When it comes to LGBT rights the British public are far more qualified to keep tabs on the government than the EU.
Out & Proud launched this week and it’s already clear where the pink battle lines will be drawn in the run up to the 23rd June. To simplify, the LGBT case for staying in is that the EU has been an ardent defender of our rights and has successfully brought about legislation to enforce those rights. The case for out is that equality owes more to UK legislation and shifting social attitudes than a handful of EU policies that heed little notice from less LGBT friendly member states.
Some have questioned why an LGBT leave campaign needs to exist but the reason is pretty straightforward; we want to tackle the assertion that LGBT rights would be under threat if the UK decided to leave the EU. The reaction from some quarters has shown that it’s going to be a tough nut to crack. One person suggested to us that the UK needed to remain a member of the EU because the Conservative government would put an end to gay marriage; seemingly unaware that not only does the EU have no power over equal marriage (as seen in the several member states that still don’t allow it) but it was our own PM that pushed it through in the first place. It’s just one example, but typical of some of the misappropriated fear that has been instilled into this campaign.
But it goes further than a disagreement over who should get the credit for our rating as one of the best places in the world to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans. There is a consensus growing amongst the remain lobby that LGBT rights would not exist outside of the framework of the EU. Not only is this a dangerous falsehood in itself, but it underlines a worrying trend where citizens of this country are unaware of who is responsible for their existing rights and freedoms, and therefore unable to fight for those freedoms via the ballot box should they ever be at risk. That is a threat to our democracy that we must take seriously.
Another argument put to me this week is that it is a good thing for the UK to have the EU looking over us in case we suddenly go off-piste on LGBT equality. That’s a shocking notion when you consider for a second what that actually means, we are calling for a collection of countries with lower levels LGBT equality on almost every measure to be our moral arbiters on gay rights. The UK has consistently come top of the list on LGBT equality, there is absolutely no reason to believe that would not continue to be the case if we left the EU, and over the coming weeks we will delve into the specifics of why we believe that to be the case.
Britain’s attitudes towards homophobia, racism and gender inequality has changed beyond any recognition in the last 30 years. All Western societies have moved forward, and in so many instances Britain has been led the way. To afford these advances to EU membership is just dishonest. The reality is that if the UK wasn’t covered by the various EU articles protecting against homophobia we would have simply brought them in ourselves. As society becomes more liberal it demands more liberal legislation from those democratically elected to legislate on its behalf. It’s why we’ve got gay marriage, and it’s the reason why if we do decide to leave the EU our rights will continue to be protected. That’s why we find it hard to believe that we would be better giving the EU the final say and not the British electorate.