Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has welcomed Parliament’s decision to pass the same-sex marriage bill for England and Wales but says in its current structure trans people get a “raw deal” and that pension inheritance rights remain unequal.
Although the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act is a welcome and important advance, it is not full equality. Same-sex marriages are legalised under a new law that is separate and different from the Marriage Act 1949. Separate and different are not equal. There are six discriminatory aspects of the new legislation.
The campaign for true equal marriage will continue. We will seek to rectify the shortcomings in a subsequent bill; probably when the government next year addresses the issue of civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples.
The six aspects of discrimination in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act are:
Rightly or wrongly, the existing grounds for the annulment of a marriage – non-consummation and adultery – do not apply in the case of same-sex marriages.
The Church of England and the Church in Wales are explicitly banned from performing religious same-sex marriages, even if they decide they want to.
The special requirements and costs of registering premises for the conduct of religious same-sex marriages are much harsher than for opposite-sex marriages in religious premises. In the case of shared premises, all other sharing faith organisations have to give their permission for the conduct of marriages involving LGBT people. In effect, they have a veto.
Pension inheritance rights are fewer on death of a same-sex marriage spouse. The surviving partner is not entitled to inherit the full value of their pension if it began prior to 1988 (only the value of contributions since 1988 can be inherited). There is no such sweeping limitation on pension inheritance in the case of opposite-sex marriages.
Trans people – especially those already in marriages or civil partnerships – get a raw deal. Among other flaws, married transgender people will need their spouse’s written permission before they can get a gender recognition certificate. This amounts to a ‘spousal veto’ over a trans person’s life.
The legislation does not repeal the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships. Straight couples continue to be banned from having a civil partnership, even though the government’s own public consultation on equal marriage found that 61% of respondents supported the right of heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership if they desire one. Only 24% disagreed.
The overwhelming vote for same-sex marriage in both the Commons and the Lords is a defeat for homophobic discrimination and a victory for love and marriage. After a 21-year-long campaign, we have now secured marriage rights for all.
Ending the ban on same-sex couples getting married overturns the last major legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Britain. It is of huge symbolic importance; signalling that same-sex love has social recognition, public acceptance and legal parity.
Peter Tatchell is director of the London-based human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, and coordinator of the Equal Love campaign.
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