Swing When You're Winning.........
..........and Win When You're Not Swinging
In the week that hundreds of gay couples registered for the new Civil Partnerships, a court case was a reminder that attitudes to homosexuality haven't actually changed as much as some people believe.
Robbie Williams was awarded substantial libel damages for press reports that he was gay.
In a society that did not discriminate between different sexual orientations, making a false statement about a person's sexuality should be no more heinous than getting their age wrong. Publishing a correction should suffice.
So was there anything more to this libel?
Well, the publications concerned said that Williams had a string of casual gay sexual encounters. But because these non-existent encounters were gay, the inevitable adjective 'sordid' was applied to them.
Over the years, newspapers have published many stories about Williams' casual sexual encounters with women. I read only one of those, in someone else's copy of Murdoch's News of the Screws. I don't recall the word 'sordid' ever appearing. The gist was that Williams was a randy Jack-the-Lad who could keep going all night in a 3-in-a-bed romp with two young girls that he'd never met before. Allegedly.
The other aspect of the libellous reports was the suggestion that Williams had kept his real sexuality a secret and pretended to have sexual relations with women. The allegation here is one of relatively minor dishonesty of a kind practised by many celebrities, and indeed many thousands of ordinary people. In itself, it hardly warrants substantial damages. And it's arguable that everyone has the right to keep their sexual preferences private, with the possible exception of politicians who preach and legislate against something they practise themselves.
The double standards are illustrated most graphically if you take a hypothetical reverse situation. The gay pop singer Will Young made his sexuality public shortly after winning Pop Idol. Suppose that a newspaper claimed that he was actually heterosexual and had pretended to be gay whilst having casual (though obviously not 'sordid') sexual encounters with women. Do you think there's a libel lawyer in the land who would agree to take a libel action to court, never mind a court awarding him substantial damages?
I rest my case.