As a Director of The Lesbian & Gay Foundation, I am familiar with the inequality faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual people in this country. The organisation I work for has built itself on not championing gay rights, but championing equal rights for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
When I came out as gay in 1998, it was illegal for me to have consensual sex with someone of the same sex, yet my friends of the same age and younger were able to have consensual sex with partners of the opposite sex.
14 years later, I’m still facing inequality on the basis that whilst the law of the land allows me to have a loving relationship with my partner, I can’t choose to have my relationship blessed or recognised in law in exactly the same way as heterosexual people, or even have the ceremony undertaken in a religious setting (just like my parents did, just like my sister did…and just like almost everyone that has surrounded me all of my life has done).
So last year the Government lifted the ban on civil partnerships taking place on religious premises, and now they are looking at removing the ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage ceremony. The Government recognises the commitment by same-sex couples in a civil partnership is the same as the commitment made by opposite-sex couples in a civil marriage. Therefore it makes no sense to ban same-sex couples from getting married through a civil ceremony. This is about removing the barriers to enable greater choice in this modern world.
There has been some confusion in the media and from certain religious groups about this consultation, so the Government has made it explicit that they are proposing no changes to religious marriage. A marriage through a religious ceremony and on religious premises will continue to only be legally possible between a man and a woman.
I pay taxes, just the same as my heterosexual peers I pay taxes that pay for an Equality and Human Rights Commission in this country that is focussed around ensuring equality for everyone, that protects the rights of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. I pay taxes that cover the costs of politicians and more importantly, I pay taxes that contribute to the 26 Bishops in the House of Lords – who work within an organisation that is often reported to be very publicly, very openly and very unfairly telling everyone why I am not entitled to the same rights as heterosexual people when it comes to issues such as Gay Civil Marriage. This is inequity. It is inequality.
As I prepare to move in with my partner, it may be down the line that we choose to have our relationship recognised in law, currently I’m unable do that in the same way that heterosexual people do. I am not asking for anything different, but some lesbian, gay and bisexual people in same sex relationships want to have their partnerships recognised, blessed and welcomed by their faith.
Gay Civil Marriage isn’t going to ruin the fabric of our state. It’s not going to suddenly create a new breed of gays, a hoard of men in white dresses seeking photo opportunities on the steps of St Paul’s or forcing the hand of the state for a gay royal to be married at Westminster Abbey (although that’s not such a bad thought on reflection). As Harvey Milk once famously said “If it were true that children emulate their teachers, we'd have a lot more nuns running around!”
Whilst it could be argued that there are only a small number of real differences between Civil Partnerships and Marriage, with the key legal distinctions around relationship break-down and divorce, as civil partners must dissolve their partnership and can’t be divorced. Furthermore, adultery is not recognised as a reason to dissolve a civil partnership, due to the fact that in legal terms adultery is defined as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman outside the marriage. The two are not seen as equal; another example of how the current system is unfair and unequal.
Currently, heterosexual people have a choice between a religious or civil marriage, whereas the formation of a civil partnership is entirely a civil process. Yes, this is inequity. It’s unfair. It’s not equal.
Aside from those specific exceptions, civil partnership offers the same legal rights as marriage. So pensions, parental responsibilities and other social and welfare benefits remain the same for both groups in theory.
Yet whilst these debates continue, people in society continue to be discriminated against in the provision of employment, education, training, goods and services. As the debate continues around not offering lesbian, gay and bisexual people the same rights as heterosexual people in marriage, it continues to provide an assumption in society that this can be extended to all other aspects of lesbian, gay and bisexual people’s lives and homophobia and biphobia will continue to affect people in society.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual people continue to be battered, bruised and killed in this country, simply for being who they are, loving who they love and living how they live. Gay Civil Marriage would work towards helping people realise that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are equal…so let’s just do it!
Enough is enough.
This is a guest blog from Director of The Lesbian & Gay Foundation, Darren Knight www.lgf.org.uk