After a PinkNews.co.uk poll showed high support for opening up civil marriage to gay couples, we asked UK gay rights groups to set out their views on the issue. Eight accepted our invitation, but Stonewall, Britain’s largest LGB charity declined to take part and clarify their stance on the issue.

Civil partnerships give gay couples all the rights of marriage, although they may not currently be held in religious settings. The coalition government is exploring how faiths can be given the option of holding them.

However, the majority of gay rights groups support changing the law to allow both gay and straight couples the option of choosing marriages or civil partnerships.

The groups we asked to participate were: Stonewall, LGBT Labour, LGBTory, Delga (the Liberal Democrat LGBT group), OutRage!, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation and Scottish groups The Equality Network and The LGBT Network.

We asked groups to provide a 400-word statement on the issue.

Stonewall declined to participate but all other groups said they did support changing the law.

Matthew Sephton, LGBTory

LGBTory is in favour of marriage equality, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. We believe this is necessary to promote an equal legal footing for all committed relationships, of whatever kind.

Currently, with Civil Partnerships, there are inconsistencies which mean those in them do not have the same rights as married couples. For example, under international law, if a married couple travel to another jurisdiction they are obliged to be recognised as such; there are no such recognition for Civil Partnerships. Also, if one half of a legally married couple decides to undergo a sex change and stay married, for that union to be recognised the law forces them to be divorced first and then have a Civil Partnership. As well as being an upsetting ordeal, this also has the consequence of changing the start date of their union, which affects areas including tax and pensions. If marriages were non gender specific, there would be no such need and we would like to see amended legislation that makes this the case.

On the religious side, LGBTory welcomes the Prime Minister’s recent announcement at the Downing Street LGBT reception that Civil Partnerships will be able to take place in religious contexts. For those people who wish to take this up (and we do not want to see religious institutions forced to take part against their will) this is a positive step forward by the new Government and one which we would like to see included in any change to the marriage laws.

The question of how much of a priority the achievement of such a change in the law is where, we believe, the difficulty lies. We believe that gay marriage (or, more precisely, our wish for non gender-specific marriage, as highlighted earlier) should be achieved as part of a package of reforms on LGBT issues, but that to start on it in isolation would be a mistake.

In the UK, we continue to have issues of life and death and personal safety concerns that exist for the LGBT community. The deportation of asylum seekers whose lives are in danger in their home countries because of their sexuality or gender identity is one such example and that must stop. Another is the need to guarantee full and comprehensive treatment for HIV and in actively pursuing a cure for the virus.

There is also the injustice of the arbitrary gay blood ban and the need to tackle homophobic bullying in schools. Also in education, ensuring that homosexual relationships are taught as part of a broad and balanced sex education curriculum in ALL schools is absolutely vital, regardless of type or of any religious affiliation.

In short, we believe there are overwhelming reasons why a change in the marriage laws is not only desirable but also essential. However, there are other areas of policy where the Government must act first. As an LGBT group, we will be pressing for these reforms to be achieved at the earliest possible opportunity in order that we can subsequently reach the point where marriage for all is not only a possibility but an everyday reality.

James Asser, LGBT Labour co-chair

The last 13 years saw the biggest ever advance in LGBT rights with most of the major aims we were campaigning for throughout the 80s and 90s achieved. This doesn’t mean, however, we have yet achieved full equality or that there aren’t things still to fight for. One area where we still have further progress to make is gay marriage; but it is a measure of how far we have come that we are now having a serious debate about gay marriage that we couldn’t have had 15 or even 10 years ago.

A major breakthrough was civil partnerships giving full legal recognition to gay and lesbian relationships for the first time with all the benefits available to and equal legal status with married couples.

It shouldn’t be forgotten, and all too often is, what an important step forward civil partnerships were, and that it was something we had to fight to achieve. Full legal rights for gay and lesbian couples with the protection and recognition that brings is no small thing. Anyone who has been to a civil partnership will have seen how important it is to the couple, their friends and family to be able have their relationship recognised and we shouldn’t undermine that. Nor should we underestimate how important it has been internationally with over 500 civil partnerships taking place in British consulates. And let’s not be under any illusion, having civil partnerships will make it much easier for us to achieve full marriage.

Looking to the future LGBT Labour supports introducing gay marriage and we’re campaigning within the Labour party for it, including during the leadership election – with all five candidates giving their support. We’d like to see the law changed allowing civil marriage to be available to gay and lesbian couples, as well as civil partnerships made available to straight couples, offering both equality and choice.

We also support the moves led by LGBT Labour patron, Lord Alli, to allow churches to hold civil partnerships. Additionally we will keep campaigning on the pledge in our international LGBT manifesto for full recognition internationally of all British couples – whether married or in civil partnerships.

Whilst we should celebrate our successes, we must never be complacent and must continue campaigning for equality. LGBT Labour campaigned when Labour was in office for the recognition of relationships with legal rights; it is now time to take the next step with gay marriage and we’re campaigning for that too.

Adrian Trett, acting chair of Delga (Liberal Democrat)

Recently countries across the world have been approving same-sex marriage at increasing speed. Ten nations have so far approved it with more looking likely soon.

Our stance is simple: The UK should be leading this list of liberal diverse nations. That’s why Delga, (LGBT Liberal Democrats) decided to introduce a motion at this year’s Autumn Conference, to ensure it will become enshrined in our Party policy and as a result provide a lever for us to take the issue into government where we are part of the Coalition.

When Adrian Trett, Acting Chair of Delga wrote the motion he called it “equal marriage” because that’s what this is all about, it is about being equal, whether Gay or Straight, Lesbian, Bisexual, Cis or transgender. While Civil Partnerships were an enormous step forward, until we are able to choose to classify our relationships as marriage if we wish, we will not be equal. One’s commitment to another person should be open, and free to be celebrated in whichever way you and your partner choose.

Any two individuals, whatever their gender or sexual orientation should be able to choose either a civil partnership or Marriage and celebrate it wherever they want, in a religious building (if that venue is in agreement) or elsewhere. Our motion also calls for overseas marriages and civil partnerships to be rightly equated to their correct equivalents.

We can’t win this campaign alone however, and would like to use this opportunity especially to call upon our Coalition Conservative counterparts LGBTory to join us. We know we have support within the Government. The Deputy Prime Minister and our Party Leader, the Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP, said in the Pink News on the 17th February 2010, “I support gay marriage, Love is the same, straight or gay, so the civil institution should be the same”. This is clear and unwavering support for our motion. We know there are many others as well.

If ever there was a time to stand up and be counted on this issue, the time is now. Together we can make a difference. We can increase the support we have in the Government and win a Commons vote if enough of us stand together to be counted and show them that this is what we want. The question is, will you stand with us? There is no time like the present.

Peter Tatchell, OutRage!

The main issue is not whether same-sex marriage is a priority but whether LGBT people should be banned from getting married. We should not be banned. Equality is the number one issue. No LGBT organisation claiming to support equal rights should remain silent and inactive while we are denied the right to marry. Such outrageous homophobic discrimination must be challenged.

Campaigning for marriage equality does not preclude us from also campaigning against homophobic bullying or for LGBT asylum rights. It is not a case of having to choose one campaign over another. It is possible to simultaneously push for equality on several fronts.

Nor is the main issue whether same-sex marriage is a good thing. I share the feminist critique. Marriage has a history of sexism and patriarchy. I would not want to get married. But as a democrat and human rights defender, I support the right of other LGBTs to marry, if they wish. I resent the fact that people are deemed ineligible to marry, simply because they love a person of the same sex.

Every LGBT organisation should be publicly backing the right of lesbian and gay couples to get married in a registry office on exactly the same terms as heterosexual men and women. Imagine the outcry if the government banned black couples from getting married and required them to register their relationships through a separate system of civil partnerships instead? Most of us would condemn it as racist, to have separate laws for black and white people. We’d call it apartheid, like what used to exist in South Africa. Well, black people are not banned from marriage but lesbian and gay couples are. We are fobbed off with civil partnerships.

Civil partnerships are not equality. They are a new form of discrimination. Separate is not equal. In terms of law, civil partnerships are a form of sexual apartheid. They create a two-tier system of partnership recognition: one law for heterosexuals (civil marriage) and another law for same-sex couples (civil partnerships).

This perpetuates and extends discrimination. The homophobia of the ban on same-sex civil marriage is compounded by the heterophobia of the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships. Just as a gay couple cannot have a civil marriage, a straight couple cannot have a civil partnership. Two wrongs don’t make a right. In a democracy, we should all be equal before the law.

Rev Sharon Ferguson, Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement

I am so glad that you are talking about ‘marriage equality’ and not ‘Gay marriage’. Marriage is the celebration and legal recognition of the commitment between two people – the gender of those involved should not be an issue. Like most LGBT organisations, LGCM welcomed the legal protection that Civil Partnerships afforded. However, even though from a legal perspective CP’s hardly differ from civil marriage there are still a couple of very important aspects of inequality that should not be ignored.

Firstly, straight couples have the choice between a religious marriage and a civil marriage – same sex couples do not. (This is being partially addressed through the amendment in the Equality Bill proposed by Lord Ali). Secondly, by having a separate system for legally recognising same sex relationships the message is clearly that our relationships are not equal and not worthy of the institution of marriage. Many people may object to the institution of marriage per se as it is firmly based in patriarchalism, heterosexism and the ownership of women but if this is the accepted format for recognising relationships then it should be the format available for all people regardless of whether they choose to use it or not.

LGCM has always been very clear that we believe that our sexuality is a gift from God (see our Statement of Conviction) and something to be celebrated. Therefore we should have the same opportunity to celebrate our relationships in the sight of God through religious marriage as everyone else.

As the only difference between the rights and responsibilities of CP’s and marriage seems to be that marriage must be consummated and CP’s do not have to have a sexual element, it is clear to me that the reason for the distinction is based in religious homophobia. Neither civil nor religious marriage is denied to non believers or people with a non Christian faith and yet it is denied to lesbian and gay people of faith.

The current law also produces a particularly ludicrous scenario for some trans people. If one person of a married couple transitions and the couple choose to remain together, in order for the trans person to be legally registered in their new gender their marriage is basically annulled and they would have to enter into a Civil Partnership instead. Some couples wish to remain true to their vows and to remain married but this then causes many other legal issues for them. It is a similar situation for a same sex couple in a CP if one of them transitions, their CP is dissolved and they can then enter into a marriage.

This two-tier system brings about discrimination and segregation. Consequently, LGCM whilst supporting and celebrating every step in the right direction, will continue to campaign and fight for full equality for all LGBT people which includes the right to both civil and religious marriage. Rev Sharon Ferguson, Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement

Lesbian and Gay Foundation

The Lesbian & Gay Foundation’s priorities are set out in our five year strategic plan and revolve around reaching full equality on all issues, in all walks of life, for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. We believe in full marriage equality for those lesbian, gay and bisexual people who wish to get married, and likewise that civil partnerships should be available to heterosexual couples. Equality means that we all have the same access to the legal opportunities to express our love and commitment, and at the moment this is not the case.

The LGF’s mission statement is “Ending Homophobia, Empowering People” and in 2010 – our 10th anniversary year – that remains our priority. In May we launched our Enough is Enough! Action Against Homophobia campaign, as a direct reaction to the horrifying homophobic attacks on Michael Causer, Ian Baynham and James Parkes.

The campaign highlights that homophobia is still a daily reality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the street, at school, at work and for many in the home. Enough is Enough! encourages people, groups and organisations to come together and take positive action to highlight that homophobia is unacceptable and has no place in our society.

There is still a massive need for us to help empower our community, and encourage people to use their rights and legal protections, from lesbian and bisexual women being told that they don’t need a cervical screening when they do, to encouraging people to report homophobic hate crimes and incidents, to urging lesbian, gay and bisexual people to vote, to get involved in public life and to make their voices heard.

We are committed to using the new Equality Act legal protections to challenge discrimination and inequality, and to campaign for lesbian, gay and bisexual peoples’ equal access to public services, and for those services to be receptive to the needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. There’s no denying that over the last ten years lesbian, gay and bisexual people have made phenomenal progress in terms of equality. As the LGF looks to the next decade, we hope that we haven’t just made great strides but have full equality on every level – including marriage.

Tim Hopkins, Equality Network

The Equality Network is one of the three main national LGBT equality organisations in Scotland (alongside LGBT Youth Scotland and Stonewall Scotland). We base our work on regular consultation through our network of LGBT people and groups across Scotland.

Civil partnership was a huge step forward, which we worked hard for, but since 2006, people have been telling us that it’s not enough.

In our 2009 national survey, 85% of LGBT people said that same-sex marriage is needed. Only 6% thought the law is OK as it is, and only 9% thought that allowing religious ceremonies for civil partnerships is the answer. 54% said this is a high priority issue.

And it’s not just activists in our network who think this. In July, we asked hundreds of people at Glasgow Pride what their top priorities for LGBT equality were. Same-sex marriage came third, after hate crime and bullying in schools.

Why is equal marriage important? Partly because there is still discrimination in the law: trans people are forced to divorce to get gender recognition, because otherwise a same-sex marriage would be created. And civil partnership is less well recognised abroad than same-sex marriage would be.

But crucially important is that human rights are not just legal rights. They include social and cultural rights. And while our relationships are segregated into a separate status that was invented to deny us marriage, we will never have full social and cultural acceptance and respect. “But it’s not a real marriage is it” is an excuse that homophobes will continue to use. Segregation is not equality.

So we are already 18 months into a campaign to open both marriage and civil partnership in Scotland to couples regardless of gender. It is vital that we keep civil partnership available alongside marriage – while three in four LGBT people told us they would prefer marriage, one in four said they’d prefer civil partnership.

Alongside our colleagues in other Scottish organisations, we have been lobbying hard. A Scottish Parliament committee has already been considering the issue, and we will work to get legislation introduced after the Scottish Parliament election in May 2011.
But it would be easier for us if there was also a strong campaign south of the border, and we would welcome that!

Nick Henderson, LGBT Network

Let same-sex couples marry. Well this is what we have been saying for years! We launched our petition (PE 1239) to the Scottish Parliament in January 2009, requesting a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to have a civil, or a religious marriage, if that faith group consents. This is exactly the right that straight couples have, and we believe, we have always believed, that equality should mean just that – equal rights. A law that discriminates is one that is unjust, and must be changed.

LGBT Brits, banned from marrying, or having foreign same-sex marriages recognised at home (see the travesty of a High Court judgement, Wilkinson v. Kitzinger 2006), get no extra benefits from the ban on same-sex marriage. It’s not like we get a council tax rebate or the chance to win a free holiday in return for giving up our human right to marry. LGBT people pay the same taxes, so why are we not afforded the same rights?

We have always wondered why LGBT people in Britain are not angrier about their denial of rights, especially in the face of all this political consensus. Anyone looking at same-sex marriage in California will have witnessed a monumental battle fought in the streets, the courts and the constitution of California itself for the right to marry; energising millions of Americans, gay and straight, who simply want equality.

Because the battle for same-sex marriage is not really just about the right to marry; it’s about a discriminated against minority finally achieving legal equality. When the federal judge in California struck down Proposition 8 last week, he also said that Domestic Partnerships, which provide the exact same rights as marriage in California, did not convey the same social meaning as marriage, and are unconstitutional. The reason, he said, that they were not an acceptable substitute to marriage was that the state of California created Domestic Partnerships so that it could keep denying same-sex couples their right to marry.

The same goes for us. The reason Britain created Civil Partnerships was so it could keep withholding the human right of marriage from LGBT people. The result is that we are barred from enjoying full citizenship, we are rejected from equality before the law, and we are denied acceptance of our human capacity to love, honour and cherish another for the rest of time.