It’s time for an equal, gender-neutral, marriage law

As a Liberal Democrat, fighting for a more equal society is one of the driving forces behind my politics. To me, Liberalism, above all, means emancipation – emancipation from one’s fears, from prejudice, from discrimination, from poverty – as US Vice-President Hubert Humphrey once put it.

This must include the continued fight for LGBT rights and for a better understanding in society of our lives, our hopes and aspirations as well as our fears and our worries. I believe that the state does not have an interest in enforcing or promoting private moral or religious beliefs unless there is a clear accompanying secular purpose and we have made some excellent progress over the past decade.

However, despite the repeal of Section 28, the equalisation of the age of consent, same-sex adoption and civil partnerships; homophobia still rears its ugly head in playgrounds, workplaces and even in the home. It’s unacceptable. It’s an individual’s right to live their lives as they see fit, without discrimination, with personal privacy, with equal rights in front of the law. That’s why I’m backing the motion calling for the introduction of an equal, gender-neutral, marriage law today.

It’s an important step towards full and unconditional acceptance by society that finally a gender-neutral rule is introduced. Society has already set a standard for people who want to show they are in a committed relationship, for people who want to show that they have found love and wish to remain together until death do them part. It’s called marriage. Why should we deny that institution to people who happen to be gay or lesbian who wish to show that commitment to their family, friends and everybody else? In fact, our denying same-sex couples access to marriage implicitly implies that we deem their relationships as in some way inferior. We cannot have LGBT equality as long as one of the most important institutions in our society remains a closed shop.

Throughout history we find plenty of examples of when society believed certain couples should not be allowed to marry for one reason or another. Partners of different religions, women who had had children out of wedlock, partners of different social standing or of different racial backgrounds: all at one time or another could have had great difficulty getting married. Women used to lose all their legal rights upon marriage and divorce was once impossible.

Nowadays we could not imagine this sort of discrimination taking place in our enlightened society; marriage has evolved to reflect the value we place on equality. But we still discriminate against LGBT people. We must let the distinction between gay and heterosexual marriage become a thing of the past as well.

Don’t misunderstand me. Civil Partnerships were a very valuable step in the right direction and their introduction will be a major help in the campaign to get equal marriage on the statute books. It has shown people how happy gay couples are that they can finally publicly and openly show a life-long commitment to each other. Moreover, gay adoption laws have shown that gay couples can be excellent parents and raise happy and well-adjusted children just like the next heterosexual couple can.

But gay couples do not want to be “separate but equal” anymore, as surveys by the Equality Network and have underlined. That is why I will be calling on our Conference later today to approve this motion. As Nick Clegg said: “Love is the same, straight or gay, so the civil institution should be the same” and I agree with Nick.

Stephen Gilbert is MP for St Austell and Newquay

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  • iRadar

    I couldn’t agree more. It is opinions like this that make me proud to still be a member of the Liberal Democrats.

    I know a few previously passionate supporters of the Liberal Democrats who have defected to Labour/the Green Party since the election, however I know that my core beliefs are similar to yours and the other Liberal Democrat MPs than any other party. Please don’t ever stop fighting the good fight.

  • Bill

    “It’s an individual’s right to live their lives as they see fit, without discrimination, with personal privacy…”

    Unless you think differently from the liberal self-styled ‘elite.’

  • Lovelylefty

    How so? Some examples?

  • Lovelylefty

    Well said. I have my doubts about the coalition (though am totally baffled as to why Libe Dems supporters would be tempted to join Labour).

    This is one of the best things they have done.

    Same sex marraiage is important for the institution of marriage and not just for gay rights.

  • Bill

    Consider the hostility and lack of privacy by the people who have participated in, or supported, the campaigns against gay marriage in the US. The attitude is not “oh, those people don’t agree with gay marriage,” but “those people don’t agree with gay marriage, and so we are going to make life uncomfortable for them.”

  • Lovelylefty

    Well here you’re talking about actions in a foreign country with a very different culture, so I’m not sure what relevance that has in the UK.

    Of course harrassing private individuals because of their beliefs would be wrong, but beyond that I couldn’t really comment without being aware of the specifics. I very much doubt you can draw sweeping examples from it as there will always be a few extremist nutters on the fringes of any argument – on both sides.

  • Bill

    It matters a lot. It’s illustrative of the ease with which intellectual arrogance can pervade a culture, and start to make it restrictive. While it is on a different topic, the damage the left have done by making sane debate about immigration impossible is another example; a very European one. There is minimal cogent debate about the ideology of islam, about the vital nature of freedom of speech – and the left colludes with, and even encourages, these dangerous silences.

  • Lovelylefty

    Well I think that intellectual arrogance can be found on all sides.

    Again on the off-topic issue of immigration I think it is rather more complicated with people at both extremes of the debate being disengenuous – either scapegoating immigrants for problems whose profound roots lie elsewhere or trying to gloss over real concerns.

    And certainly, as a Humanist, I am more than happy to criticise many aspects of Islam just as I would other reactionary religious movements.

    In any case, I see little shortage of debate on these subjects going on all around. I don’t think there is a monolithic left – and hasn’t been for some time.

    TRhere is a real problem for a liberal society – how much difference do you accommodate, especially when it involves tolerating the intolerant.

    I’m less and less enthusiastic about multiculturalism, and see greater integration as the answer

    In fact, returning to the main topic, taht is part of the reason why I support same sex marriage, as I see myself as a gay man, happily partnered for many years, as very much part of mainstream culture, and have no desire whasoever to be part of a separate sub group or subculture. I don’t think that it makes sense for society to treat gay people differently in this respect either.

  • Bill


    I generally agree with you: though I’m not sure about “off topic;” the piece was about gay marriage but my original posting above was not limited to that.

    I have no problem with gay marriage – I do have a problem with the vilification of its opponents. For what it’s worth, I would insist on “civil unions” being the strict definition of the legal contract between people, and then marriage (which would have no legal significance) would be an entirely religious affair. Then, religious denominations could choose who they would and would not agree to marry.

  • Emma J Whitaker

    I am a pre-op Transgender female, I was born male and all my life knew I was born in the wrong body however this did not stop me from falling in love with my current wife and we have a son together, now the problem I am facing is not a nice one which involves Gender Recognition Certification which states that I must divorce from my wife to be entitled to be called my chosen name. Why are we still living in a medieval culture? Forgive the pun but we only just got over the naughties (2000 – 2009) and we are currently supposedly in the year 2010 where everything is supposed to be acceptable, except if you are LBGT, I personally feel the government and the church should stop being so ancient and bring the law in order, so it does not matter whether you are Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Gay, Trans or an alien (some might believe) we can marry or stay married. Civil Partnership is just another way of asking us “if we don’t mind would we just move to another planet where we cannot be seen?”
    Answer: No way, lets just change the medieval ways and get with the times, marriage is NOT a certificate to say how proud to be English we are, but is a declaration of LOVE, so to conclude with my final statement: “Time to get to speed with the modern age churches and government and realise what marriage is truly about (love, commitment and true forgiveness)”

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