Will we marry?

This originally appeared in BCN issue 111.

We can look forward to a great parliamentary ding-dong on bisexual and lesbian / gay equality when reform of marriage law comes before the House in a year or so’s time, it seems.

In March a consultation begins about opening up marriage to same-sex couples. It follows on from a strong indication from Lynne Featherstone, the minister in charge of such things, that this will lead to legislation to make that change.

But newspapers report that the Tory backbenchers are revolting, and more than one in three will not support the proposals for same-sex marriage when they come before the House. Conservative MP David Burrowes told the Independent in January that, “Many colleagues are worried that it would fundamentally affect how marriage between a man and woman has historically been viewed in this country.”

Of course, that hasn’t been anywhere near as stable a definition as David might like to think. (By the by, Burrowes is MP for Enfield Southgate. His predecessors in that role are Michael Portillo and Stephen Twigg. What a remarkable pair of MPs those were: perhaps he’s trying to make a name for himself to catch up with their notoriety?)

Now is not the time for such legislation, Burrowes says: “Gay (sic) marriage is a debate we don’t need to have at this stage. It is not an issue people are hammering us on the doorstep to do something about.”

In a statement the next day he added, “I do not see the need for legislation to recognise gay marriage but it does not at all follow that I am anti-gay and homophobic.”
That’s a recipe for doing nothing ever though, as it is unlikely ever to be the number one topic on the doorstep. With the economy down the pan, same-sex marriage is one of the short list of good things the government can do without having to spend any money. You never know, it might provoke a few extra weddings and get money circulating a little bit more.

Even if the extensive Tory revolt transpires the law may well pass thanks to Lib Dem and Labour votes, and those of some of the smaller parties like the SNP.

A BCN reader survey in October suggests the clear majority of you think that if there is to be any state recognition of partnerships, then both civil partnerships and marriage should be open to any couple regardless of gender.

That’s not on offer at the moment – both North and South of the border, there’s a piecemeal approach to change
Peculiarly,

this is a devolved matter for Scotland but not for Wales or Northern Ireland.  Scotland is a little way ahead in the process and there is remarkable cross-party consensus in the Scottish Parliament.  At the end of January the Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Conservative party leaders posed together at a photo opp all backing same-sex marriage, which also has a lot of SNP support.  Meanwhile the Scottish government waded through more than 50,000 responses to their public consultation about making the change.
As momentum builds for the change in England and Wales, LGB campaign group Stonewall have launched two postcards highlighting the growing campaign for same-sex marriage – and we’re delighted to report the cards reflect that many people who would like to marry a member of the same sex aren’t gay or lesbian, though they do muddy the water by calling the current setup ‘heterosexual marriage’.  We know quite a few people who are married and anything but!

Stonewall say: “We … want to see civil marriage available to same-sex couples on the same basis as heterosexual marriage – available in a registry office but without a mandate on religious organisations to celebrate it.”

By the by – if you would like to see any of this change happen, when the consultation for everywhere outside Scotland opens in March please do make sure you write in.  It doesn’t have to be eloquent or full of research references and you don’t have to have the name of a big organisation (or even a small one) attached to your name.  Opponents of changes like these are very organised and vigorous in lobbying – if we want to be sure of change, we need to be too.

Check the BiMedia website www.bimedia.org for details of the consultation once it opens.