Stephen Gilbert MP writes: True LGBT equality finally on the horizon

Today’s announcement, that religious settings are able to hold civil partnerships, is a huge step toward achieving the Liberal Democrat policy of full equal civil marriage and partnerships for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the UK.

I’ve always believed that equality is a black and white issue. You’re either equal or you are not, there’s no grey area and no room for ambiguity. And, despite the real achievements over the last decade, the LGBT community is still not fully equal in the eyes of the law.

This wouldn’t be considered acceptable if we were talking about ethnic minorities or religious groups, if the law prohibited people from these communities to marry there would be uproar: and rightly so!

That’s why, at last year’s Party conference in Liverpool, I backed the motion for marriage equality that would see same sex couples able to enter into a civil marriage and allow straight couples to enter a civil partnership if that is what they would prefer.

Now, just six months on, we see action from the Coalition Government.

Today’s announcement is a major step forward. But, let’s be clear, this won’t compel any institution to host a ceremony, but will enable those that wish to.

But, more than that, the Government is now also consulting on how further legislation can develop, with a view towards equal civil marriage.

There will, no doubt, be those who disagree with this move; we all know that in the long fight for equality there’s always opposition. But times have changed; a poll taken in June 2009 found that 61 per cent of the public believe that ‘gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships’. Only 33 per cent disagreed.

In Government we look set to deliver on our most important founding principles – that of equality and fairness.

I’m confident that the move towards equal civil marriage and partnerships would not have happened without the Liberal Democrat influence in the Coalition Government, and without our excellent Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone.

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13 Comments

  • A good article, and pleasing to see yet more Liberal Democrat priorities being pursued by the coalition Government.

    However, the article raises an interesting question. Stephen says that:

    “equality is a black and white issue. You’re either equal or you are not, there’s no grey area and no room for ambiguity”

    In which case, why retain the ability for religious organisations to opt out of marrying gay couples? If they, as religious organisations, want to offer state recognised marriage, shouldn’t they have an obligation to offer it to everyone, equally?

    I think it’s probably right that the opt out remain, but I was wondering what others thought, especially those who share Stephen’s ‘black and white view’ of equality.

  • At present marriage is for heterosexual couples and civil partnership is for gay couples. I assumed this was the only difference and that CP was to allow gays the same legal rights as married couples.

    If gay couples are allowed to marry and heterosexual couples are allowed to enter a civil partnership, what is the legal difference between the two arrangements?

  • @ Julian — Aside from that keeping two separate systems and labels perpetuates a sense of “other” (and means that once you disclose your relationship status as CP rather than Married you are ‘outing’ yourself), there is a big body of case law that exists regarding marriage. It does not apply to civil partnerships.

    There are I understand also important differences with regards to pensions rights, which may be a consequence of the case law issue.

  • @ John – pragmatism in the real world is what it boils down to I think!

    In the short term quite a few religious institutions may opt out. But over time, like acceptance of the idea of the Earth going round the Sun rather than vice versa, or interracial marriage, or what have you – they’ll probably start to move with the tide of popular opinion because they can only risk being so far out of step with their congregations. In 100 years people will be unable to grasp what all the fuss was about.

  • There are differences in pension rights, some inheritance rights, and a legal difference in terms of recognition overseas.

    This extract from 2008 explains that the Labour minister intended to maintain the distinction to allow discrimination:

    The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while Article 8 of the European convention provides mainly for privacy in the home and Article 14 provides for non-discrimination, Article 12 provides for a view of marriage between a man and woman and of family life that is basic to the existence and continuation of any society?

    Lord Bach: My Lords, Article 12 speaks for itself. Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and found a family according to the national laws governing the exercise of that right. When we passed the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, we made a distinction in it and did not call single-sex partnerships marriage. In many important ways, it was very similar, particularly in the many legal rights that it quite rightly gave to single-sex partnerships, but it did not call those partnerships marriage, and that remains the Government’s policy.

    We have come a long way since then

    Linked here to see the whole discussion: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/81023-0001.htm

  • Stuart Mitchell 17th Feb '11 - 5:45pm

    “This wouldn’t be considered acceptable if we were talking about ethnic minorities or religious groups, if the law prohibited people from these communities to marry there would be uproar: and rightly so!”

    Actually that happens. There are some religious groups who believe in polygamy, but we don’t allow them to practise it.

    Jen: Much as I share your sentiments, I’m afraid there are some major religious groups who would never, ever, EVER allow gay marriage to take place within their institutions. And that’s the main reason why, I’m afraid, our dream of 100% equality will always end up falling just that little bit short of fruition.

  • Stuart Mitchell 17th Feb '11 - 5:56pm

    Henry: Trust somebody to jump on even THIS issue as an excuse for some gratuitous Labour-bashing!

    Let me just remind you that in 1997 we still had section 28 on the book, no civil partnerships at all, no equality act, and unequal ages of consent. Your coalition partners frequently voted to kep things that way while in opposition. To his enormous credit, Stephen Gilbert is able to rise above the current poisonous political atmosphere and give some praise where it’s due.

  • I do not share the “black and white” view. I hope that any gay couple that wants to get “married” will find an establishment of their preferred organisation willing to perform the ceremony.

  • Meanwhile, in the East End of London, hard line islamists have been posting “Gay Free Zone” stickers and across the city gay people are still being queer bashed and killed.

    http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2011/02/14/stickers-declare-gay-free-zone-in-east-london/

    While creating legal equality on marriages and partnerships is nice in a symbolic kind of way, I think it is rather eclipsed by what is happening on the street in our towns and cities.

  • Great news, though I don’t agree with Stephen about equality being black and white (because apart from anything else that belief can tend to lead to a rejection of a small step forward if it’s not perceived as ‘full equality’).

    To be fair to Labour, Stuart Mitchell’s right – they did a lot of the heavy lifting on LGBT rights. I’m thrilled that we may (hopefully) finally be in a position to implement full marriage equality and will be proud that ours was the first party leader to publicly espouse it (to my knowledge). But the many significant steps forward during the 1997-2010 period shouldn’t be forgotten – and anyway this isn’t an issue to score party points on. Every party has dissenting voices and people, espcially amongst the older generation of MPs and Peers, who can’t reconcile themselves to what they may see as a rapid pace of social change. I’ve even met one or two Lib Dems who I’d describe as being members of the ‘blue rinse brigade’.

  • “there is a big body of case law that exists regarding marriage. It does not apply to civil partnerships.”

    Jen – have there been any cases where it has been held the marriage related case law applies or doesn’t to Civil Partnerships? One job I had was updating legal databases with some of the SIs which, in effect inserted the words “Or Civil Partnership” after “marriage” in the numerous other pieces of legislation. There is at least an arguable case that Parliament intended Civil Partnerships to be treated in the same way as marriages.

  • Depressed Ex 18th Feb '11 - 9:17am

    Henry

    There are differences in pension rights, some inheritance rights, and a legal difference in terms of recognition overseas.

    I suppose the British government has very limited powers over “recognition overseas.”

    I wonder if someone could outline what the differences regarding pension rights and inheritance rights are. If there were a substantive difference I could understand the concern, but if it’s really just an argument over nomenclature I find it difficult to get excited about it.

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