Wednesday, 12 December 2012

In which it is not 100% equal

Today the Government has announced its proposals for equal gay marriage.

As regular readers will know I never refer to marriage equality as gay marriage. The reason is simple that is not what I, even though I am a gay man, want. I want marriage equality irregardless of sexual orientation, or gender, or religion. So today we really only fully got one of those three.

There are six key words in the Liberal Democrat policy that I am so proud are there:

That wish to do so

You see it really is that simple. There should be civil partnership or marriage depending on what people wish. Every faith group should be allowed to offer it, if they wish. Every person who undergoes gender reassignment should be allowed to maintain whichever relationship status they are in without a state mandatory divorce or annulment. What we got today failed on some of those liberal principles.

First up making it illegal for the Church of England and Church in Wales to opt in to equal marriage is an error. It has been made to appease the Tory backbenchers and Lords Spiritual. It was put in to assuage them that there would be no legal challenge to the established church. There is an error in including the Church in Wales straight off. It has been disestablished since 1920, therefore Government has no power over its governance and decisions. Therefore passing law to legislate over the Church in Wales cannot hold up if legally challenged, Westminster has no jurisdiction there. The error with then making the act illegal, yes that is the word used, in the Church of England is that the General Synod should have the same right as any other faith group governing body to take this decision. 

If you were truly making marriage equal, every faith group should have the right to make the decision to proceed, if they wish to do so. 

One additional point on religion which I was glad to see Julian Huppert raise towards the end of the questions was the issue of humanist celebrants. We learnt today that those outside Protestant or Catholic religion was on the rise, so why can't a humanist celebrant carry out any marriage or civil partnership like they already can in Scotland?

Nor for that matter does it allow for civil partnerships of mix-sexed couples that are not related. Another issue that needs to be addressed if CPs are to persist only for same-sex couples if you want true equality.

The issue with gender reassignment was the one I moved as an amendment in the Scottish Lib Dem debate. I'll admit now it was a ploy to get extra time to explain the reason why, because sadly most people don't get why it is needed, even within the LGBT community. The fact is that with the introduction of civil partnerships there was a chance for those who changed gender to enter a relationship with their pre-existing spouse after transitioning. But the issue was that the couple had to split before the transition could even start. We as a state were telling the partner of someone going through transition, that vow of 'til death do us part' means nothing even if you still love them. The state split up couples and made them go through the alternative commitment ceremony afterwards. It was like saying I'm not the gender I was born into means you can't love me.

This proposal does nothing to address those missing years of friends and others who have faced this dilemma and fails to address the issue of the enforced separation. One of the Tory backbenchers asked about the non-consummation element of divorce law, but nobody raised the issue of state mandated divorce that would still exist. This isn't equal for the trans community and yet again the LGB community may leave them behind having achieved what is in it for them. You can be assured that won't apply to me.

The other issue is one that seems ludicrous to me after what has been going on here in Northern Ireland over the last week or so. Unionists have been shouting about how a piece of material not being present 365 days of the year on a certain metal pole chips away at their sense of Britishness. For the LGBT community in Northern Ireland now that the rest of the UK has proposals in place to allow some forms of marriage equality we see there is a big chip of our Britishness that has yet to be given to us, never mind being chipped away. Those of us in Northern Ireland that wish to do so, will not be able to enter into a same-sex marriage locally. Like those who want an abortion we will have to travel to England, Scotland and Wales maybe to have one, but will we be recognised as married when we return, and why should we, our families and guests be penalised the added expense of traveling elsewhere in the UK to get married. That is something that together with Equal Marriage NI I will also continue to work on.

However, this proposal would fail an equality appraisal to be described as equal marriage. For the reasons above it falls short, so there still is work to be done. Let us not lose sight of the end goal, which for me is every aspect of the Liberal Democrat policy. 

Don't get me wrong it is an important step, but that is all it is, there are still some steps to go until we cross the finish line on Marriage Equality


  1. I thought the forced annulments issue was being addressed - DCMS have certainly put that in the publicity material. What have I missed?

  2. There is one detail about the Church of England that you misunderstand, which is that church law is part of the law of England. The mechanism for changing church law is a Church of England Measure, proposed by General Synod and approved through a fast track procedure in Parliament. A Measure has the same force as an Act of Parliament, as long as it "relates to any matter concerning the Church of England." A future Measure could be used to overturn a ban. The government's proposal only reiterates current law, in response to ridiculous fears by Tory MPs.

  3. Chris it wasn't that long ago that marriage carried out in my denomination wasn't recognised because it wasn't carried out under the Anglican rite. There is an issue here yet again that we have a state church, which tries to protest itself in a certain way and has the state protecting it, in my opinion erroneously in this case.