explain the difference. If we were to undergo this exercise, something tells me there would suddenly be a lot of spare wax kicking around.
Despair of a Zimbabwean
As a Zimbabwean living in the UK and working for an aid agency dealing with the Zimbabwean crisis, my despair has grown steadily over the last few years. But at least I haven't had to worry about being deported; unlike many of my compatriots ("Labour retreats on deportation threat to Zimbabweans", 11 July).
In the words of one of my friends living in Zimbabwe, "No one is safe any more". She said this just before she told me the story of a mother of five who was found by a pastor after she was badly beaten by militia. Her leg was broken in two places, but in her terror, she managed to get away. In the process she was separated from her family. Three of her children, who had managed to hide themselves, were found and reunited with their mum.
From their hiding place, they had watched their father be so badly beaten that the eldest child doubts he has survived. No one knows where he is. The remaining two children are also missing. The lady is so traumatised, she just cries constantly.
It seems there is nothing the world can do to stop this terrible violence but at least the UK won't be sending more people back to face it.
Chairman, Data Publishers Association, London WC2
Israel is more of a threat than Iran
In "Iranians test-fire missile capable of hitting Israel" (10 July) you state that Iran has developed a missile capable of reaching targets 2,000km away, but that the Iranian President says that it will be used only for defence. On 11 July you carry an article saying that Israel is considering pre-emptive strikes on Iran.
Why is there more concern about Iran developing a long-range missile than there is about Israel considering pre-emptive attacks?
Which country in the Middle East has invaded or deployed its airforce against other countries? Israel, of course, with its excursions into Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan. Quite naturally, other countries in the region want to develop their own defence against the offensive operations of the one country whose belligerent intentions are manifest to all.
Condoleezza Rice's comment that Iranian missiles tests vindicate the American plan to build a missile shield in eastern Europe suggest either that she does not know where eastern Europe is, or that she does not know where Iran is.
Selby, North Yorkshire
How dare Iran test-fire missiles in their own country? Don't they know the rules? Israel can fire missiles at neighbouring countries and simulate bombing Iran.
The US do not have to simulate, they can actually attack countries in the Middle East. Is it not about time that someone sent Iran's leaders the regulation book?
Brief encounter with dish-washing men
In answer to your correspondents (letters, 9 July), men do indeed wash up. Last summer, when sitting outside a café in Hull, I tuned in to the conversation of three smartly dressed, thirtysomething businessmen. What were they talking about? Sport? No. Sex? Nope. Stocks and shares, perhaps, the money market? Definitely not. Their topic – which seemed to be provoking heated discussion – centred on washing up. Was it better to do glasses first, or cutlery? How best to deal with badly stained pans. And how to get that streak-free sparkle on the glassware...
After about 20 minutes I could no longer resist; I joined in, and was asked to resolve a finer point in the argument. They were still going strong when I left.
So, women of Britain, there is hope: New Man is alive and well – and in Hull.
Your Big Question of 10 July asks, "Have sanctions ever worked?" and lists a number of examples. Surprisingly, you ignore the international sanctions led by the US against Vietnam that lasted 21 years.
These sanctions were imposed after the Vietnamese defeat of US forces and their allies, a defeat that they have never, to this day, forgiven. As they have not forgiven the people of Cuba for defeating Kennedy in the Bay of Pigs.
Len Aldis Secretary
Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society, London E3
Solution to MPs' pay
If it is accepted that democracy is government by the people, for the people then the answer to the question of MPs' pay becomes simple: they should receive the average pay in Britain and their expenses should be those that a company would pay a person on average earnings and that the Inland Revenue accepts are not taxable. To align their interests with those they govern would be truly radical.
Long live B B King
In Luiza Sauma's review of Solomon Burke's recent concert at London's Barbican (9 July) B B King gets a mention in the past tense: "After paying his respects to late soul stars James Brown, B B King, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding et al..." B B King is in fact alive and well, and touring the USA as we speak – at the sprightly age of 82.
Dr Bob Jones
BOGNOR REGIS, WEST SUSSEX
Cameron's true colours
David Cameron wants to re-legalise the abuse of hares, foxes and stags for fun. He talks about law and order in the context of inner-city knife crime, but for the benefit of lawbreakers in the countryside he wants to repeal the Hunting Act because it is "widely flouted". He really is a child of his class and background.
Gas bills on the rise
Andrew Warren, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy (letter, 8 July), has said "there is no need for the amount the average consumer pays to increase by anything like £213". We have just had a letter from British Gas stating that they have increased our direct debit for a three-bedroomed semi from £19 per month to a staggering £63.
Mike Bell (11 July) seeks to equate Frank Gehry's building at the Serpentine with a loss of pride in ourselves, "the world around us as grey, hopeless and crashing out of control." I wonder what he made of Lord Foster's Gherkin – perhaps that represented an era of sexual freedom?
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