Writing for PinkNews, Glordia De Piero, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities celebrates same-sex marriage, saying it represents a fundamental shift in attitudes.
This weekend, the first of many happy couples will walk down the aisle and make history as marriage equality finally arrives in England and Wales.
For many people, this will realise a dream they hadn’t dared to hope would become a reality – to marry the person they love surrounded by the people most important to them. And in many ways it marks the culmination of a period of change that has brought equality for LGBT people of the sort few believed possible.
When Labour took office in 1997, Section 28 was in force, the age of consent was different, you couldn’t be openly gay and serve in our armed forces, homophobia wasn’t even considered a hate crime. Couples wanting to make a lasting commitment to each other might celebrate with blessings and a ceremony amongst their family and friends, but they would do so in the knowledge that the commitment they made, however special, would not be recognised in law.
Over the next decade the changes we made – repealing these laws, and establishing others like the Civil Partnerships Act and the Gender Recognition Act which finally gave trans people legal status – were monumental, and yes, at times controversial.
But this wasn’t simply about formal legal equality. Of course legislative changes reflected a cultural shift taking place, but there is no question that the speed and scale of transformation in attitudes was driven by the sweeping reforms introduced.
You just need to look at the huge majority with which the House of Lords voted through same-sex marriage last year to realise that something fundamental has shifted. This, the same place which just 10 years ago was holding the House of Commons to ransom in its opposition to abolition of Section 28, was now seeing Peers on all sides and of many religions standing up to speak of their joy to be able to vote in equal marriage.
Of course the battle for full equality has not been won: changing hearts and minds takes longer than changing laws. We do this through better education in our schools and by challenging stigma and prejudice wherever we find it, breaking down the sort of rigid views about gender and sexual identity which mean young people are held back from developing into the person they want to be.
The very visibility of LBGT people in public life, from our politicians to sports personalities, helps to do just that, to demonstrate the normality of it all.
That’s what it’s ultimately about. When the first couples tie the knot on Saturday, of course they will be making history, but the important facts remain the same – two people making a commitment to the person they love in a way that couples have done throughout history and will do for many years to come.
Gloria De Piero is the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities.