Peter Tatchell, coordinator of the Equal Love UK campaign, writes:
For many months, the Equal Love campaign has been lobbying the Conservative party and government, and Tory MPs and activists, urging them to support the legalisation of same-sex marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships.
We’ve recently won the government’s commitment to marriage equality, but not to heterosexual civil partnerships. Never mind. We’ll keep fighting for the rights of straight couples until they get equality too.
Below is an article I wrote for Progressive Conscience, a liberal Conservative journal, which was published shortly after the government announced its commitment to marriage equality but before David Cameron’s speech to the recent Conservative party conference.
As you can see, to win over Conservatives we pitched our arguments to appeal to their Conservative values.
We were delighted that David Cameron backed marriage equality in his keynote party conference address.
Indeed, we were surprised, and flattered, that the Prime Minister’s speech echoed very closely the wording of our Equal Love briefings: Gay marriage is a Conservative value.
“Conservatives rightly encourage and approve loving, stable relationships because enduring care and commitment are good for individuals, families and for the well-being of society as a whole. If marriage is a Conservative value, then same-sex marriage is consistent with this value. Far from undermining marriage, gay marriage strengthens it. Conservatives believe in marriage. They should therefore support same-sex marriage precisely because they are Conservatives.”
Let me take this opportunity to thank everyone is who supporting the Equal Love campaign in the UK, especially the eight couples who have taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Together, with your help, we will win. Marriage equality is an unstoppable global trend.
Best wishes, Peter Tatchell, Coordinator of the Equal Love UK campaign
Two wrongs don’t make a right
By Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation
The Progressive Conscience – London, UK – Autumn 2011
Marriage is a Conservative value. So why did David Cameron, George Osborne and Theresa May take so long to support the right of lesbian and gay couples to get married?
The government has announced that it will consult on legalising same-sex marriage. But not until March 2012. Why the long delay? The consultation was supposed to start last June.
Moreover, the terms of reference explicitly exclude legalising opposite-sex civil partnerships and same-sex religious marriages by faith organisations that wish to conduct them.
It is odd that the Prime Minister wants to maintain the discriminatory laws that prohibit gay couples from having a religious marriage and heterosexual couples from having a civil partnership. Surely everyone should have a free and equal choice?
While religious bodies should not be forced to marry same-sex couples, those that want to marry gay partners – such as the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism – should be permitted by law to do so.
Many heterosexual couples would like to have a civil partnership, rather than a marriage. Why is David Cameron dictating that they can’t?
The Prime Minister’s proclaimed liberal Conservatism rings hollow when he opposes straight civil partnerships. It’s inconsistent for him to trumpet the western values of liberty and equality, while simultaneously refusing to endorse equality for heterosexual people. Can’t he see the contradiction?
Conservatives rightly encourage and approve loving, stable relationships because enduring care and commitment are good for individuals, families and for the well-being of society as a whole.
Contrary to what the critics say, gay marriage doesn’t undermine marriage, it strengthens it. At a time when large numbers of heterosexuals are cohabitating and not getting married, isn’t it a good thing that many same-sex couples still believe in marriage and want to be part of it?
The elimination of discrimination in marriage law is consistent with modern, liberal Conservatism, and with the Prime Minister’s personal pledge to eradicate homophobia and ensure gay equality.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, understands this. That’s why he wants the law changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. So do Tory MPs Margot James, Mike Weatherley and Chloe Smith. But, sadly, I am not aware of any other Conservative MPs who support marriage equality.
Under the current law, not only are gay couples banned from having a civil marriage in a register office, heterosexuals are banned from having a civil partnership. Two wrongs don’t make a right. In a democratic society, we should all be equal before the law. This means that both civil marriages and civil partnerships should be open to all couples, without discrimination.
Nearly two-thirds of the British people back marriage equality. In June 2009, a Populus opinion poll - http://tiny.cc/ipsqv - found that 61% of the public agree: “Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships.” Only 33% disagreed. We can probably safely assume that a similar poll today would reveal even greater support for gay civil marriages – and for the right of heterosexuals to have a civil partnership.
To challenge the current legal discrimination, eight British couples – four gay and four heterosexual – have filed a joint legal application to the European Court of Human Rights. They are seeking to overturn the twin bans on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships.
The eight couples are part of the Equal Love campaign - www.equallove.org.uk - which seeks to open up both civil marriages and civil partnerships to all couples, without discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Prohibiting black people from getting married would provoke uproar and accusations of racism. The prohibition on gay civil marriages should provoke similar outrage, as should the equally reprehensible exclusion of heterosexual couples from civil partnerships.
The bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships create a system of legal segregation, with one law for gay couples and another law for heterosexual partners. Segregation is incompatible with caring, compassionate Conservatism.
The legal advisor to the eight couples and author of their legal application is Professor Robert Wintemute of the School of Law at Kings College London. Outlining the legal basis of the Equal Love challenge, he said:
“Banning same-sex marriage and different-sex civil partnerships violates Articles 8, 12 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s discriminatory and obnoxious, like having separate drinking fountains or beaches for different racial groups. The only function of the twin bans is to mark lesbian and gay people as socially and legally inferior to heterosexual people.”
Since there is no substantive difference in the rights and responsibilities involved in gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships, there is no justification for having two mutually exclusive and discriminatory systems.
One of the same-sex plaintiffs, Matthew Toresen, explained:
“Scott and I have been together for over 18 years. Our love for each other is as valid as anybody else’s. We want to get married. It seems nonsensical to me that my two brothers are married to the women they love but that Scott and I are denied this social legitimacy and celebration. If the state is going to offer options about how relationships are recognised, these options must be available to all,” he said.
His partner Scott Maloney added:
“Language does matter. Marriage is universally understood as a meaningful commitment. As a gay man, I am expected to pay taxes, obey the laws and, if necessary, defend this country like everybody else. In return, I expect the state to treat me equally,” he said.
One of the opposite-sex plaintiffs, Stephanie Munro said:
“The institution of marriage has never appealed to me and it certainly doesn’t reflect my relationship with Andrew. We’re equal partners and we want to make an official, lifetime commitment to each other. But we don’t want to participate in a marriage system that has patriarchal foundations and rejects same-sex couples. We’d prefer a civil partnership,” she said.
The Greens and Liberal Democrats support reform, as does Labour leader Ed Miliband. The SNP and Plaid Cymru are expected to soon embrace equality. With this emerging cross-party consensus, and the backing of nearly two-thirds of the public, legislating equality would prompt little resistance and generate much goodwill for the Conservatives.
David Cameron should do the right thing by opening up civil marriages and civil partnerships to everyone, without discrimination.
It’s a win-win no-brainer for the Conservative Party. It would cost almost nothing, promote marriage, win the respect of gay and liberal heterosexual voters, and burnish the government’s progressive credentials at a time when it faces widespread criticism over public spending cuts.
Over to you, David.
* For more information about the Equal Love campaign and to sign the petition:www.equallove.org.uk (sorry, only UK residents can sign).
* Peter Tatchell’s campaign website: www.petertatchell.net
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