The other day, under the headline “Portrait of a perfect marriage”, London’s Daily Mail gushed in prose so breathless that anaerobic life forms sprouted spontaneously on the screen:
“Eleven years ago this month, Sir Elton John proposed to his partner, David Furnish, thus formalising a relationship that — as the whole world knows — has blossomed into one of the most blissfully happy of show business marriages.
“We know this, of course, because Sir Elton and David have been generous enough to share almost every detail of their relationship and family life through the pages of celebrity magazines, in high-profile TV interviews and on social media … Truly, they come across as a wonderfully loving couple.”
Leaving aside the need to wipe the screen of one’s laptop and overdose on anti-nausea medication, there cannot now be a literate person in the British Isles who does not know that Elton John and his husband David Furnish are the couple at the centre of the long-running “PJS” injunction*. The journalist who typed that saccharine-fogged horror knows this, just as everybody with access to the internet knows.
The courts have become Canute’s courtiers standing in a digital tide.
Here is the back story. In 2011 Furnish flew to the US for a tyrst with a gay couple who subsequently (no honour amongst sluts) tried sell a kiss-and-tell to The Sun newspaper. The Sun, in the course of preparing the article, contacted the lawyers of Elton John and David Furnish. In very short order the Elton Johns were granted a ferocious anonymised injunction which forbade publication of the article. It was largely argued on the grounds of protecting “their” children’s privacy. The facts were not in dispute. But nothing at all might be written about the matter in England or Wales.
Fleet Street has protested vigorously against the gag, with The Sun calling “on our loyal readers to help end the farce that means we can’t tell you the full story of the celebrity father’s threesome” by writing to their MPs “to get them to voice the public outcry in parliament and bring an end to this injustice”. To no avail.
The internet is international, not bound by a London court and sites on servers in California, Canton and Cavan can be read by English men and women, making the court’s action seem futile. But with the great blunt mace of the injunction the court has fiercely coerced the local press and the public into silence. The English can read news on foreign websites but they will be punished if they discuss it on local ones.
This absurdity is late Tudor England with electric lights. The court has infantilised the English in a desperate attempt to preserve a propaganda Potemkin village for the Establishment.
The court, wittingly or unwittingly, has made itself a partner in a vicious hypocrisy. It is defending the illusion of Elton John’s ideal family life against a sordid reality in which his children are mere bagatelles. Still worse, it pretends to do it for the sake of the children — so that the great and good may go on lying.
In his judgement on January 22, Judge Jackson noted that the spouse of PJS accepted that theirs was not a mutually exclusive sexual relationship and that therefore, according to the standards of an open marrriage, Mr Furnish was not being unfaithful. If the story behind the injunction casts a cold light on the couple’s understanding of marriage, it also reminds us of the horrid practice of surrogate motherhood: a combination of eugenics, prostitution, kidnapping, slavery and child abuse. Little argument can be made for saving the two little boys from the putative damage of public exposure when they are living with two selfish hedonists who obtained them by purchase.
If you make your relationship a lodestar of public policy, the public has every right to hear about that relationship’s reality — even if that makes you blush, sweat and squirm. Elton John regularly uses his relationship and his children to bolster arguments for his favourite causes. He has even publised an op-ed in support of transgender bathroom rights in which he writes, “As the father of two children, I would hope their world is free of discriminatory, hateful legislation like North Carolina’s.” This injunction is an example of a wealthy English elitist having his cake and eating it too – with the full backing of the Majesty of the Law.
If public policy is to be argued and defended by reference to one’s own family, is it not logical to respond that the reality of one’s family life should be publicly reportable?
The Supreme Court, by re-instating the injunction thrown out by the Court of Appeals, has placed the lives of rich and famous people who have children out of bounds. Because the Elton Johns are wealthy and have children, the rules that apply to reporting their sexual escapades in the media are markedly different to the reporting of childless Darren and Mandy from down-market Dagenham. Publishing a story like “Love rat Darren ate my hamster” will be tolerated. But exposing the naughtiness of celebrity parents who can afford expensive legal advice is anathema. This creates a strange new unlegislated restriction on press freedom.
Kiss-and-tell stories may be distasteful and boring, reassurance for the miserable that nobody is really virtuous, a way of keeping everybody in the mud. But they are the price of a free press. That price is worth paying many times over.
Giving the right to decide what can be reported or what is news to anybody other than those who buy papers or consume news is dangerous and undermines the ability of media to expose the misdeeds of the powerful. It erodes the public’s trust in the media and the law itself. Tinfoil hats and conspiracy theories thrive in the half-light these injunctions generate. They have no place in a free country or in a net-linked world.
Not buying The Sun newspaper for a few days in the Elton John household would be a far better option than coercive national censorship.
* An earlier version of this article described the gag as a “super-injunction”. However, it is only an anonymised injunction. In English law, a super-injunction forbids publication even of reports of their existence.
Paddy Manning is an Irish gay libertarian conservative who argued against Ireland’s Same sex Marriage Referendum and campaigns against surrogacy, anonymous donor conception and for free enterprise and free trade.