What’s in a consultation?

The media is currently getting itself into a massive tizzy over government proposals to allow gay couples to have civil partnerships in religious buildings. The predictable right-wing wonks are being wheeled out to moan about it being a slippery slope that will end up with any given Christian priest (no-one cares about what Jews, Muslims or (God forbid) Pagans might think, it seems) being forced to marry a couple of scary gay men with Nazi tattoos.

Meanwhile, left-leaning and right-leaning papers are falling over themselves to predict that full gay marriage (and, weirdly, heterosexual civil partnership) will be next, despite the fact that there has been no confirmation of this from anyone in government. I mean, let’s take a look at the actual statement from the equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone:

“Over the past few months I’ve spoken to a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and campaign groups, and it quickly became clear that there is a real desire to address the differences between civil marriage and civil partnerships. I’m delighted to announce that we are going to be the first British government to formally look at what steps can be taken to address this.”

Yep, there’s certainly a lot in there confirming that gay marriage is around the corner. I’m hoping that it will be (hell, we could immediately take the next logical step and start pushing for legal recognition of polyamory or something!) but have my doubts. After all, the Tories aren’t really that keen on gay marriage. The Liberal Democrats have policy on it and Nick Clegg says that he’s in support, but if you can’t trust the Lib Dems on student fees, trident, detention policies, supporting the poor, the disabled, women or just about anyone else really, then I’m not convinced that you can trust them on equal marriage either.

Moreover, there’s that little issue of the consultation. Government consultations can take forever! I first started campaigning on amendments to the proposed Single Equality Bill (as it was then) back in 2007, and the first consultation was held well before then. The Equality Act eventually emerged in 2010 after being rushed through at the last minute by a desperate Labour party. Ben Summerskill of Stonewall has (for a change) made a pertinent point relating to this:

“If there’s a genuine commitment to making progress in this area, it is painfully slow. Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone has explicitly said she would consult on proposals the government intends to implement in the lifetime of this parliament. If that is to happen by 2015, then consultation should begin now.”

I’d take his word for it: Summerskill knows a thing or two about just how “painfully slow” progress on equal marriage can be.

So this will probably take some time. But it’s interesting that whilst this particular consultation is likely to take ages as civil servants painstakingly gather the views of any given bigot at hand, another important consultation is little more than a formality.

The government is still planning to radically reinvent the NHS despite massive opposition from those who actually understand our health service and care about the welfare state. The “consultation” on this has been minimal to say the least, and health services have already had to start preparing for changes that may have a huge negative impact upon service provision for some of the most vulnerable people.

Funny that the government is so keen to hold a consultation on religious civil partnerships when the relevant law is already there (as part of the Equality Act), but is happy to push ahead with its NHS clusterfuck with as little input from others as possible. Draw your own conclusions.

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