Government takes another step towards equal civil marriage

Ahead of the keynote conference speech from Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone on Saturday afternoon, the Government has announced another step towards making civil marriage available to same-sex couples.

A public consultation on how best to do this will start in March next year, with a strong hint of legislation then following in this Parliament: “I am delighted to confirm that in March, this Government will begin a formal consultation on equal civil marriage for same-sex couples. This would allow us to make any legislative changes before the end of this Parliament” said Lynne Featherstone.

Religious marriage will not be covered by the consultation, which goes significantly beyond the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition agreement. That’s a major achievement for Lynne Featherstone and the campaigners on this.

As I told the Huffington Post, “It is good news that we’re taking a big step forward in treating all Brits equally and it is a tribute to Lynne Featherstone’s persistence”.

It’s a promising sign that Conservative sources have already been talking up David Cameron’s support for the measure to the media. They more the talk it up, the more sure it is that he will back the consultation all the way through to a conclusion even in the face of the likely strong opposition from some Conservative MPs.

The consultation is separate from the measures already promised by the end of this year to give religions the option of allowing civil partnerships to take place on their religious premises if they so wish. The first such ceremony is likely to take place early in 2012.

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12 Comments

  • Anna Langley 17th Sep '11 - 12:15am

    What on earth is there to consult about? It would be just another opportunity for bigots to waste everybody’s time.

    Just. do. it.

  • More precisely, government takes a step backwards from the point at which its previous efforts had stalled.

    For all the concern that Whitehall may have about the vagaries of messing with the marriage act, the number of edge cases and associated pain the current proposals will introduce is surprising. Or not, if as it seems they have in fact mistaken a pig’s ear for a coherent policy outline.

    This proposal will, in no particular order:
    – Force religiously inclined same-sex couples to choose Civil Partnerships over marriage, as their churches can solemnise one but not the other.
    – Continue to exert coercion over religiously inclined bi people who, in spite of the availability of marriage, will still have distinct separate but “equal (honest!)” options for solemnising their relationships depending on the sex of their partner.
    – Discriminate against bi and heterosexual trans people, by only providing seamless continuity of marriages, not civil partnerships, through gender recognition.

    There is no possible means under the proposed consultation to provide civil marriage and partnership equality for bi and trans people, and I sorely hope that no-one in the party or government will contrive to mislead us as to that fact.

    Furthermore, given the vocal and practical support that full marriage equality has from Quakers and Unitarians both within the party and without, it is insulting that proposals which got so far on the back of that support have now been stripped of the key element of freedom of religious practice.

    There is a long and proud tradition in government and activist groups around the world of dropping anything that strays too far from the archetypal gay male to reduce the “difficulty” attached to progress. Under the circumstances, I can only hope that Lynne’s announcement distances herself and the party from that tradition and heralds this proposal for what it is – a weak compromise at the expense of the most politically vulnerable.

  • Marriage has no place having a legal or state recognition at all. What has it got to do with them? There is simply no need for it to do so. All legal and state policies should consider actual situations and circumstances of families, couples and individuals, not some rather abstract ‘recognition’ of a commitment that can vary so much in what practical effects it has upon people’s lives.

    Until that time though I of course support equal recognition of all kinds of marriage for all kinds of people. I understand people’s frustration in saying ‘just do it’ but we don’t live in a dictatorship, and we certainly don’t live in a dictatorship ruled over by the Lib Dems and their policies. The exercise is a good one. If the country is really grown up enough to accept equality then this will show. I continue to have hope and faith that in the main people are better than they are portrayed and represented by the media and by loud voiced bigots.

  • I was under the impression that the LibDem commitment was to equal marriage laws. This proposal seems somewhat short of that. Why the need for consultation? Did we have such an exercise when Labour introduced Civil Partnerships? This is after all just a ‘baby step’ away from that. Had there been a consultation process, involving the likes of the Daily Mail and the Sun, et al, I’m pretty sure, had Labour been honour bound to act on the views expressed, they would not have introduced it.

  • The religious problem isn’t with churches refusing to conduct partnerships. It is is with the government banning those faith groups who wish to from doing so. That ban is wholly unacceptable from a liberal standpoint, and would almost certainly fall in Strasbourg if those groups wishing to conduct such ceremonies had a war chest one tenth of the size of the Churches of England and Rome.

  • I’ve never seen so many people eager to have the best be the enemy of the good. 

    Will the proposed civil marriage mean full equality? No. Will it be substantially closer to equality than the existing setup? Yes. 

    Civil partnerships weren’t even close to proper equality either – and not just in “symbolic” terms of what the institution is called but in practical terms too, eg the continued discrimination against same sex partners vs spouses in private sector pension allowances. But I was still cheering (along with most sensible LGBT campaigners) when Labour brought them in.

    Are the Lib Dems committed to full equality? Yes. Were we the first party to take that stance? Yes. Was Nick Clegg the first ever leader of a major UK political party to publicly support marriage equality? Yes. 

    So what’s the hold up? Hmm, now what was it again? Oh that’s right, we didn’t win the election! Or has that piece of reality completely passed people by?

    Perhaps rather than complaining that “it’s just not good enough” those who support full equality could go and persuade some of the 67% of people who voted Conservative or Labour in 2010 to lobby their chosen parties to that effect. When political parties representing more than 23% of the electorate are publicly backing equality then I’m sure it’ll happen.

  • @Cllr Mark Wright

    Not a realistic solution. If it remains that same sex marriage can not be a religious ceremony, then any such marriage that did occur would not be legally recognised.

    @Catherine

    I don’t have a problem with that. What I take issue with is the way in which this is, and will be, portrayed as a major achievement, when in reality it is another compromised position. And no, I’m not necessarily against compromise, I would just like a little honesty when it is in practice.

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