Scott Roberts: Embarrassment for a charity lagging behind public opinion


Saturday 22 October 2011 22:33

When Britain's largest gay rights charity is even at odds with Boris Johnson on the position of marriage equality, it knows it has a problem.

Two weeks ago, Ben Summerskill, the Chief Executive of Stonewall, threw a Molotov cocktail at the campaign for same-sex marriage. Rather than backing proposals – put forward by the Liberal Democrats – he warned they could potentially cost Britain "£5bn" over the course of 10 years.

Mr Summerskill's justification for the high figure stems from the fact that the policy would also open up civil partnerships to straight couples – currently only legally applicable to same-sex partners.

But for the head of Stonewall to make this argument days before members voted overwhelmingly to endorse the policy, has left many people unsurprisingly infuriated.

Steve Gilbert, the openly gay MP for Newquay and St Austell accused Mr Summerskill of "putting a price on equality".

Stonewall's position is made all the more confusing because the charity has publicly said that it is "consulting" its 20,000 members on whether or not to endorse gay marriage. Many also see Mr Summerskill's £5bn figure as a gift for homophobes looking for an excuse to curb gay rights.

Prominent figures in the community, including two of the charity's co-founders, Labour MEP Michael Cashman and Britain's leading openly gay actor, Sir Ian McKellen have criticised the charity's fears about cost.

Simon Hughes, the Lib Dems' Deputy Leader, also defended his party's gay marriage policy, saying Ben Summerskill's intervention had been "unhelpful" – while a Lib Dem press officer described the figure as "bogus".

It puts Stonewall in a deeply embarrassing position. As Peter Tatchell rightly points out, it is now the only main gay rights charity in Britain that has not joined the campaign for full marriage equality – that is despite growing political consensus from the Lib Dems, Labour, significant parts of the Conservative Party, and overwhelmingly the British people.

Maybe it is time Stonewall stopped stonewalling and joined the rest of us?

Scott Roberts is news editor for Gaydar radio

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