Anne Fairweather on the European and global dimension of LGBT rights. From France, where they are debating #mariagepourtous to the United States, slowly but surely the world is moving towards equal marriage. However the overblown debate in the UK about moving from civil partnerships to equal marriage is sadly depressing, when it should be joyous.
Whilst civil partnerships grant gay men and lesbian couples legal recognition of their relationships, equal marriage remains a significant step. It says, as a society, that couples who commit to each other are equally important, whether they are straight or gay.
Sadly the arguments I hear against the bill ultimately appear to be driven by homophobia rather than logic. Concern about what children will be taught in school about gay relationships strikes me as particularly odd, as it presupposes that children are not already aware of gay relationships and ignores the fact that some children already have gay parents.
This just isn’t the case now – it has always been. Section 28 did not stop me telling my class mates that my mother is a lesbian in the early 1990s. The reality is that many schools and families already teach their children about gay relationships, as they are all around. Ignoring a section of society will not make it go away.
Concern regarding whether religious institutions would be ‘forced’ to conduct marriages between gay people, ignores the fact that some religious dominations believe in equal marriage. I was raised as a Quaker. To exclude the Quakers from conducting marriages between gay people in their Meeting Houses, is to impose inequality on a religious group that believes in equality.
Civil partnerships which can be conducted in licensed Quaker Meeting Houses are not equal. My mother is responsible for marriages her Meeting House. There is no need for a licence to conduct marriages between straight couples, but to conduct civil partnerships, the Meeting House has to apply for a licence, which may cost of over £1000. Civil partnerships are not a commercial business for a religious group.
In addition to the cost, whilst to conduct marriages, my mother needs to be registered with the Home Office, in order to conduct civil partnerships, she would need to undergo specific training. (Further information can be read in the Quaker response to the Government’s consultation, from page 21.)
Once equal marriage is put on the statute book, the next challenge will be to ensure that the rights we grant married couples in the UK are recognised in other countries. One of the next steps on the road will be to ensure that free movement of workers in the EU, which recognises the right for people to move with their family life in tact, are open to all families, regardless of the make up of that family. More from ILGA Europe can be read here.
Equal marriage is a relatively small step, compared to the dramatic changes made to the law to enshrine equality for gay people made by the last Labour Government. The backlash to this Bill has only taught me one thing, that equal rights for women and minorities, have to be fought for, every step of the way. That fight is one that continues, both here and abroad.
For more information on writing to your MP to support the equal marriage bill see Stonewall’s page.
originally published on Anne Fairweather’s blog