Save the date, 29th March 2014. It’s the day that the first same sex marriages can be performed in the United Kingdom. However, let us take a closer look at this bill before we get too giddy with excitement and ignore its true implications.
If we think back to March, we can reflect on the passing of the Marriage Act 2013 without great difficulty and with limited public dissidence on the issue. I was, and still am, of the belief that this bill is a bad one. It has been hailed as a victory for equal rights, yet in my opinion it leaves a lot to be desired. I feel that passing a bill of equality with a list of exceptions and legal protections against the minorities it’s supposed to include isn’t actually that equal at all. The rebuttal to this from a few sections is that it’s a stepping stone in the right direction. My response to that is that civil partnerships were the stepping stone. Why do we need another one? Should we not have achieved full equality by now?
I worry that the Marriage Act 2013 will divide more than it unites and isolates LGBT individuals through the creation of a multi-tier institution of marriage.
Tier one: The Religious service. This is a marriage fully recognised by the state religion and is only open to heterosexual couples. Other religious institutions can ‘opt in’ on the option to marry homosexuals in a religious service, however, the Church of England is barred from the opt in. Further to this, the bill protects the Church and its ministers against discrimination claims.
Tier two: The Civil Marriage. A non-religious service open to both hetero & homosexual couples. This is backed by the state and is attached to the registry offices based upon the principles of a legal union.
Tier three: Civil unions that don’t wish to be “upgraded”, for want of a better word, to civil marriages. Currently only available to homosexual couples under the civil partnership act 2004, many would assume that with the Marriage Act there won’t be a need for new civil unions, yet some may still wish to pursue this route.
There has been a long running campaign to open civil unions up to heterosexual couples, an idea which I admit is lost on me. Civil Partnerships were introduced to provide the same legal protections and rights as married heterosexuals to partnered homosexuals. A sort of “Marriage in all but name”. So with the introduction of same sex marriages why is there a need for new civil partnerships to continue? In turn why is there a demand for and from heterosexual couples to have civil unions? The Marriage act has a civil and a religious option, going on the basis that a marriage is a legal contract between two people, and not necessarily connected with religious inclination. You can choose to support this with a religious service, but it is by no means required.
As an atheist, I lean towards the civil marriage. However, this is not to the detriment of those in my community who have religious beliefs and wihs to pursue a religious ceremony. I strive for equality for all not for some. And have been accused of “damaging the equal rights campaign” through not accepting the current state of play. When a government says it is going to pass an equality bill I would expect it to be equal in every sense of the word. Saying marriage is equal, except for the following, does not seem equal or fair. The government is trying appease the Church of England. I ask, why? The Church of England has shown how socially stagnant and regressive it is in certain sections through the initial rejection of female bishops. We will certainly have a long wait for equal marriage to be accepted within these circles.
But I ask, why can the Church pick and choose the laws it wishes to follow under the shadow of religious belief/ teachings? Why do we allow the Church to resist equality when the Church of England itself was born out of the resulting social change of a marriage dispute over the right to divorce? We accept divorce. The heir to the throne (and heir to the head of the Church) is remarried after divorce. Will the Church kick up a fuss? Upholding certain social prerogatives whilst compromising or ignoring others should not be enshrined in law.
If the three tiers stay in place (or two if civil unions cease to be an option) then I feel that we have a situation indicative of George Orwell. All marriages are equal, but some marriages are more equal than others.
I worry that once the Marriage Act comes into force, it will be years before we can speak out again in our quest for true equality. Pessimistic I know, but with the current attitude from some members of the governing parties, there is a belief that there are much greater things to worry about than real equality in marriage.
We gave them marriage, what more do they want? My answer to that is, equal marriage in every sense of the word. Show you intend equality. Allow love to be equal; don’t split it in two, or indeed three. Why is a heterosexual couple worth more to you than a gay couple? I implore you to re-examine the bill and ask yourself is this acceptable? Is this really equal? Could we do better? Don’t give up the fight, not until we are equal in every sense of the word. No exceptions.