The ‘real thing’


Time is running out to take part in the UK government’s consultation on same sex marriage. I have tried hard to encourage people I know to fill in the relatively short and easy questionnaire. But I also know that some people won’t bother.

The fight for equality is a strange thing. Those that fight the hardest tend to be those affected, those that have a personal stake in the achievement of equality. That is natural. But I remember the battles against apartheid – and even in my isolated life in rural England I knew to check the origins of the produce I bought in order to avoid supporting the oppressive regime. As a white girl living in a 99 per cent white environment I still knew that discriminating against someone on the grounds of skin colour was stupid and wrong. My friends and I had no hesitation in waving the flag for equality – and we wept heartfelt tears watching Nelson Mandela walk free years later. It still moves me to tears today. I know that for many this battle still rages every day, but the point I want to make is that people of all colours and creeds rallied to that call for fairness and I believe it was that universal strength that created change.

I know that there are straight people fighting alongside their gay and lesbian friends, colleagues and families – we would not be where we are without them! But I’m also aware that many people, decent caring people who absolutely believe in equality, are sat to one side in this latest battle. They think the battle it already won – they see us happily out at work and home, they attend civil partnership ceremonies and cheer and clap their joy. This is all such a big change in just one generation – they think we have made it. And this isn’t exclusive to straight people – I have met gay people who feel that they are pushing their luck by asking for more.

I have been amazed at the progress of ‘gay rights’ in the last couple of decades alone. I couldn’t stop crying when I attended a friend’s civil partnership ceremony – to see their friends and family and the hotel staff all behaving as if this was a standard wedding was incredibly moving. It was of course just another wedding. It was the normality of it – the acceptance of it and the celebration and recognition of two people’s love regardless of them being gay – that swept me away. I never thought I would see such a thing.

That should be it shouldn’t it? Haven’t we made it? No – we haven’t. In exactly the same way that black people having to sit at the back of the bus wasn’t enough for racial equality, a second-class legal process isn’t enough for gay and lesbian couples. That first couple whose ceremony left me red-eyed were over-joyed that at last the ‘system’ recognised their relationship. But they have found that it isn’t marriage. It isn’t treated as marriage by some of their family. They were prevented from referring to their beliefs during the ceremony – something so important to one of them that they nearly didn’t get there! They talk about many minor things that have left them wanting the ‘real thing’.

Would a straight couple accept an ‘almost but not quite’ marriage? What is ‘wrong’ with me that means others can legally stop me marrying my partner? Because that is the message – gay and lesbian people are not good enough to take this step that is open to everyone else. Murderers, child molesters, fraudsters can all marry. People who have broken the religious laws of no sex before marriage and divorce are allowed to get married – often in the same churches and temples that condemn them. People that can’t have children are allowed to marry, despite the so called reproductive imperative. The only people not allowed to get married are gay people and that is homophobia, pure and simple. Dress it up in fancy terms or religious dogma, it remains homophobia.

I suppose I am making a plea to everyone out there. If you believe in equality, we need you. We need you to fill in the consultation, lobby your MP, sign petitions and generally argue the case. We need you to take a stand, to say that this is just as important as other equality issues. Because unless someone is totally free, they are not free at all.

You can find the consultation here:
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/equal-civil-marriage/