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 PinkNews.co.uk 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 NewquayTagged in: equality, gay marriage, law
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