Opponents of gay marriage need to examine their own prejudices, not oppose equality, writes AIDAN SKINNER

 

Most of the time, debate is a wonderful thing. It lets you work through your argument, if you’re lucky you learn something about the other sides of the debate, if you’re really lucky you learn something about your own.

Sometimes conflicting rights need to be balanced against each other, such as the right to privacy versus the public interest.

Gay marriage isn’t one of those things. Provided that you accept that (a) it is useful for the state to recognise long term relationships and that (b) the state should not discriminate between its citizens on the basis of gender, sexuality or identity, then this is a pretty straightforward issue.

There is no conflict of  interest between freedom of religion (people will still be able to believe homosexuality is wrong on religious grounds) and freedom to marry the person you love. My personal life does not impinge on your beliefs and your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins, as the man said.

There’s a debate to be had about the form which state recognition should take – should civil partnerships be available to mixed couples as well as those of the same gender? Would allowing both civil partnerships and marriage better recognise the variety of human relationships that exist? Perhaps there needs to be provision for people in long term, non-sexual relationships who would benefit from simpler property transfers.

What should not be open to serious debate is the government continuing to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, just as we don’t countenance policies which discriminate on the basis of race or religion. It would not be acceptable, much as some hardliners would like to do so, to suggest that we prohibit athiests (or Edinburgh-Glasgow couples, lest they be confined to Harthill services) from marrying.

There aren’t a variety of equally valid view points that should be listened to, taken into consideration and a balance struck on this issue. There is equality on one side, and discrimination, prejudice, bigotry, hatred and homophobia on the other.

Does that sound harsh? Unfair? Well, homosexuality was still a criminal act in Scotland in the year I was born, 1980. The age of  consent wasn’t equalised until I was 20. I remember being jeered at and worse on Pride marches in the 1990s. Fortunately these days it’s largely limited to one crazy couple with a some bible references scrawled in marker on cardboard. Pride is traditionally held in late or early July because that’s when the Stonewall riots in New York took place. LGBT rights have, by and large, been hard won and paid for with blood and tears.

Blood, tears and shame. When gay sex was legalised in England and Wales in 1967 by a Labour government, Roy Jenkins the Home Secretary said: “Those who suffer from this disability carry a great weight of  shame all their lives.” And he was the progressive one.

We’ve come a long way since people had to leave in the morning, with everything they own in a little black case. In the more enlightened clubs in the bigger cities it’s now possible for gay people to be open about their sexuality, to meet like mixed gender couples meet, to flirt and kiss. In others that’s still a quick way to a beating. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go as a society.

Sometimes government should follow public opinion. But sometimes, as in 1967, it should lead it. Happily, it seems that most people in Scotland support equal marriages. If they didn’t though, it would still be the right thing to do and the government should ignore those who disagree.

If people are not “comfortable” with gay marriage then they need to recognise that the problem is with them. Some people are quite happy with that explanation. If they can’t readily explain it, then they should explore carefully why. Everybody has prejudices, and confronting them is an incredibly uncomfortable thing, particularly if you don’t really realise you have them or that they affect your  actions. Moving to North London and being exposed to Islingtonites was an eye-opening experience for me, even as a confirmed Guardian reader.

But prejudice is a private thing. Our politicians who suffer from that terrible disability carry a great weight of shame, but they should not  let it affect their actions.

Aidan Skinner is a white middle class man in a mixed sex relationship, but tries not to let that hold him back. Follow him on Twitter at @AidanSkinner.