Equality has always been at the core of our party’s values, and is one of the main reasons why I joined the party in 2006. However, until 2010, Liberal Democrats had not been able to prove to the wider public that we had always been ahead of the curve on sexual equality simply because we hadn’t been in Government for 80 years. In opposition, though, we were adopting policies on these issues way before previous governments had done anything. In many cases governments had only acted because of the threat of legal challenges in the Courts, not out of any underlying principle. So, in only two and a half years, Liberal Democrats in the first coalition government for some time have stamped their almighty footprint on the bill for Equal Marriage.
Now, as Chair of LGBT+ since May 2010, and author of the motion for Equal Marriage in the UK passed overwhelmingly at Conference in September 2010, I am delighted that Liberal Democrats have pushed so hard to drive this bill to the core of the government’s agenda. Particular thanks must be given to Lynne Featherstone MP, and our Deputy PM, Nick Clegg who have been unstintingly supportive of equal marriage from the outset.
However, for those who need some clarification on the matter (as it seems many Tory MPs do), let me be clear. Equal marriage was championed by Nick Clegg before the last General Election when he became the first party leader to publicly support it. The Liberal Democrats subsequently adopted equal marriage as party policy. Secondly, the Conservative manifesto contained a pledge to consider same-sex marriage. Those two facts make it abundantly clear that Equal Marriage has its rightful place on the government’s agenda.
We now have the results of the consultation and the statement on the Bill which was heard yesterday before parliament.
As I hope you all know LGBT+ Liberal Democrats have fought and campaigned tirelessly for the bill to reflect our motion. The recent news that religious same-sex marriage will be permitted in those churches that opt-in, and protection given to those who opt-out, is a great step, and consolidates the already accepted need for civil marriage for same-sex couples. The exemption of the Church of England and Wales was for some a shock, but hardly surprising. Some of their congregations have made such a fuss over equal marriage that the coalition government felt they had to be quadruply locked to satisfy any possible future court challenges. There are, however, two small but significant elements missing from the proposed legislation: to allow mixed-sex civil partnerships and for trans people to be able to reinstate their marriages previously annulled under the gender recognition process. The Liberal Democrats will do everything they can to table these as amendments in due course. A free vote in the House of Commons gives us greater scope to do so.
However, despite those two omissions, this is one of the greatest steps forward achieved on sexual equality, and the UK will join the number of countries (11 to be precise) who have already ventured onto this road of equality and choice. Those who predict disaster and say that this is an abhorrent step should look at Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Spain or South Africa. I don’t believe their social structures have dissolved into acrimony and I’m sure ours won’t either! It’s a natural step for today’s 21st century relationships and I’m awfully proud that it’s the Liberal Democrats and our organisation LGBT+ who have been prime movers in bringing about this landmark piece of social legislation.