Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ben Summerskill: Stonewall not fighting for gay marriage equality because 'it could cost £5 billion'


The chief executive of LGB lobby group Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, this evening reportedly told a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats party conference that the group is not actively campaigning for marriage equality because it could cost a staggering £5 billion to implement. The charity have been stonewalling questions on its exact position on marriage equality for some time.

Zoe O'Connell, who writes the Complicity blog, described the meeting: "Of all the bizarre places to come out against marriage equality, an event run in conjunction with DELGA, the Liberal Democrat LGBT organisation, would seem to be the most odd. But that’s just what Ben Summerskill, head of so-called 'equality' organisation Stonewall did today."

All of the other speakers at the fringe event; Lynne Featherstone, the minister for equality; Evan Harris, president of Lib Dem LGBT group DELGA; and Stephen Gilbert, the Lib Dem MP who will tomorrow propose a motion in favour of marriage equality at conference, all said they support full LGBT marriage equality. Just Mr Summerskill suggested reasons against marriage equality.

Last year, Mr Summerskill told PinkNews.co.uk "There are lots of lesbians who actually don't want marriage". But, last month, a survey for PinkNews.co.uk revealed that 98 per cent of the LGBT community favour full marriage equality. Mr Summerskill tonight said that the group is "consulting" the views of its 20,000 members before adopting an official policy on marriage equality, although according to reports, he gave a number of arguments against marriage equality to the audience of the Stonewall organised meeting.

PinkNews.co.uk readers at the event report that Mr Summerskill claimed that it could be too expensive to introduce marriage equality because of increased pension payments to heterosexual couples who may theoretically wish to take up civil partnerships, if allowed. He claimed this would cost £5 billion. After the debate, Mr Summerskill told a PinkNews.co.uk contributor who did not want to be named that there was also the risk that straight, same sex, platonic friends might seek to have civil partnerships in order to make tax savings.

Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert argued at the fringe meeting that marriage equality should not be subject to a cost/benefit analysis and claimed that if South Africa had adopted Stonewall’s approach, they would still have apartheid. Mr Summerskill reportedly labelled this view as offensive.

Mr Summerskill reportedly also offered the argument that there is a feminist view that the institution of marriage is fundamentally wrong. He also argued that for as long as people are being murdered in homophobic attacks, it is not the right time to campaign for marriage equality. Mr Gilbert responded saying that there is a need to send a clear message to those in society "that would try to discriminate that we are equal and we will not settle for any less than equality. As long as LGBT people are 'othered' in any way at all, attacks will continue."

Mr Summerskill also accused PinkNews.co.uk of running an "unethical campaign” against Stonewall after it asked every LGBT rights organisation/ political group to outline their stance on marriage equality. Only Stonewall refused to answer.

Last Friday, Stonewall received an open letter signed by hundreds of people including two MEPs, two MPs and a number of human rights academics calling on them to clarify their position on marriage equality.

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