House of Commons votes in favour of Same-Sex Marriage Bill
On the 5th February, the House of Commons voted in favour of passing the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill, with David Cameron’s support. The Bill passed in the Commons with 400 votes for to 175 against. However, there are still some inequalities that will need to be dealt with; inequalities that are being carried over from same-sex civil partnerships.
When civil partnerships came into effect, there was no definition of sex between members of the same sex. Now, when the same-sex marriage bill is about to be passed, this problem has still not been addressed by the government. Currently, legally, sexual intercourse is defined as penile-vaginal penetration – which obviously only defines sexual intercourse in relation to opposite-sex sexual intercourse. Because same sex couples were unable to meet this definition, when civil partnerships came into effect, non-consummation was not grounds for dissolving the partnership. This same problem is being carried over into the same-sex marriage bill, as the government has not taken the time to redefine or rethink the definitions of sexual intercourse or consummation.
Again, same problem arises in relation to adultery. Since sexual intercourse is only defined in relation to opposite-sex sexual intercourse, same-sex couples could not use adultery as a grounds for dissolving civil partnerships, unless the sexual intercourse had taken place with someone of the opposite sex. This problem will be carried over to same-sex marriages.
However, divorce lawyers do not think this will be a problem, apparently as an appeal court in Lawrence v Gallagher established that separation of same-sex couples in civil partnerships functions like other divorces.
Joanna Lumley’s rape comments divide the nation
Joanna Lumley, who is known for being an actress, campaigner, and former model, hit the headlines recently when addressing the issue of female personal safety. In an interview with the telegraph she said: ‘Don’t be sick in the gutter at midnight in a silly dress with no money to get a taxi home, because someone will take advantage of you. Either they will rape you, knock you on the head or rob you.’ She also told women not to ‘look like trash, don’t be sick down your front and don’t stagger around in the wrong clothes at midnight. I promise it’s better to look after yourself properly.’
Some have come out in agreement with Lumley, including Barbara Ellen from the Observer, advising young women to stay in their ‘girl packs’. Others, such as Tanya Gold from the Guardian, have accused Lumley of victim-blaming. The criticisms of Lumley’s comments focus on two main points. Firstly, such comments serve to reinforce dangerous rape myths where it is believed that victims of rape are totally or partially to blame if wearing revealing clothing, behaving flirtatiously or being drunk. These attitudes pervade society and have been shown to have negative effects on the prosecution of rape. Secondly, her comments do not take into account that 90% of women are raped by someone known to them and therefore only 10% of rapes are actually committed by a stranger. It is comments like Lumley’s that make it unsurprising that very few rapes are reported by women.
When does a joke stop becoming funny? Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy has this month published a report on the dangers of ‘banter’ in the office. ‘Banter’ is a term that has become widely used for the exchange of ‘friendly’ tongue-in-cheek digs, having a laugh, messing around, just ‘having a bit of banter’. But the problem with attaching a name with harmless connotations is that, through frequent use and its catch-all purpose, it becomes more acceptable to hear a wider range of ‘jokes’ in the workplace. This brings with it a greater danger of such jokes causing offence and morphing into a claim for harassment. Allen & Overy’s report warns that office-based banter – which becomes particularly commonplace around Christmas time, when office parties and alcohol becomes part of the festive environment – could end up costing firms in excess of £292 billion, when someone decides that the banter has gone too far. As A&O litigation employment partner Karen Seward has stated: “There’s a fine line between friendly, acceptable banter and unlawful harassment or discrimination…Time and time again, workers throw advice in this area into the political correctness box, not appreciating the litigation risks or the impact on individuals.”
The danger of such ‘banter’ is particularly apparent in professional, city-based workplaces, particularly those in London, where a culture of out-of-office-hours socialising is the cornerstone upon which successful professional relationships are built, and if you miss out, you lose out. It is in these environments – which cater most to the interests and activities of white, middle-class men -that ‘banter’ is most likely to appear, and the danger of it being taken too far is most likely to occur. There is most likely a direct correlation between the atmosphere of the ‘Old Boys’ Club’ which pervades law firms and with banter being commonplace and often deployed as a part of the general environment: banter has become almost expected, a necessity of the job, without it you are ‘dull’ and ‘take yourself too seriously’. These are easily attributed labels if you are the person delivering the ‘banter’ in question, but if you don’t conform to the ideal which renders you exempt from it, it would be hard not to be offended.
Diversity in the Police Force
Recently Sir Peter Fahy, lead spokesperson on workforce development for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), has proposed that there should be a change in the law in order to positively discriminate in favour of black and ethnic minority police officers. It is a major issue that only 3% of all police chiefs; superintendents, chief superintendents and chief officers, are from BME backgrounds. There is a concern that the BME community can have a lack of respect for a service which is lacking in the diversity which is seen throughout the country, and does not represent the country as a whole. As such, it has been suggested that these proposed changes are to deal with an ‘operational need’ rather than being about meeting targets or political correctness.
As part of the Winsor review on the reform of the police, there are proposals to introduce direct entry to the service at the inspector and superintendent ranks. This was introduced to help to improve diversity. However, Fahy has stated that the numbers involved in this change will be too small to make a significant difference to diversity as a whole in the police force.
Similar laws were passed in 1999 in Northern Ireland in order to ensure that the police force was 50:50 Catholic to Protestant. Whilst this change in the law was successful, and was arguably necessary in Northern Ireland, it is yet to be seen how the more recent proposals will be met, and whether the use of positive discrimination in this way is the correct way to deal with a diversity deficit.
And in other news…
A report in Ireland has officially recognised the state’s guilt in the enslavement of thousands of women in Magdalene laundries.
Reports suggest that gay asylum seekers are under increasing pressure to prove their sexuality in order to justify their requests for refuge.
Hillary Clinton stood down as US Secretary of State last week.