Saturday, 15 June 2013

Norman Tebbit: More Tea, Vicar?

"It seems to me that ever since the day that Roy Jenkins said the permissive society is the civilized society, society has got less civilized. Most of what has happened in becoming a more permissive society has featured alongside a society which has become much less agreeable." Probably not if you are black, or in a mixed-race relationship, I suggest – and it certainly wasn't safer back then if you were gay. "Well, particularly if they flaunted themselves as such," Tebbit mutters coldly. But heterosexuals can flaunt their sexuality without being beaten up – and what is marriage, if not a public flaunting of one's sexual identity? And so, inevitably, we come to gay marriage.

He contends that because a same-sex marriage can't biologically produce children, it would be illogical for it to exclude incestuous couples. "I think that you have to say, 'Look, we're going to deal with this on the basis of looking at where the law is discriminatory, and we're going to eliminate discrimination.' Be very careful of that argument, is all I'm saying. If you start basing your argument on non-discrimination, you land in some funny places.
"How about polygamy? Should we legislate to legalise it? What's the argument against it? I'm a polygamist, you see, and I'm discriminated against because I'm not allowed to marry several women. Don't I have a case to say that's discriminatory?" But what is the parallel with homosexuality? "Well, the argument is that we are discriminating against homosexuals by excluding them from marriage. We are discriminating, therefore against a polygamist."

Tebbit can't see why gay people are being discriminated against anyway. "I simply take the view that there is at the moment no difference between my rights and a homosexual man's. It's just that he wants to do something which I don't want to do." But he wants to be married to the person he loves, and cannot, whereas Tebbit can. "OK, he doesn't want to marry a woman, that's fine. I don't want to marry a man, and I can't. It is precisely the same position. I mean, some people want to drive at 120mph on the motorway, but we don't let them." Yes, because it's dangerous. "Well, perhaps deconstructing marriage would be a dangerous and harmful thing to society." Why would allowing more people to marry weaken the institution of marriage? "I just think, why don't they go and do something else?"
He opposed civil partnerships. "I confess I was probably wrong about that." But he can't accept calling a gay relationship a marriage, and quotes from the same-sex marriage bill's guidance notes, which state that a man married to a man could be called a wife.

"I'm a wordsmith by profession. I love words. I pick up words from a big pile and put them into a pattern that is pleasing. But when I pick up the word 'wife' and find it can include a man married to a man, I say, 'Hey! Who's doing this to our language?'" But language is evolving all the time. "Yes, but come, come! This is a bit extreme!"
"But do you remember," his wife intervenes, "the two men who were obviously – I mean they were terribly nice … " "Oh, you mean from whom we bought the house in Islington?"
"Yes. I mean, he was definitely, you just knew, the wife." Well, there we are, I say – they felt that the word accurately described the man's family position. Tebbit looks unimpressed. "Do you think it's time for a cup of tea?" asks Margaret.

I ask if he would consider himself a homophobe. "Well, it's interesting that it's allowed for one group of people to insult and shout names at another group without any restriction, but if I were to shout names at that group they would immediately say I was committing a hate crime. No, I'm not a homophobe."
Most people today would say that if you don't want gay people to "flaunt" their sexuality, or express their love in public, you are probably homophobic. "Well, it doesn't mean you hate them. It doesn't mean you're in fear of them. It means you'd rather they didn't do that." But why? He pauses. "Because that's not the way human beings are constructed."

I ask if he is familiar with psychological studies that have tested heterosexual men's response to gay pornography. As I explain to him that electrodes attached to the penis measure sexual arousal, the temperature in the room plummets. The funny thing is, I go on, heterosexual men with relaxed attitudes to homosexuals are unmoved by gay porn – whereas those hostile to homosexuals exhibit sexual arousal. Why does he think that might be? By now Tebbit is looking ill, and his wife has turned white.
"I think there's something weird about people who want to go and have electrodes attached to their penises and watch pornography," he says brusquely, getting to his feet. "I don't think they're a representative group. Margaret, would you like your tea?"

Norman Tebbit, profiled in The Guardian.
Bit of a classic.

Keep on digging, dude!

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