From midnight last night (29th March 2014) same sex couples are now allowed to legally marry in England and Wales – The first same sex marriages took place shortly after midnight in town halls across the country.
Rainbow flags have been flying across the UK to celebrate this moment in history, parties were held in many gay venues to welcome the overdue change in legislation, over this weekend and into the future there will be many more parties and wedding receptions celebrating the marriage of same sex couples.
Whilst we celebrate the fact that same sex couples can now marry we have to remember that it is not equal as there are now two laws – The Marriage Act 1949 for straight couples & Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 for gay couples.
Rejoice! From this moment, the ban on same-sex marriage in England & Wales is history. It lasted a mere 43 years! Celebrate #EqualMarriage!
— Peter Tatchell Fdn (@PT_Foundation) March 29, 2014
Peter Tatchell writes about the long fight for Equal Marriage:
We must also remember that the battle for equal marriage in England and Wales did not begin a year or two ago. It started way back in 1992 when the LGBT direct action group OutRage! organised the first challenge to the ban on same-sex civil marriage. Five lesbian and gay couples from OutRage! filed marriage licence applications at Westminster Register Office in London on 19 March 1992. They were refused. But this was the opening shot in the long campaign for equal marriage.
Twelve years later, while most LGBT organisations accepted the second best option of civil partnerships when they were legislated in 2004, OutRage! continued the campaign for marriage equality.
In the run-up to the 2010 general election, the Conservatives were the only major party with no gay rights policies. Campaigns form various equality groups led by Peter Tatchell encouraged the Tories to hold a review of the ban on same sex marriage.
Three months after the election, the Conservatives announced that they had done a review and had decided to keep the ban.
In response to this intransigence, later in 2010 Peter Tatchell and Tamsin Omond formed the broad-based Equal Love coalition, with support from cross-party MPs, MEPs, trade unions, the National Union of Students and secular, humanist and LGBT religious organisations.
The Equal Love campaign was dedicated to full equality in civil marriage and civil partnership law. It sought the repeal of the twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships; pressing for both systems to be open to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Pride in Plymouth was proud to support the Equal Love campaign for IDAHOT Day (May 17th) 2011 we raised awareness of the campaign with a photo shoot in Plymouth City Centre where we informed members of the public about the ‘inequality’ of the two tier system. Many believed that civil partnerships was ‘marriage’ and good enough, however it was encouraging that many others supported full equality and signed our petition in support of the Equal Love Campaign.
On 2 February 2011, the Equal Love campaign filed a legal case in the European Court of Human Rights. Brought by four same-sex couples and four opposite-sex couples, it sought to have the UK’s twin discriminations in civil marriage and civil partnership legislation declared illegal. Just as same-sex couples were barred from civil marriage, opposite-sex couples were (and still are) prohibited from having a civil partnership. Our aim was to end both forms of legal discrimination. You can see the Equal Love legal case here.
Up until this point, David Cameron and the Conservative Party did not back equal marriage.
The main gay rights lobbying group, Stonewall, also declined to support same-sex marriage until late October 2010. It said civil partnerships were sufficient. The CEO, Ben Summerskill, incorrectly claimed there was little support for it within the LGBT community and that many gay people opposed marriage. Both these claims were untrue.
As well as briefing against the Equal Love campaign, Stonewall also exaggerated the cost of equal marriage rights; making absurd, unfounded claims that it would cost billions of pounds.
Stonewall’s refusal to support the campaign and its counter arguments were often quoted by homophobes to justify their opposition to same-sex marriage. This was hugely damaging.
Stonewall only switched to support equal marriage in late 2010, after a coalition of other organisations had done the groundwork and after they faced a huge LGBT backlash – including harsh criticism from two of their founders, Ian McKellen and Michael Cashman.
The Equal Love legal case in the European Court of Human Rights was significant. It was one of a number of factors that helped persuade the Conservatives to change their minds on same-sex marriage. Keen to detoxify the Tory brand, David Cameron did not want to go to the European Court of Human Rights to argue in favour of homophobic discrimination in marriage law. Moreover, he knew that we might win and did not want the embarrassment of being forced by Europe to legislate equal marriage, which would have been used against him by Euro-sceptics in his own party – and by UKIP.
Subsequently, three months after we filed the European Court case, the government agreed to consult on ending the ban on same-sex marriage. A few months after that – in October 2011– David Cameron made his now-famous Conservative Party conference speech where he said he supported same-sex marriage because he is a Conservative and because equal marriage is consistent with Conservative values – using very similar wording to the arguments that I had put to him and Conservative MPs the previous year.
The formation of the Coalition for Equal Marriage and Out4Marriage gave big boost to the pro-gay marriage campaign. Their lobbying had a huge positive impact; giving the push for marriage equality new momentum, as did lobbying and reporting by Benjamin Cohen of Pink News.
Securing same-sex marriage was ultimately the cumulative, collective effort of many LGBT organisations and tens of the thousands of grassroots LGBT people – and our many straight allies – who signed petitions, made submissions to the government, lobbied their MPs and wrote letters to newspapers. Bravo!
For more information about Peter Tatchell’s human rights campaigns and to make a donation:
There is further inequality with the new law as it has introduced another division where there are two legal definitions of marriage one that recognised by the Church of England and many other religious groups, and that recognised by the state.
The law prohibits the Church of England from performing same-sex weddings, and allows other religious organisations to refuse to perform them.
We wonder how many more years it will be before the UK Government amalgamates the two marriage laws into one and lifts the ban on the CofE performing same sex marriage?
The fight for Equality MUST continue!
The Fight for Equal Marriage Must Continue (Posted May, 24 2013)
Plymouth Supports Campaign for Equal Love IDAHOT 2011 (Posted May, 17 2011)
Same-sex marriage now legal as first couples wed – BBC News
Same sex couples in Plymouth welcome new marriage legislation – Plymouth Herald