U.K. government announces move towards marriage equality

Author: Dana Rudolph
Publication: Keen News Service
Publication Date:

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The government of the United Kingdom announced September 17 that it would begin a “consultation”—a formal process of soliciting input—on how to implement civil marriage for same-sex couples. But some LGBT activists have criticized what they see as delay over the issue.

Minister for Equalities Lynne Featherstone said Saturday that “this Government will begin a formal consultation on how to implement equal civil marriage for same sex couples.”

Currently, same-sex couples in the U.K. can enter “civil partnerships,” with the rights of marriage but not the name.

Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat, made the announcement at her party’s fall conference. The Liberal Democrats form the current coalition government of the country, along with the Conservative Party of Prime Minister David Cameron.

The consultation has Cameron’s “strong backing,” according to the U.K. Press Association, citing several unnamed Conservative sources.

The Conservative’s 2010 manifesto stated that the party would “consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage.”

And in 2009, Cameron issued an apology for his own and his party’s former support of Section 28, legislation implemented in 1988 under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Section 28 prohibited the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools or by other public authorities. It was repealed in 2003.

The upcoming marriage consultation will include only civil marriages, and will not take up the issue of whether same-sex couples can marry on religious premises, even of denominations that wish to let them. Until earlier this year, same-sex couples could not have civil partnerships on the premises of willing denominations, either.

The consultation will also not address whether opposite-sex couples could enter civil partnerships.

Featherstone said the consultation would not begin until March 2012, and that legislative changes would likely not come until “the end of this Parliament”—in 2015.

That prompted Stonewall, the U.K.’s leading LGBT advocacy organization, to issue a statement saying that it welcomed the announcement “as warmly as we have welcomed the previous two announcements that consultation was shortly to begin.”

Featherstone had stated in February 2011 that she wished to start a consultation on marriage. In May, she said it would begin “over the summer.”

Stonewall said they “regret” the Government’s apparent delay, but that they “look forward to the Government honouring its pledge that this legislation will be passed by 2015.”

Peter Tatchell, a leading British LGBT activist, had harsher words, asking in an article on his Web site (petertatchell.net), “Why do we need any consultation at all?”

“The ban on same-sex marriage,” wrote Tatchell, “is homophobic discrimination and should be repealed immediately.”

A 2009 poll conducted for The Times newspaper by polling firm Populus found that 61 percent of voters surveyed felt that same-sex couples should have an equal right to marry.

The Scottish government, which retains independent jurisdiction over certain issues, including marriage, launched its own consultation on civil marriage for same-sex couples on September 2. That government is currently led by the center-left Scottish National Party.

One American marriage equality organization has used the U.K. announcement—and its support by the Conservative Cameron—to urge the United States government—led by a Democratic president—to move faster towards equality.

Marc Solomon, National Campaign Director of Freedom to Marry, said, “It’s particularly impressive that Prime Minister David Cameron, the leader of the British Conservative Party, is leading the charge to move to full marriage in the UK. We repeat our call on President Obama to join Cameron in offering principled leadership, finish his ‘evolution,’ and join the majority of Americans who support the freedom to marry.”