Comment: Beyond gay marriage – the next goal

Peter McGraith January 6, 2015
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Activist and writer Peter McGraith was one half of the first gay couple to marry in England last year.  Having attended Scotland’s first legal humanist same-sex marriage ceremony on Hogmanay, he says the focus now should be on the lack of marriage equality in Northern Ireland.

Just as the equal marriage act was being implemented in England, homosexuality in India and Russia was being criminalised. It remains illegal in much of Africa, the Middle East and Asia and some homosexual acts are punishable by death in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Somalia, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates, either through the penal code or Sharia law.

So, while marriage was never a progressive institution, it would mark great progress of one kind if every country were to offer its gay and lesbian citizens equality under the law. The gay liberation movement was not aiming towards marriage equality – marriage doesn’t equate with emancipation – and although equal marriage has been the last major piece of the gay legislative programme to fall into place in England, Wales and Scotland, it could be viewed as less significant than the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the equalising of the age of consent, neither of which enjoyed such an enthusiastic public reception.

I am opposed to the idea that state-recognised coupledom should come with higher social status and financial benefits, meanwhile single people of a certain age are treated as sad, pitiful or suspect, but I seized the privilege that accompanied marrying first, to call for political action to end the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people around the world.

I was in Glasgow with my husband and our children for the atmospheric late kick-off on Hogmanay, and I shed a tear as Malcolm Brown and Joe Schofield were named men of the match, though I’m sure they would agree that this victory was everybody’s.

Having dodged some appalling play on the religious right wing and having substituted tradition for equality, Scotland has advanced towards the top of the LGBTI human rights league, joining the Netherlands and former champions Uruguay and Spain, amongst others.

What is the next goal? We need to get our politicians to address the worst abuses against LGBTI human rights globally.

Our government has little difficulty in calling for women and girls’ rights to be respected worldwide. Before resigning from the Foreign Office, William Hague was reinventing himself as a humanitarian, speaking out on FGM, sexual violence and rape in conflict zones. But how could our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary credibly challenge the anti-gay political and religious leaders of the world’s most repressive regimes if they won’t exert influence on the Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party over Northern Ireland’s anomalous position on gay marriage?

Scotland and Northern Ireland share much, including the problem of religious bigotry, but we can be proud that the Scottish Parliament has progressed with human rights and equality legislation, also maligned as ‘the gay agenda’, while the decriminalisation of homosexuality and equal access to adoption services only came about in NI through court rulings, and the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was pushed through by Westminster while the Stormont Assembly was suspended. David Cameron said in March that the state should never deny a person, on the basis of their sexuality, the immeasurable happiness and stability that a marriage can bring, but while Northern Ireland remains in line with Russia and Egypt on gay marriage, he is silent, mindful of post-election alliance-building.

Most senior Conservatives worked hard for years to ensure that we did not have equality sooner. They employed populist politics to bolster their vote, stoking fear that equal rights would damage our society and traditions, just as the NI unionist parties are doing today. Cameron, Philip Hammond, Theresa May and their Tory colleagues supported Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 and an unequal age of consent and they fought to deny us access to adoption services. Gay marriage remains a political football for the DUP and the UUP and the Tories need to get off the sidelines and start refereeing.

Peter McGraith is an activist and writer.

As with all comment articles, the views expressed may not necessarily reflect those of PinkNews. 

More: civil partnership, DUP, equal marriage, gay marriage, Gay rights, gay wedding, lesbian marriage, lesbian wedding, LGBT rights, marriage, marriage ban, marriage equality, Northern Ireland, same sex marriage, Same-sex wedding, Scotland, wedding

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