Being from Bermondsey and having lived through the Labour Party’s implosion following the Bermondsey by-election debacle in 1983, Peter Tatchell continues to perplex and confuse me. What Tatchell was then and indeed is today seems to be something of a bitter contradiction: a man who tried to go ‘back in the closet’ during the Bermondsey by-election but who then went on to believe that his was his ‘right’ to publicly ‘out’ those in positions of power or authority.

This week, Tatchell writes on Comment is Free about how is he supporting the right of a ‘straight’ – read heterosexual – couple to have a civil partnership rather than a marriage. Why…?

Tatchell writes how Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle have had their request for a civil partnership turned down by Islington registry office having been handed a letter of refusal that informed them how Part One of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 states that they apply to same-sex couples only. Adding that this is the first ever challenge to the ban on heterosexual couples having a civil partnership, Freeman and Doyle will first have to go through the British courts and, if this fails, appeal to the court in Strasbourg.

For Tatchell, it is arguable that the ‘ban on straight couples’ breaches the European Convention on Human Rights under articles 8, 12 and 14 respectively, protecting the right to privacy, marriage and non-discrimination. From a man that completely disregarded the right to privacy of those he forcibly ‘outed’, such a claim is pretty rich.

Unsurprisingly, Tatchell’s group, OutRage! (does this still exist? See its website here) is also backing the challenge on the basis of what he describes as heterophobic discrimination. He goes on:

…in a democratic society everyone should be treated equally. There should be no legal discrimination. The ban on same-sex civil marriage and on opposite-sex civil partnerships is segregationist. It is one law for straight couples and another law for gay partners. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

The question is then, why are OutRage! and Tatchell campaigning for a two-tier system of partnerships and marriages when the law could be changed so that all people – quite irrespective of sexuality or gender – could formalise their partnerships through a single civil marriage?

Tatchell attempts to address this issue by quoting Doyle:

Our decision is also motivated by the fact that we object to the way same-sex couples are prohibited from getting married. If we got married we would be colluding with the segregation that exists in matrimonial law between gay civil partnerships and straight civil marriage. We don’t want to take advantage of civil marriage when it is an option that is denied to our lesbian and gay friends.

More confusion. So they do want civil marriage for all – including their lesbian and gay friends – and not civil partnerships for ‘straight’ couples? So where does that leave Tatchell because he seems to want something quite different?

Tatchell rarely seems to be able to either articulate himself or indeed what he stands for. As David ‘Screaming Lord’ Sutch from the Official Monster Raving Loony Party wrote about Tatchell in his 1991 autobiography having stood against him in the infamous Bermondsey by-election, whilst horrified at the treatment of Tatchell he added that:

he had been so bad a candidate that he had largely brought it on himself

And that really is the problem: Tatchell is ‘bad’ at what he does. He has not been very good at many things and now seems to be as equally incompetent at campaigning for an equal society – don’t forget, Tatchell was one of those campaigning for civil partnerships little more than a few years ago. Had he thought this through, maybe he would have realised that campaigning for a single, truly equitable means of formalising partnerships from the outset – i.e. marriage – would have been much better than the misguided and convoluted two-tier system he is currently advocating.


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