In 2013 we celebrate 15 years of having been ‘going out’ together. That’s a long time to be ‘going out’ – even for the decidedly commitment-phobic.
Over the last fifteen years we have attended many weddings, christenings, funerals of friends and family that mark out the great stations of life.
Apart from the occasional birthday bash and Eurovision party- we haven’t provided a similar opportunity for our friends and family to celebrate our life together.
On Tuesday the House of Commons will have a free vote on the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill – it’s not a perfect bill and in committee and during it’s progress through the house there will be many amendments. The bill has merit in that it enables marriage for same sex couples, but until the rights of the transgender community are incorporated (which we hope to achieve through amendments) it will not be equal marriage for all. But fundamentally the bill is a good one. That marriage is an institution that should be available to all.
Civil partnerships have offered one potential route. However, for us all the connotations seemed deeply embedded in the legal conveniences which are bestowed. Even the name seems to emphasise a rather joyless legal contract over anything to do with love. And whilst opposite-sex couples are excluded from civil partnerships it’s feels like a real case of marriage for us and civil partnerships for you – regardless of your faith, creed or personal beliefs.
Religion plays a slightly ambiguous part of our lives. But civil partnerships enforce an outright ban of any religious element to the ceremony. Our local council states on its website that “readings, vows and music you choose must have no religious connotations.” This again seems like a step away from the tradition of our families.
Russell used to work for then MEP Nick Clegg and so we both attend the wedding of Nick and Miriam in Spain – it was a really special and personal event, and we would like to invite them to our wedding too!
We live together, we go on holiday together, we go home together to our parents on an annual basis. Our Christmas cards they address to both of us… and so we are recognised by all except by partaking in the institution that our parents have always wished for us.
We are not seeking to redefine marriage – we want the ability to take part in the same tradition that generations of Fordhams and Eaglings (and Ralphs and Joneses) have celebrated their life-long relationships in a marriage ceremony – in which the whole family has celebrated together.
There are changes LGBT+ Liberal Democrats will be seeking to make to the Bill – to make it better: full recognition for transgender individuals, ensuring that the traumatic and unjust treatment that community has suffered, including compulsory divorce, is reversed; opening up civil partnerships to all; and working with all faith bodies to create better legislation and good law that will stand the test of time and the courts of law and appeals courts. But we will be doing this work positively and pro-actively – in the spirit of wanting to make this legislation a success.
So for Liberal Democrats Tuesday will be a key vote – it is rightly a free vote, but anyone who values liberty and is a democrat will be voting for the chance for couples to demonstrate their love and commitment. No faith organisation is compelled on any level and the step towards equality is small for society – but for many of us is a huge leap forwards. I urge all our MPs to move through the Yes lobby on Tuesday evening.
* Ed Fordham is the Vice-Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats and was the candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn in the 2010 General Election. His partner Russell Eagling is a councillor in the London Borough of Camden.
*LGBT+ Liberal Democrats have published a leaflet, entitled “Equal Marriage for All”.
* Ed Fordham was the parliamentary candidate for Stoke on Trent Central in 1997 and went on to be a councillor in Stoke West Ward and Deputy Leader of the Opposition on the City Council. He has ruled himself out from being a candidate.