30 May 2010

Just come out, already (UK version)

The Liberal Democrat Chief Treasury secretary, David Laws, has resigned in the first scandal to buffet the UK's new coalition government.

Laws was meant to be the "hatchet man" of the coalition, cutting huge swaths of government spending. The Conservatives trusted him to do it, and the Lib Dems trusted him to do it as humanely and reasonably as possible. Some on both sides are saying that he's irreplaceable, and that this strikes a deep blow to the coalition.

What did he do that was so wrong?

From the Guardian story:
Laws, a former banker, felt obliged to quit on Saturday after it was revealed he claimed £40,000 in rent expenses from the Commons authorities to cohabit in a property owned by his secret partner, James Lundie. He is understood to have considered quitting as an MP as well.

That's a lot, forty thousand quid, and it sounds bad. BUT - had he come out and said that Mr. Lundie was his partner and/ or taken the mortgage out jointly, he'd've been entitled to MORE. It was £40,000 (~US$60,000) over eight years, or about £750 (US$1100)/ month.

Not nothing, of course, and rules are rules, and as the hatchet man who was likely going to have the single biggest role in new government in cutting money from the budget - to education, to health care, to the disabled, to seniors, to jobs programs - he had to be above reproach and couldn't have been seen to have been feeding at the public trough.

But he didn't need the money, and he wasn't lining his pockets - again, the amount over which he has resigned is less than if he and his partner had put their names jointly on the lease.

So why not come out, declare the relationship, and claim the money legitimately? The Liberal Democrats are the most progressive of the three parties in the UK, so he would have felt no pressure from that quarter. Again from Michael White's piece, "It's not a big deal at Westminster any more, nor in most constituencies, I'd wager, unless it's a big deal to the individual for a host of reasons – most of which are none of our business."

Do people have the right to remain in the closet? Yes.

Should they? Well, clearly they do, and without being in Mr. Laws' shoes I cannot speak for him or speculate as to the "host of reasons" he may have had.

But he was independently wealthy, he was a rising star in a rising party, he had access to nearly every lever of power that can protect a man from anti-gay animus, and he still chose not to come out. I hope he reads the case of the two gay men sentenced to hard labor for 14 years in Malawi for being gay and can draw some courage from them.

Come on, people - don't be afraid. In the west, in the UK, for people of power, wealth and position, it's far better to be out than in.

The government has been damaged - and there is unanimity on that point, from the Times to the Independent to the Sun - and it is damage that could have been avoided had one minister come out.


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