Marriage

BCN 117 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 117, Feb 2013

Growing up in the 80s I would never have thought this possible, but it looks like same-sex marriage will be passed into law for England, Scotland and Wales by the end of 2013.

It’s not a universally popular idea. On the one hand there are the same people who have opposed every previous measure of equality for bi and gay people, wanting to stop the next step along the road to everyone being treated the same in law because there was something special about the way things used to be.

On the other hand, there are people for whom being queer made you an outsider. It meant reinventing relationships from scratch, without any social codes telling you what being with someone meant. Getting married, with the social baggage the word can carry, feels a world away from that spirit of revolutionary relationships.

Which are fine choices for people to take about their own lives, but most of us live between those extremes. In the end, whether because you think it’s weird or you think it’s far too normal, if you don’t want a same-sex marriage, don’t get one.

It seems there’s a broadening section of public opinion that, whether bi, gay or straight, no longer sees marriage as the magical land of the nuclear family. Civil partnerships have probably played an important role in this, as for all some papers have huffed and puffed about such things being allowed, the photos of celebs ‘marrying’ their partners still sold like any other pop gossip. In the debate on same-sex marriage, civil partnerships have blown away the “they can’t settle down and be monogamous” card.

The two year build-up to the bill has been a useful totem for David Cameron in trying to present the Conservatives as no longer the party they were in the 80s, too. The party that introduced Section 28, a law clamping down on the very mention of homosexuality, would never have endorsed something as bold as same-sex marriage.

And so at the start of February it came to parliament at last; the Commons splitting by 400 votes to 175. More than two to one; in a single ring of the division bell we went from “there is no mandate” to “the overwhelming will of the house”.

And what a debate it was; you got reminded how many out MPs there are on all sides of the house now as one after another told their own stories, spoke of their civil partners, or of bi and gay friends.

The anti lobby vented their spleen, of course. The most frequent complaint seemed to be that the bill did not include mixed-sex civil partnerships; if I had a pound for every time I yelled “then amend it!” at the screen, I’d be writing this down the pub.

Passing the Second Reading stage is far from meaning “it’s all over”. The bill will be tweaked in committee stages and then bounces around the House of Lords for a while; that was a lot of fun with previous LGBT equality measures so watch out for some choice quotes there.

Different in Scotland and Northern Ireland

Thanks to the different powers devolved to Stormont, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay, the debate in Westminster – though all MPs get to vote in it – will only bring in marriage in England and Wales.  Though something similar happened in 1967 when sex between men was made legal in Wales and England, but remained illegal until the 1980s in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

There’s a separate, broadly parallel process going on to introduce same-sex marriage in Scotland. The Equality Network are urging people in Scotland to respond to the new consultation on the draft equal marriage bill for Scotland here www.equalmarriage.org.uk/consultation and to send a message of support to your MSP: you can find their details at www.equalmarriage.org.uk/takeaction/findmsp

Northern Ireland’s assembly meanwhile is standing proudly against the idea of same-sex marriage; the law making its way through Westminster will however mean that same-sex marriages from England and Wales would be recognised in Northern Ireland as if they were civil partnerships.

Open to some change…

It’s not yet set in stone!  The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday 5 February, and the parliamentary process has now moved into the Commons Committee stage.  This includes an opportunity for anyone with an interest in this proposed legislation to submit written evidence to the Public Bill Committee – a group of MPs who will examine the Bill in detail.

If you might like to submit your views about the Bill in writing to the Committee, see
www.parliament.uk/business/news/2013/february/have-your-say-on-the-marriage-same-sex-couples-bill/

The Committee met for the first time on Tuesday 12 February, with representatives of Stonewall, LGF and GIRES among those giving in-person evidence, and will stop receiving written evidence at the end of the Committee stage on Tuesday 12 March 2013.