Say “I DO!” to Equal Marriage
Like so many of my peers, I grew up in the belief that my relationships, indeed my identity were somehow not as worthwhile or valid as those of my sisters, friends, or neighbours – simply because I’m gay. Much has changed: I can no longer be sacked just for being myself, I wouldn’t be charged with a public order offence for holding my partner’s hand in public, and most wonderfully of all I can be a father.
The UK government is now busy ploughing through a reported 100,000 responses to its recent consultation on extending civil marriage to same sex couples. The accompanying debate has been fierce and vitriolic. Setting aside the effects of these insults might have on the thousands of lesbian gay and bisexual young people in Wales’ schools, I’d like to tackle some of the main arguments against equality advanced over the past few months.
There has been much (deliberate?) confusion over what the proposals actually include. Let’s be clear: they explicitly exclude religious marriage. It’s a vitally important matter of religious freedom for any faith to be able to refuse to celebrate a couple’s love and commitment to one another, however unusual that attitude might seem. Conversely, those religions who do want to celebrate same-sex marriages – including the Unitarians, Liberal and Reform Judaism and the Quakers – should not be prevented from doing so. Unfortunately the current proposals won’t even allow that – despite a recent YouGov poll for Stonewall’s Living Together report showing that three in five people of faith actually support equal marriage.
Having initially opposed the introduction of civil partnerships, some opponents of equal civil marriage appear to have found a new enthusiasm for them. They say that CPs ‘offer all the same rights and protections’ as marriage. There are two holes in this argument. Firstly, CPs do not offer ‘all’ the same rights as marriage – for example, should I die tomorrow, my civil partner would receive a far smaller pension than would my hypothetical wife based on exactly the same contributions. Secondly, and more tellingly, to argue that marriage and civil partnerships are essentially the same leaves only one reason for keeping them separate: discrimination against same-sex couples.
Perhaps the most offensive of all the arguments advanced by opponents of equal marriage is the ‘whatever next’ argument. It really is downright offensive, not to mention patently ridiculous, to suggest that allowing loving, committed same-sex couples to marry would ‘open the floodgates’ to bestiality, child marriage, polygamy or any number of ‘unforeseen consequences’. Sadly, this appears to be the argument of choice for those unwilling to say that they just don’t like the idea of gay relationships. It might save them time and energy, not to mention causing much less offence, if they would simply say so, instead of insulting perfectly decent people in such an inflammatory way.
Equal marriage is about fairness and equality. By insisting that marriage and civil partnerships must be kept separate and distinct opponents of equality regrettably perpetuate the offensive notion, even if inadvertently, that relationships between same-sex people are not as stable, rich or valid as those between heterosexual couples. It’s clear that these views impact negatively on public attitudes towards gay people themselves. The recent debate makes it crystal clear that marriage and CPs are not seen in the same light. For me, the ‘equal but different’ argument no longer holds water; rather, it perpetuates inequality. I’m not alone in thinking this. Stonewall’s latest five-yearly report on public attitudes – Living Together – contains polling from YouGov showing that over seven in ten Britons and, crucially, three in five people of faith, believe that same-sex couples should now be able to get married.
I’m hopeful that young people will one day grow up knowing they can realise their full potential in life, including settling down and getting married(if that’s what they choose), whatever their sexual orientation; that they will see their friends, siblings and neighbours’ relationships on exactly the same footing as their own; and that the state will no longer exclude 3.3 million people in England and Wales from the option of marriage.
Andrew White is Director of Stonewall Cymru, the all-Wales Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Charity.
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