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Isle of Man marriage equality advances faster than expected, by Stuart Hartill

IN the autumn 2015 issue of The Pink Humanist I covered the visit of Peter Tatchell to the Isle of Man, when he helped Isle of Man Freethinkers and the Manx Rainbow Association (the local humanist and gay groups) to get same-sex marriage legislation and an Equality Bill back on the political agenda.

To be honest, both we and our MRA friends then resigned ourselves to change coming after the next election, late in 2016. Then, last thing on Friday, October 2, came an announcement from the Chief Minister’s office; the Equality Bill will start progressing through Tynwald (Manx Parliament) in November in tandem with a Public Consultation on Same-Sex Marriage.

A Same-Sex Marriage Bill, taken almost word-for-word from the UK parent, should then follow quickly and be able to progress into law before the election.

In the next Monday’s edition of the Guardian the story went even further, with Allan Bell, the Chief Minister, coming out as gay to a worldwide audience of millions. Bell’s sexual orientation has been an open secret on the Isle of Man for decades, but this was the first time he had spoken about it so frankly.

Allan Bell

In his early career he could not, because he was first elected years before the 1992 decriminalisation of homosexual acts in private between those aged at least 21. As other barriers fell, old political bigots retired or failed to get elected and he rose to senior government there was quiet agreement that until he mentioned it nobody else would either. Bell is the most competent politician of his generation (and the only one taken seriously by his off-island peers over at least two decades) so this was simple pragmatism.

As some within government circles have discreetly admitted to us, the change in government’s attitude is solely due to the July campaigning of the Freethinkers and MRA. The previous excuse of the straight conservatives who dominate senior government was that there was no public call for it.
After our highly visible campaign those in the Council of Ministers (equivalent of the UK Cabinet) and their advisers who wanted it were able to argue this was now demonstrated.

The Bishop of Sodor and Man

It also helps that Manx churches are in no position for their unelected voice in Legislative Council to put up much opposition. The sad fact is that Manx Anglicans are too busy fighting amongst themselves over women priests and bishops for the Bishop of Sodor and Man, Robert Paterson to say much.

While the Bishop himself is a “‘small c conservative’” (yes to women church leaders, no to openly gay priests), for the last year he has been under fierce attack from a tiny, but well-connected, group of throwbacks allied to Anglican Mainstream, the ultra-orthodox faction who keep threatening to defect to Rome or Eastern Orthodox churches.

This group is now petitioning the Archbishops of York and Canterbury for a replacement bishop more in tune with its flat-earth mentality. Meanwhile, outside church circles, there is even less time for the Bishop, with general opinion growing that he plays no useful role in Legislative Council. The Reverend Gentleman will have to play safe to avoid those calls getting louder.

The one red warning light still flashing is the odd decision of the Chief Minister to allow his Council of Ministers (COMIN) colleagues to vote on conscience. Because this is not the usual politeness afforded to political religiots.

Since the COMIN system was introduced as part of wider government reform, about two decades ago, it has been a cast iron rule that government ministers thrash out the government line in cabinet meetings and vote unanimously, thus making it impossible for a policy to be voted down. Even on other key issues for religious hardliners (eg assisted dying) COMIN has never voted onconscience – though possibly because COMIN at those times was controlled by religious hardliners. The only possible explanation is if the Chief Minister agreed to a conscience vote so that those hardliners (now a minority) do not lose face in church the next Sunday.

But, further afield, we know there is discreet pressure from Westminster for all the Crown Dependencies to fall in line over marriage equality.
Jersey and Guernsey have now announced plans for similar bills in 2017, leaving only Stormont’s Unionists to make the usual “Ulster says ‘No’” noises. With both public and government momentum for change accelerating rapidly, it is a safe bet that marriage equality will happen throughout the British Isles within the next two years. And in this small community at least, that is directly due to humanist action.

Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell

Reacting to the move, Peter Tatchell said in a statement on November 24, 2015: “The government of the Isle of Man plans to incorporate same-sex marriage within the island’s main marriage legislation, the Marriage Act 1984. It will not replicate the flawed and discriminatory same-sex marriage law that was enacted for England and Wales in 2013, which created two separate marriage laws – the previously existing 1949 Act for opposite-sex couples only and the new 2013 Act for same-sex couples only. Separate is not equal. One marriage law for everyone, as the Isle of Man proposes, is the right approach.”

Tatchell has written a letter of thanks to the Manx Chief Minister, Allan Bell MHK, congratulating him and his government on planning to avoid the legal segregation now inherent in English and Welsh marriage law. He said: “I was honoured to meet you at the Tynwald parliament building in July and very grateful that you were willing to consider my representations – echoing those of local Manx people – for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the Isle of Man. I am delighted that your government has now tabled a draft Bill to allow same-sex couples to marry. Ending discrimination in marriage law is an important, significant step towards social equality.

“I am especially pleased that you have not followed the discriminatory example of England and Wales by proposing to legislate a separate, segregated marriage law for same-sex couples.

“In England and Wales, we now have two different laws: the Marriage Act 1949 for opposite-sex couples and the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013. I applaud the fact that the Isle of Man has not made this error and will not create the legal ‘apartheid’ of two distinct marriage laws, based on sexual orientation discrimination.

“By proposing to include same-sex partners in the island’s main marriage law, the Marriage Act 1984, you will ensure one law for all – a major democratic principle. Please accept my thanks and good wishes for the successful passage of this important equality legislation.”

Lord Montagu, jailed in the 1950s for homosexuality, dies aged 88

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who died yesterday aged 88, was the founder of the National Motor Museum, a pioneer of the stately home movement and, as a hereditary member of the House of Lords, an active parliamentarian whose views on heritage and transport commanded widespread respect.

His name became more widely known, however, through his involvement in what became known as “The Montagu Case”. In 1953 Montagu, although engaged to be married, was arrested on a charge of sexually assaulting a boy scout at his beach-hut on the shores of the Solent.

The charges were thrown out, but shortly after his acquittal the young peer was re-arrested, together with his cousin, the Dorset landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers, and the diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Mail, Peter Wildeblood.

This time the charges involved homosexual activities with two aircraftmen who had turned Queen’s Evidence and were prepared to testify against the accused. In a lurid and highly publicised trial at Winchester Assizes, Montagu vigorously protested his innocence. He was, however, found guilty, albeit on lesser charges than those against his co-defendants.

All three were sentenced to prison but there was widespread public disquiet. This was prompted partly by what was perceived as the unfair victimisation of a public figure, together with serious irregularities in police behaviour, which even involved tampering with Montagu’s passport.

Death of gay atheist Dr Oliver Sacks

WHEN his mother, a pioneering female surgeon, learned that renowned neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks was gay, she reacted by shrieking: “You are an abomination. I wish you had never been born.”

Sacks added poignantly: “The matter was never mentioned again, but her harsh words made me hate religion’s capacity for bigotry and cruelty.”

Sadly, yesterday we learned that Sacks has died at the age of 82.

According to Why Evolution is True, Sacks died of cancer on Sunday in New York.

He documented his terminal condition (a melanoma in his eye that eventually metastasized to his brain) and his thoughts on mortality in a series of poignant pieces

... read on ...

Amiable Warriors, reviewed by Brett Humphreys

Peter and book 427x400Towards the end of 2010, following a generous bequest from a former member, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) commissioned Peter Scott-Presland, left, founder of the Homo Promos theatre company, to produce an official history of the organisation. It turned out to be a much larger task than they had anticipated, eventually expanding to three volumes, the first of which was published on Valentine’s day this year.

Peter Scott-Presland points out that there has been very little previous effort to document the history of CHE as compared with, say, the much shorter-lived Gay Liberation Front. Hence he is working on untilled ground. His principal sources are interviews and archives, the flesh and the bones.

Sadly the flesh is mortal. By the time he began interviewing, many key players in the history of CHE were already dead – some long ago, such as Roger Baker (1993) and Jackie Forster (1998); others just recently, including Antony Grey and Griff Vaughan Williams (both 2010). Several of those he did have the chance to interview were gone by the time the first volume was published, including Allan Horsfall, Ian Buist (both 2012), Michael Brown, Meg Elizabeth Atkins, Ray Gosling (all 2013), and Michael Schofield (2014). So the conception of the book was timely, although a little later than ideal. Over 30 people have contributed interview material.

The “bones” come primarily from the Hall-Carpenter Archives, a resource originally established by CHE itself in the early 1980s and now housed at various locations in London. It holds the archives of CHE and many related people and organisations, as well as runs of journals like Gay News and an extensive collection of press cuttings. Despite ever-growing public online access to historical records in this Internet age thanks to digitisation projects like the Internet Archive and Google Books, only the catalogue, not the content, of the Hall-Carpenter Archives is presently available online.

So Peter Scott-Presland has had to do his research in the tedious traditional way, by visiting the physical collections. Fortunately he lives not far away.

The first volume covers the period 1954 to 1973. Why 1954, ten years before Allan Horsfall co-founded the North Western Homosexual Law Reform Committee (NWHLRC), which later became CHE? Possibly because 1954 was a watershed year in UK gay history. A year of high-profile trials and growing pressure for an inquiry, leading to the appointment of the Wolfenden Committee. It’s perhaps no coincidence that it was during the first half of this year that Alan Turing made a will and took his own life. The first of the book’s six substantial chapters deals with this pre-history up to the long-delayed publication of the Wolfenden Report in 1957 and the subsequent formation of the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS), a predecessor of the NWHLRC, the following year.

Chapter 2 charts the growing tension between the HLRS, seen as pussyfooting middle-class southerners afraid even to use their real names, and the radical working-class northerner Allan Horsfall, confident enough to publish his home address and be prepared to take the consequences. The difference led to the formation of the breakaway NWHLRC in the Manchester area in 1964. This chapter covers the law reform campaign up to the partial reform implemented by the Sexual Offences Act in July 1967.

big che cruise2

In the following years Allan Horsfall and colleagues focused their energies on a project to set up gay social clubs, known as Esquire Clubs. The HLRS and its associated counselling charity, the Albany Trust, opposed the idea. As Chapter 3 recounts, the project was ultimately unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, a younger generation were coming to the helm. Paul Temperton and Martin Stafford were both teenagers when they joined the NWHLRC. Paul went on to be secretary, later becoming the first full-time paid general secretary when the organisation was reconstituted as the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in 1971. Martin, his partner, was particularly active in the promotion of local groups across the country. This is the main theme of Chapter 4, which goes into some detail on early developments in the West Midlands, Liverpool and the Chilterns, supported by interview material from Peter Norman, Robin Bloxsidge and Alan Swerdlow (early leaders of Liverpool CHE) and Roy Saich and George Broadhead (co-founders of Chilterns CHE, the first rural group).

Much of CHE’s early expansion occurred in London, not surprisingly given the capital’s high concentration of gay population. The last two chapters – more than a third of the main body of the book – are devoted to the burgeoning activities of the London groups that sprang up from 1970 onwards. They include the magazine Lunch, the annual Winter Fairs, the CHE London Information Centre, and the counselling wing Friend, which later developed into a separate national network (which I was involved in for many years).

Although CHE declined greatly in its later years, its legacy is surprisingly broad. Some spin-off bodies continue to thrive. The Croydon Area Gay Society, for example, is a direct descendant of the “London 7” CHE group formed in 1971. The Gay Authors Workshop, publisher of Amiable Warriors under the imprint Paradise Press, was originally set up by CHE members. The Gay Sunday Walking Group started as the CHE Walking Group in 1972 and the Gay Outdoor Club came from CHE. The Allegro Music Group began as the CHE Music Group in 1972.

Peter Scott-Presland frets in his preface about not being a “proper” historian or academic. But he needn’t worry. This is a solid book, with a full apparatus of source references, and free of the opaque jargon that some “proper” academics seem to favour. I did, however, find the index somewhat awkward to use because of the way it’s structured. For example, the names of local groups aren’t in their proper alphabetical place but listed under a series of “local groups” subheadings below the headword “CHE” – hardly the obvious place to look in a book almost entirely about CHE. Also not everyone mentioned in the book appears in the index.

Chronologically, the first volume ends just before the first national CHE annual conference, held in Morecambe in April 1973. This marked CHE’s debut as a nationally coherent organisation. As the author says in his closing sentence, the conference “was the moment CHE itself came of age”. The second volume, due next year, is to be entitled Fifty Grades of CHE – a whimsical spoonerism based on the pronunciation of CHE as “chay” or “shay”. For many readers this will be simply a continuation of the story but for me, at least, the second volume should be even more interesting than the first because the transition roughly coincides with my coming out – I expect it then to be more like a remembrance of things past than just plain history.

Amiable Warriors: A history of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and its times. Volume One: A Space to Breathe, 1954–1973. By Peter Scott-Presland (Paradise Press, 2015, hardback, 640 pages, £35). For more information on the book see the website For video of CHE members in the early 1970s, see Speak for Yourself (London Weekend Television, 21 July 1974), available on YouTube.