The blog of Monty Moncrieff
London Friend Chief Executive
11th December 2012: Equal marriage
The Government’s statement today on equal marriage has been a long time coming, but is nonetheless a momentous occasion. For the first time it is proposed that same-sex couples will be able to form the same legal unions as mixed-sex couples with religious institutions permitted to carry out ceremonies if they wish. The proposals strike a balance between the freedoms of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and those of faith who believe such unions to be against the tenets of their belief.
Of course, we knew a little of what was coming: the Government’s consultation was not whether but how to introduce legislation. However the statement still managed to contain a few surprises. The Government had started with the premise of not permitting any religious institution to conduct ceremonies, but almost two-thirds of respondents (63%) believed that such institutions should be able to opt-in should they wish. Only a quarter of respondents (27%) disagreed.
Perhaps most surprising of all is the explicit ban on the Church of England and the Church in Wales from being able to conduct ceremonies. To me it feels odd to exclude, but as these Churches wished for a cast-iron guarantee it appears they have been given one. But let’s face it; they were never going to be joining the queue to opt-in.
Worth noting are two points: firstly whilst civil partnerships will be retained they will not be extended to mixed-sex couples. The Government, we are told, is not convinced that mixed-sex couple will experience a detriment by not being able to access them.
This leads to the second point, for trans people: whilst same-sex marriage will end the requirement on a currently married couple to divorce should one or both transition and apply for gender recognition, couples in a civil partnership will still face the reverse issue and will have to convert their civil partnership to a marriage to enjoy legal recognition as a mixed-sex couple. The proposals promise this will be an administrative process that won’t require ending the union and starting again. We shall see, but the non-availability of mixed-sex civil partnerships leaves little option for couples wishing to remain in a legal relationship.
More anti-gay comments to come
The proposals really do offer an enormous advance in equality, but we haven’t won the battle quite yet, and there will be more scars to come as this legislation passes through parliament. With the question of religious freedoms neatly sewn up those opposing the moves will still clasp onto spurious arguments which demean and belittle same-sex relationships.
In the little parliamentary debate we’ve had so far we’ve already been told our quest for legal recognition is “deeply offensive”, a “disgrace” and a “constitutional outrage”. And that’s before we even make the leap of being but a step away from sanctioning polygamy, bestiality and incest. Oh, and let’s not forget the prurient interest in the detail of our sexual behaviours and what constitutes “consummation” of our new unions. Would you like me to draw you a diagram?
It’s staggering than representatives of a democracy still see fit to talk about a demographic in such stark terms, but we have worse to come as those who would see a return of Section 28 or to equate our loving relationships with child abuse still have a lot to say. Faced with such open and constant criticism of our very identities, purely by virtue of possessing a particular characteristic, it’s no wonder that LGB & T people experience poorer mental well-being as we cope with the effects of dislike, mistrust and, in extremis, hate.
Equal marriage has a real opportunity to strengthen both our legal protections and our personal resilience in the face of such opposition through building strong, widely-recognised relationships. Whilst the issues for some trans people leave a degree of dissatisfaction, for many LGB & T people there’s much progress here to celebrate. Now, who’s going to take me up the aisle?