Current Affairs

Comment: What exactly is the coalition government’s stance on gay marriage?

Jessica Geen July 7, 2010
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To some, the difference is negligible. To others, the word ‘marriage’ is the only way they want to see their relationships recognised in law.

Civil partnerships were a fantastic milestone for gays and lesbians but it is clear now they are not good enough.

Religious gay people want religious ceremonies – something the law does not currently allow. Others, who may be religious or secular, crave the gravity and recognition the word marriage offers.

There may be no difference in the rights and benefits received by those in civil partnerships, but to be married is to make a statement – to your partner, to your loved ones, to the world.

Additionally, some straight couples, like Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle, want their relationships recognised in law without what they see as the patriarchal, traditional overtones of marriage. There is discrimination here too, as legally, they cannot have a civil partnership.

There has been confusion in the coalition government about how civil partnerships should be taken to the next stage. David Cameron told earlier this year he would “consider the case” for allowing civil partnerships to be reclassified as marriage and the Tories have made all the right noises about following on the Labour government’s work on allowing civil partnerships to be carried out in churches.

The Liberal Democrats’ stance is less clear. Nick Clegg told our readers in March that he supported gay marriage, although his party’s LGBT election manifesto made no mention of the issue.

Last week, Lib Dem equality minister Lynne Featherstone said that gay couples could possibly have religious symbols, imagery and hymns at their civil partnerships. But this is discriminatory to secular straight couples, who may not have any religious elements to their civil marriages.

Ms Featherstone told us at Pride on Saturday that she believed the best way forward was to see what the electorate wants, adding that this would include consulting with anti-gay faith groups.

In a pre-Pride message released on Saturday, Nick Clegg said his party had been clear on “promoting civil partnerships [and] pushing for gay marriage”. It’s a small point, but are there divisions in the coalition government on where recognition of gay relationships should progress?

Or indeed, in the Conservative Party? Tory mayor of London Boris Johnson said at Pride on Saturday: “If the Conservatives and Liberals can get together in a national coalition and settle their differences, I don’t see why you can’t have gay marriage.”

However, speaking after Peter Tatchell at one of the new mayoral ‘community’ receptions this week, he reportedly confused the issue with civil partnerships, saying he believed gay marriage was already legal. Following his remarks at Pride, a City Hall statement made clear he supported civil partnerships, with no mention of marriage.

We understand our readers have varying views on the issue. Some have no interest at all in an institution they feel barred from and some like the fact civil partnerships are something special for gay people. And others just want exactly the same rights as heterosexuals. But while some people feel discriminated against, civil partnerships must evolve and equal access to civil marriage, with opt-ins for faiths, may be the best solution.

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