Tonight, over sixty people took part in an LGBTQ rights protest at Royal Holloway University against the Tory Minister for Defence, Philip Hammond, who is also the local MP for Runnymede and Weybridge. Hammond was giving a talk on his defence policy at the university. Hammond has in recent days made his opposition to same-sex marriage public, and has previously voted against many gay rights bills including the repeal of Section 28. Present at the protest were activists from NCAFC-affiliate the Royal Holloway Anti-Cuts Alliance, representatives from the Students’ Union, student societies including Amnesty, Labour and LGBT, local members of the Young Greens, and from Workers’ Liberty, staff members, and a delegation from the neighbouring college’s NUT branch.
When the planned protest gained momentum, the minister’s aides agreed to meet two students to hear the protestors’ grievances. I was one of them and the other was Union Chair Joe Rayment. We questioned Hammond about his opposition to the Same-Sex Marriage Bill, and he responded that the bill would “redefine marriage” and appealed to its ‘tradition’. We responded that marriage, like many civil institutions, had hardly remained static, and that regardless equal rights should trump tradition. Hammond objected to religious groups being forced to marry same-sex couples, ignoring that the bill does not do this – and that religious opinion about same-sex marriage ranges from conservative opposition to support (for example from the Quakers), and has changed over time as well. He claimed that Maria Miller’s ‘quadruple lock’ of exemptions is not “robust enough” – in other words, does not do enough to limit same-sex marriage.
Hammond suggested that civil partnerships were sufficient, and we stated that for many people marriage was an important religious, or cultural, event, and that civil partnerships represented an ‘equal but separate’ divide in the law. As I wormed through his incoherent excuses, his homophobia surfaced. when questioned why I shouldn’t have the same rights as a heterosexual couple, he brushed the question aside as a “silly game” talking about human rights. And when asked why the state should be allowed to say who can and who cannot have their relationship recognized by the law, he retorted that you wouldn’t allow “two siblings who loved each other to get married”. He equated the love of a same-sex couple with incest*. This is the bile that the right-wing of the Tory party are pushing: the Victorian maxim that anything other than love between a man and a woman is as invalid as incest. He then abruptly left our meeting for his talk discussing Britain’s defence strategy and latest arms deals, pausing only to call use juvenile as we refused to shake his hand.
As he did so, he was greeted by protestors’ chants of ‘Gay, straight, black, white: marriage is a civil right’, ‘Hey,( hey), ho, (ho), homophobia’s got to go’, ‘Say it loud, say it clear, bigots are not welcome here’, ‘Unequal rights? We don’t buy it: we remember the Stonewall riots’, and ultimately, ‘Fuck off Philip Hammond, you homophobe’.
We plan to continue the campaign, having a variety of talks, film showing and action-planning meetings arranged for LGBTQ History month, and will visit Hammond’s surgery to continue protesting. NCAFC LGBTQ caucus will publicise and support any action confronting homophobic politicians, and urge you to organise them too.
LGBTQ rep (open place)
(Demo photos to follow)
*EDIT: This post was written directly after the meeting with Philip Hammond. We were not allowed recording equipment in the meeting itself and so had to jot down what he said directly afterwards; this was complicated further by the mindset I was in directly after Mr Hammond refused to tell me that I shouldn’t be allowed to marry whom I love. When originally writing this I omitted the details concerning Mr Hammond’s comparison of same-sex marriage with incest. Though he did’t use the word ‘incest’ but strongly implied that you wouldn’t let siblings married. Joe asked “What right does the state have to tell two people who love each other that can’t get married.” he replied”Well, you we don’t allow siblings to get married either”.