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Why I support Gay Marriage

March 5, 2012

When Civil Partnerships began in December 2005 I said that people would soon refer to them as marriages.  Adverts in gay magazines showed all the trappings of a wedding such as rings and cakes. It was just that there were two men or two women in the photographs or in miniature on top of the cake.  Even if the law didn’t call these new civil unions between same sex couples a “marriage”, society soon would.

In the intervening seven years attitudes towards homosexuality have changed enormously and for the better.  We now have legislation guaranteeing equality in the work place and in the provision of goods and services.  Hotel owners who turn away two men when they request a double bed can now expect an appearance in court.  Children are also better protected, with all schools expected to have plans to combat homophobic bullying.  The latter change was one I helped bring about, as one of the relatively few openly gay MPs in the last Parliament.

The Coalition Government wants to build on progress made over the last couple of decades.  We have implemented new regulations allowing civil partnerships to be celebrated on religious premises as well as premises already approved for civil marriages.  This change is a permissive one – it is up to each faith, denomination or congregation to make the change if they so decide.  It looks as though the Quakers, Unitarians and Reform Jewish Synagogues will be in the vanguard.

The next logical step is to enable same sex couples to have their relationship recognised as a civil marriage.  This is purely a matter of nomenclature, not rights under the law as a result of a civil union.  Many gay couples would prefer their “partnership” to be known as a “marriage”.  I also know of many straight couples who want recognition for their relationship but don’t want it to be called a marriage.  My personal opinion is that the state should enable loving couples to demonstrate their commitment to each other through the choice of a civil marriage or civil partnership.

The reforms that the Government are considering are in the area of civil unions, not marriage ceremonies performed by certain faiths and denominations.  Whether the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of England wish to introduce same sex marriages is entirely a matter for them.  This is why I find the outbursts by Cardinal O’Brien and Archbishop Sentamu so utterly bizarre.  The state is not proposing any change to the marriage rites and ceremonies performed in their churches.

Cardinal O’Brien’s choice of language was also grossly offensive.  To claim that the granting of a right to same sex couples to enter into a civil marriage would be a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” is astounding.  He clearly believes that gay people are outside the human family, deserving of lesser rights. His analogy of a re-introduction of slavery without the obligation on each of us to own a slave is utterly baseless and again grossly offensive.  Cardinal O’Brien’s mind seems to be stuck in a time warp, perhaps in pre 1834 Britain when slavery existed and women had few rights against their husbands.

Gay civil marriage would bring happiness to many people without infringing the rights of anyone else.  Religious sensibilities should also not be disturbed by a reform of civil marriage.  Rather than “shaming the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world”, as claimed by the Cardinal, I believe that offering loving and committed couples the choice of a civil partnership or a civil marriage would show our country is a world leader in human rights and equality of esteem.  That’s where Britain should be and I’m proud that our government is paving the way for it to happen.

UPDATE 15TH MARCH 2012 – my Lib Dem colleague Lynne Featherstone, Home Office and Equalities Miniser, has today launched the Coalition Government’s consultation

UPDATE 2 – 5th April – LGBT+Lib Dems have produced a resource pack for supporters of equal marriage here

27 Comments leave one →
  1. J.Locke permalink
    March 5, 2012 8:00 pm

    The state should not interfere at all. We should all support civil partnerships that provides all the benefits. It is up to the religious denominations to accept and make a determination whether to recognize that as marriage or not. Enforcing such thing is not the way forward Stephen and it is not practical either.

    • March 5, 2012 11:09 pm

      my article is clearly (or so I thought!) about CIVIL (ie state) weddings, not weddings conducted by religious groups (though they also do so under some state regulation), which can decide for themselves whether to conduct religious same sex marriages if and when the law is changed.

  2. vinny permalink
    March 5, 2012 9:03 pm

    Well done Stephen, an excellent article, we fully support you on this one.

    It doesn’t sound as though J.Locke has fully understood the proposed change. There is no suggestion that any religious denomniation be forced to conduct marriages if they don’t wish to. Obviously marriages conducted in civil ceremonies are under the control of the state and nothing to do with religious denominations.

    Of course, any religious denomination (eg Quakers, Unitarians, Liberal Jews) that is able to conduct legal marriages at present and wishes to include same sex ceremonies once the law is passed should be free to do so.

  3. Matt K permalink
    March 5, 2012 10:46 pm

    Locke: did you even read the post?

  4. March 6, 2012 3:08 am

    All the same, I find the Religious Leaders comments utterly repulsive and sadly that was all that was reported in the Press, true to form.

  5. John Yapp permalink
    March 6, 2012 7:44 pm

    I agree with all you say Stephen. If we are lucky & find that ” special person ” in life, who we love & want to be with, no one has the right to say we can’t marry them to show our commitment. Love should be embraced & cherished where ever it is found, it is such a precious thing in this world so full of war.

  6. rosemary permalink
    March 7, 2012 12:01 am

    I think what J Locke is trying to say is that parity of esteem – which is presumably what is really wanted here – cannot be imposed by statute.

    It can only come through personal contact breaking down very longstanding traditional beliefs. It has happened gradually for fornicators and adulterers, without the law intervening to force a change in opinion (though there are still some religious people who don’t approve), and it is happening in the same way for homosexuals.

    It may come about less easily where there is felt to be a militant, confrontational demand. The most effective way, surely, is for people to encounter individual couples living happily together and, as Stephen says, doing no harm to anyone. Radiant happiness and fulfilment cannot but touch other people, and these will prove the strongest and most lasting persuaders.

  7. rosemary permalink
    March 11, 2012 11:27 am

    Dear Stephen,

    On the subject of parity between homosexuals and heterosexuals, why don’t Liberal Democrats concern themselves with the plight of unmarried siblings and children being made homeless on breavement? As they cannot presumably enter into civil partnerships with their own flesh and blood – or can they ? – the quickest and simplest way to remove the injustice is to raise the threshold on IHT.

    • March 12, 2012 2:38 pm

      Rosemary – there may well be a case for looking at those situations, which I think (I’ve not come across any cases and have not seen any data) are rare. But they are in a different category of social relationships from 2 unrelated adults who decide to commit to each other and pool their assets. SIblings may be solvable by will planning. In any event, the IHT threshold of £325k is large enough in most parts of the country to protect a “family home” transfer.

  8. rosemary permalink
    March 12, 2012 4:30 pm

    I’m glad you agree this needs looking at, Stephen.

    What could be more committed than giving up a career and staying at home to look after your parents, or living all your life with your sibling, pooling your resources? Such relationships can be very long-lived and rest in great part on a sense of duty and mutual obligation, similar to that in marriage and civil partnership. Siblings are in the same category as parents when it comes to trying to pass on continued secure occupation of a home through will planning. It has all got even more difficult with the new rules drawn up to prevent it. Anyway, most people aren’t up to employing lawyers and accountants in the first place.

    There is also the plight of children orphaned unexpectedly early on to consider. These may be doubly bereaved, and then made homeless, because their parents’ house comes to be assessed as worth more than your figure.

    Besides, £325k is being replaced by £2m as a fairer watershed for taxing putative wealth tied up in a principal home. This figure too is liable to need adjustment for inflation.

    It may or may not be a minority’s problem. It is hard to judge, as the majority of people don’t make wills. (This is probably why you haven’t got statistics.) But it is inequitable.

    • rosemary permalink
      March 13, 2012 1:43 pm

      PS is “will planning” a euphemism for tax avoidance?

  9. March 15, 2012 1:41 pm

    Thanks for this, Stephen. The Lib Dems are currently the only major party to support full marriage equality, and LGBT+ Lib Dems have prepared a website to help people respond to the consultation:

    • rosemary permalink
      March 16, 2012 12:31 pm

      I wonder, Dave Page, whether the Governerment hasn’t just stirred up a hornets’ nest here, but even been hubristic?

      I say hubristic, because it may well be that there are more homosexuals in the administration than is proportionate, and this may have lulled them into a false sense of security. If it should be the case, it may or may not be because most homosexuals still don’t have children, and politics is a profession incompatible with family life for most of us. Mrs Thatcher and Mr Cameron may have overcome the handicap, but I am not sure about Mr Clegg, and I am not sure how much of a price Mrs Thatcher paid in the long term for denying herself the company of her children. This natural development of disproportionality in today’s metropolitan politics, if it exists, may have skewed the collective judgement of the modern ruling class.

      I say all this in trepidation, and greatly in fear of being misunderstood, not because I believe in quotas – far from it – and not because of the hornets’ nest which has been stirred up, but because of the element of hubris, which seems to me the most worrying.

      We are hearing a lot from the hornets at the moment. Roman Catholics in particular are worried that human rights lawyers will rush to impose homosexual marriage on them as soon as the law is through, remembering the B and Bs, adoption agencies, registrars, and counsellors prosecuted under equalities legislation who might have been expected not to be when homosexuality was first legalised only a generation ago. Matriarchs are concerned about the status of the family and thence the stability of neighbourhoods and society, in a time of fiscal indifference to it. Heterosexual men are furious that they cannot hand on to their sons in the way aged homosexuals can hand on to young partners. And unmarried people living with siblings and parents are more conscious than ever of the unfairness to them when inheritance tax makes them homeless on bereavement.

      This may all be irrational, particularly where the tax privileges of homosexuals are concerned: civil partnerships already provide them; and aged heterosexuals have been able to hand on to dolly girls and toyboys if they married them too. But what is rational about raw emotion when it is stirred up, and was it wise to do that now civil parternship has been secured?

      Enough on the hornets. It may be that some of them, both married and unmarried, can be soothed with tax reforms such as restoring the married man’s tax allowance, raising the threshold on IHT as originally planned, and respecting the universality of Child Benefit -originally the Family Allowance paid to mothers regardless of how much their husands earned. Orthodox Christians and Jews may be soothed by assuring them they will remain represented in the reformed House of Lords.

      But we are hearing almost nothing from our Moslem fellow countrymen, who, let’s be honest, are unlikely to be forced by human rights lawyers to absorb homosexual marriage into Islam. And this is where the hubris comes in, where one can’t help fearing civil partnership could one day be taken away, and homosexuality itself be outlawed.

      While the possibility of polyandry may be of little practical concern to them, are homosexuals and their heterosexual colleagues in government asking themselves, who will now uphold the two thousand year old Christian taboo on polygamy? If it falls, through human rights trumping tradtional law, what will happen to the demographics, and thence to homosexuals? What will happen to women? Many anxious matriarchs now feel they have double cause for concern at the tampering with an ancient institution, despite being greatly at ease with homosexuals themselves.

      This, too, may be irrational fear, and I would be interested in Stephen’s response.

      • rosemary permalink
        March 17, 2012 11:03 am

        I shall of course understand if Stephen feels unable to reply on this: the accelerating rate of immigration from Africa and Asia is a taboo subject in itself, without adding the even more contentious consideration of how it will be affected by the relaxation of our laws on marriage.

        But we should at least remember that when the trade and institution of slavery was outlawed throughout the British Empire in the early years of the nineteenth century, a famous ruling was made here: any slave who set foot on our soil, from anywhere in the world, and no matter whom he belonged to, became at once a free man. The spirit of this principle doesn’t seem to have been translated to the treatment of women and girls in our own time.

  10. Eddie Gray permalink
    April 14, 2012 11:08 am

    We appear to be bombarded these days by militant gay demands. There are more important things going on in the world than this, like wars, famine, poverty, disasters. Gays already have their civil partnership so what is the difference? Even Ben Bradshaw, the gay MP, has said, ‘the move will not add any rights that homosexuals do not already have’.

    From Ben Bradshaw’s opinion it would appear this question is extremely trivial, so with that in mind may I make a few (unashamedly) trivial points…. or maybe not so trivial.

    Scenario: The year is 2080 and our gay king ‘marries’. Does his partner become ‘King Consort’? What happens if the king is invited on a state visit to a country in which homosexuality is illegal? Where will the ceremony take place because it won’t be in Westminster Abbey? If the marriage happens before the coronation, would the ‘King Consort’ be able to attend the ceremony?

    How will a gay couple get divorced? Could it be non consumation?

    A married man starts a gay relationship. Can the wife divorce on the grounds of adultery?

    Can we redress the balance and have a ‘hetrosexual pride march’? Or would the gay community consider that that was discrimination against them?

    Though I believe in ‘live and let live’ a line should be drawn somewhere, so do you think we could have our word back please? OED. GAY: Light hearted, cheerful. Really?

    God knows who I can vote for now. I have been Liberal, then Lib-Dem for 58 years. I could never vote Tory or Labour. I believe voting is a duty so I guess I’ll just have to spoil my ballot paper.

    • April 14, 2012 1:37 pm

      Well we’ve had gay monarchs already, James I/VI and Richard the Lionheart spring to mind. What would be wrong with a future head of state (monarch or otherwise) being gay? I look forward to the day that it really doesn’t matter whether we are gay, straight or bi. Sadly, at the moment it does still matter to many people who wish to discriminate against minorities.

      • Eddie Gray permalink
        April 14, 2012 9:43 pm

        I didn’t say it mattered. I just say, as does Ben Bradshaw, that it doesn’t make a scrap of distance so why make the situation more complicated than it already is? Just concentrate on the problems that confront ALL of us.
        I notice you didn’t answer any of the other problems that will be created.
        And one more thing. Things that Parliament introduce as ‘optional’ or as in the name of many taxes ‘temporary’ soon become cast in stone.

    • April 14, 2012 10:47 pm

      no new “problems” are created by the substitution of the word “marriage” for “partnerships” in civil weddings.

      • Eddie Gray permalink
        April 15, 2012 10:32 am

        Sorry for the typo in my last reply – I was very tired and on my way to bed! (doesn’t make a scrap of difference) Well you DIDN’T answer my concerrns but no matter.
        It wouldn’t be logical to think that there hadn’t been gay kings but Richard the Lionheart didn’t have a same sex wedding.
        I spent my entire working life in theatre and television so worked with far more gays than most people do. I’ve had no problem with it and have had many really good gay friends, many of whom are capable of making the most outrageous and funny jokes about themselves and their community. I also see many of them increasingly uncomfortable about gay militancy and the constant upping of the ante. All thinking people are quite happy with the status quo and these days there is really minimal homophobia, but keep up this kind of pressure and there could well be a backlash. Listen to Ben Bradshaw.

  11. Alan Reynolds permalink
    June 15, 2012 6:59 pm

    “Whether the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of England wish to introduce same sex marriages is entirely a matter for them.”

    Good rhetoric but hardly factual. There will be continual pressure from some activists for all churches to capitulate whatever the government ‘promises’. There is no difference between civil marriage and religious marriage, what we are talking about is marriage and, as I recall, the C of E is a state church. Good luck with that.

  12. John Rippon permalink
    June 16, 2012 2:20 am

    I am really not sure about this but I have heard that in many Countries in the world MARRIAGE is the absolute requirement for free access and CIVIL PARTNERSHIP would create severe difficulties in free access to these Countries. Is this correct?

  13. Dan Leafe permalink
    November 16, 2012 4:41 pm

    Dear Stephen, I appreciate that you wrote this piece before Leading Counsel Aidan O’Neill QC had written his advice for the Campaign 4 Marriage. As that advice is quite clear that, contrary to what you previously said, gay civil marriage would seriously infringe the rights of a vast range of other can we take it that as a Liberal you will now not support the retrospective redefinition of marriage?

  14. TreeHouseBooks permalink
    December 21, 2012 6:20 pm

    thx 4 supporting this, & just 2 offer comment from a Christian who likes to celebrate others happiness, I hope we soon c full marriage affirmed for same sex couples. my marriage has been such an important part of my life, I do think both religious and government institutions should b supportive of people who want 2 commit 2 each other before God

  15. Mrs Danuta Kellett and family permalink
    December 21, 2012 8:13 pm

    Aren’t you overworking a bit Mr William’s? Are you suggesting that I will be able to marry my mother, so that I get a pension from her?

  16. Berkeley Wilde permalink
    January 26, 2013 2:05 pm

    The legislation will pass. There is an overwhelming majority of MP’s who support equal marriage in the House of Commons. If the House of Lords vote against the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill, Maria Miller MP (Culture Secretary) has said they would invoke the Parliament Act. The argument is already won. There are now many European countries including Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Portugal and Spain where there is equal marriage. It is likely France and Scotland will follow England and Wales this year and possibly Ireland where 74% of people support equal marriage.
    The voting intentions in the House of Commons are For=336, Against=130, Unknown=169, Neutral=15. Read more


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