“In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might, Beware my power… Green Lantern’s light!“
In July 1940, Alan Scott put on green tights, a red top, a purple cape with green lining, and a green glowy ring, and fought crime. (Origin story: “The Lantern… I’m still holding on to it! What a queer light! Funny, I suddenly feel dizzy… going to faint…”) He was the first Green Lantern, and some people might wonder how he wasn’t outed as gay sooner. Nearly seventy-two years later, Alan Scott finally gets to kiss his boyfriend for the first time.
We’re all supposed to be celebrating the sixty-year reign of Elizabeth II this weekend. Here’s something to celebrate: when Elizabeth’s father George V died, gay men could be – and were – arrested, convicted, jailed, chemically castrated, for having consensual sex in private. Alan Turing, who was put on trial 31st March 1952, has become the most high-profile example of such persecution. Between Turing’s death in 1954 and the present day, there has ben a huge change in the legal and human rights accorded to LGBT people in the UK.
“In forest dark or glade beferned, No blade of grass shall go unturned
Let those who have the daylight spurned, Tread not where this green lamp has burned.”
David Laws was the very first coalition minister who had to resign over sleaze. He was appointed chief secretary to the Treasury. And had he been a little more honest, or more effectively closeted, he might well be defending coalition cuts and austerity on Newsnight or Question Time, or have been given Education in a Cabinet reshuffle.
Laws is gay, and until May 2010, officially in the closet to everyone – his family, his former colleagues in investment banking, and of course in the House of Commons.
One former City worker who quit a large investment bank, partly because of homophobia, said: “It’s very much a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation in most City offices. None of the gay men I know are comfortable being ‘out’ at work, and I felt I couldn’t be when I was working at the bank.
“It’s better than it once was. You hardly expect to be sacked if they found out you were gay but when your boyfriend rings, you still lie and say it was a friend on the line. At the top end of the company, they don’t really care, so long as you’re making money. But on the trading floor it can be like the football terraces. You’d be slaughtered if you came out as gay.” The Guardian, 8 March 2006
Laws is part of the web of privilege: Laws was the son of a banker, went to private schools and to Cambridge, enjoyed a profitable career in the City, and became a LibDem MP for Yeovil in 2001: all very comfortable.
“In loudest din or hush profound, My ears catch evil’s slightest sound
Let those who toll out evil’s knell, Beware my power, the F-Sharp Bell!”
Laws lived with his partner. Up until 5th December 2005, when the Civil Partnership Act became law, same-sex relationships – no matter of what long standing – were invisible to the law. Laws could, quite legally, claim he was paying rent and get a nice little income every month. Not that he needed the money, but there it was, quite legal to claim, no questions asked.
When you are as thoroughly in the closet as David Laws apparently was, you lie to everyone. David Laws may or may not have known that it was no longer lawful after 5th December 2005 to keep claiming rent, but no one was asking any nosy questions about MP Expenses then and declaring his relationship, even so quietly by no longer claiming rent money… he didn’t want to do it, and he didn’t. For years. He claimed rent as “lodger”: he also claimed for maintenance work and other costs. Sixty thousand pounds or so. (We know David Laws thought he’d claimed at least sixty thousand pounds he wasn’t entitled to, because that’s what he paid back.)
“I consider that Mr Laws’s breaches of the rules in respect of his second home claims were serious. I have no evidence that Mr Laws made his claims with the intention of benefiting himself or his partner in conscious breach of the rules. But the sums of money involved were substantial. He made a series of breaches. Some of them continued over a number of years.” Commons watchdog report, 12th May 2011
“You who are wicked, evil and mean, I’m the nastiest creep you’ve ever seen!
Come one, come all, put up a fight, I’ll pound your asses with Green Lantern’s light!
The Telegraph are running a poll on Green Lantern coming out, and predictably given the Torygraph’s readership the “Hurt Sales – people don’t like change” has most votes.
But in the Scottsh Parlliament, Mary Fee MSP proposed:
That the Parliament welcomes the news that the Marvel comic, X-Men, will feature its first same-sex marriage, which will feature Northstar, believed to be the first openly gay comic superhero; understands that, in 1992, Marvel was the first comic publisher to reveal a gay superhero; notes that Northstar is not the first gay character to have had a same-sex marriage in the comic book world, and agrees that same-sex marriage should not be restricted to the world of literature and fantasy.
Supported by: MSPs Mark McDonald, David Torrance, Marco Biagi, Jim Eadie, Joan McAlpine, John Finnie, Alison Johnstone, Kezia Dugdale, Margaret McDougall, Bob Doris, Patrick Harvie, Rhoda Grant, Claudia Beamish, Elaine Murray, and Fiona McLeod.
Sixty years ago, David Laws could have rented a room from his partner for his entire career: two wealthy and influential gentlemen, public schools and Oxbridge, Parliament and the City, would never have found themselves in trouble with the police and their relationship would always have been entirely outside the recognised social fabric and covered by lies.
Opponents of the freedom to marry are complaining (as they complained seven years ago, that if same-sex couples can marry this “redefines marriage”, because same-sex couples are “against natural law”. But there’s nothing unnatural about meeting someone, wanting to be with them, loving them: what is deeply unnatural is life in the closet. David Laws claimed he was keeping his sexual orientation a secret for his family’s sake: his family thought they knew him, and had – at least Laws hoped so – no idea that they knew nothing true about his personal life.
Thus, the most important elements of marriage’s social meaning are the assumptions that married life normally involves sexual intimacy, domestic and economic cooperation, and a mutual commitment to sustaining the relationship.
It seems clear that, while the theoretical arguments for same-sex marriage often focus on legal claims, the actual conception of many same-sex couples is broader and includes this social meaning. This broader conception lies behind the emotional appeals that same-sex marriage proponents have so often made, but there is also a more theoretical case to be made as well. Many same-sex couples have the very same interest in having access to an institution that has this social meaning as opposite-sex couples have, affording them the intangible benefit of being able to signal to their community that they wish their relationship to be interpreted in the light of these generally shared assumptions. Given that, it must be unjust for the state to deny same-sex couples the right to marry when this right is made available to other couples who have precisely the same interest in having it. -Ralph Wedgwood, New York Times, 24th May 2012
Nonetheless, I can’t find much sympathy for him. MPs aren’t required to claim expenses, and David Laws was a wealthy man even before he became an MP. The Guardian’s editorial sympathy, two years ago, looked overstated to me then, and in the light of the brutality with which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have dealt with benefit claimants in the years since, it looks thoroughly misplaced now.
[Update, 26th August: And even more so, now David Laws is back in government, all his cheating on expenses forgiven.]
“In blackest day or brightest night, Watermelon, cantaloupe, yadda yadda,
Erm… superstitious and cowardly lot, With liberty and justice for all!”
And then the sleaze lantern moved on to Liam Fox and Adam Verrity.
It would be rude to speculate why Liam Fox was sure “the gays” would flaunt “it” in front of him. Fox said when he was a student at Glasgow University:
“I’m actually quite liberal when it comes to sexual matters. I just don’t want the gays flaunting it in front of me, which is what they would do.”
Update, 4th September
In a move that will certainly be educational to so many children, David Laws has returned to the Cabinet, replacing Sarah Teather as education minister. What do you think this teaches children today?