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The 'Aggressive Homosexual Community'? More Absurd and Dangerous Rhetoric from Tories

21/05/2013 14:16 BST | Updated 21/07/2013 10:12 BST
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As a former Conservative minister warns of the 'aggressive homosexual community', a savage beating of a gay couple in a South London park shows us just how much further we need to go in creating an equal and tolerant society.

David Cameron must know that in pushing through the gay marriage bill he is on the right side of history. And there is no clearer sign of it than the storm he has had to weather - even with the help of Ed Miliband to steady the ship - from backbench Tories.

But as some ask whether Cameron is out of touch with his party on the issue - especially in light of allegations that Cameron's close ally Lord Feldman described party activists as 'swivel-eyed loons' - the real question must be 'is the party out of touch with the public'. Or reality for that matter.

And anyone listening to former Conservative Defence Minister Sir Gerald Howarth's comments during the debate of the bill would be forgiven for thinking the latter.

Howarth was responding to the first openly lesbian Conservative MP, Margot James, who stated that gay rights legislation had simply 'levelled the playing field', and served to prohibit 'outrageous verbal aggression' against gay people.

Howarth said: 'I warn her, I fear the playing field is not being levelled I believe the pendulum is swinging so far the other way, and there are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this as but a stepping stone to something even further.'

It is a toe-curlingly ignorant statement; replete with an ominously nebulous conclusion as to what the 'something even further' might be. I suspect Howarth doesn't know. Nor does anyone else. Because it only exists in Howarth's fantastical, terrified, imagination.

Conservative London Assembly Member Andrew Boff brilliantly lambasted Howarth's preposterous statement on Twitter: 'The only aggressive gay agenda I know about is to abolish shell suits.'

Howarth's comments should be rightly ridiculed. But more importantly, he should be in absolutely no doubt about the prejudice and bigotry which still exists towards gay people in this country. Perhaps he could look to the horrifying beating of Christopher Bryant and his partner Damon Truluck in Bromley, South London, last weekend. Bryant was pushed to the floor and told to 'stay down you f***ing faggot'; and the pair were kicked, punched, robbed and left with head and neck injuries.

Those who stand up in the Commons to pour forth unsubstantiated nonsense about gay rights should pay more attention to the reality for many gay people in the UK. If they did, they might understand that this is precisely the kind of absurd and unfounded rhetoric which stokes the embers of intolerance and prejudice in society - when we should be working to promote a society which embraces diversity and difference, whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or anything else.

Gerald Howarth's comments have been echoed today by Norman Tebbit - though of course when Tebbit grumbles into action he seems to act as a filter whereby even the most distasteful and ill-considered sentiments are distilled into the purest form of fatuous, jaw-dropping, bile.

Tebbit suggested that he should now 'be allowed to marry [his] son' in order to avoid inheritance tax and followed it up with a characteristically sneering and narrow-minded 'I quite fancy my brother'. He also invoked concerns - on everyone's lips no doubt - about what would happen when we have a lesbian queen.

That might wash down at the local Conservative club, but try taking that to the electorate and Tebbit would see how times have changed. Polls have shown consistent majorities for same-sex marriage, while for under-35s, support shoots to over 70%.

Whatever failings David Cameron has had as a Prime Minister - and there have been many - the pursuit of equality for the gay community is something for which history will judge him kindly.