This is not marriage equality

I hadn’t been to a wedding in what I had worked out was twelve years, back when I was four foot something and it was socially acceptable to fidget during hymns.

I was unimpressed, I remember that much, though I had always been the odd child who had never liked the fuss. You find yourself back there, as grown-ups do, watching another ceremony surrounded by distant female relatives in seismic hats.

“Marriage”, the clergy in charge will proclaim, “is a union between a man and a woman.”

It’s the definition of civility, to have the rules laid out for you. Useful too, in case you were planning a revolt or those dozing at the back just wanted clarification. I had heard the same line at my sister’s civil ceremony the month prior, though the registrar had had the good grace to look a little ashamed.

She may no longer need to, thanks to the ’Marriage Equality’ commission – or at least won’t by 2015, as these things do take time.

Centuries deemed to be the joining of a husband and wife for (a bit of property exchange and) procreation, this could fundamentally re-define the historic definition of marriage. For an institution obstinate in its antiquation, the enormity of this should not be underestimated.

It’s without doubt a move to rejoice over, but rather than get distracted by the glitzy appeal of long-drawn out legislation, let’s look at what we will actually be getting. (If the Government’s proposing, it’s only sensible to read the pre-nup.)

What’s being offered is a consultation, not legislation, and one that had been promised to start back in June. It’s now scheduled for spring – with no word on why ending discrimination needs debating or why to do so there needs be a delay. The purpose is to work towards the legalisation of same-sex marriage. This does not however include straight civil partnerships nor, crucially, anything but civil gay marriage. Religious marriage will continue to be solely between a man and a woman, and despite only being at the discussion stage, this aspect will not be included. Those religious bodies who want to practice non-discrimination will not be given a chance to even put their case forward.

January this year saw the ban on civil partnerships being held in religious places be uplifted. The move was welcomed, not only by individual campaigners but religious organizations – amongst others, Liberal Jews, Quakers and Unitarians. Eight months later, as each major Party applauds the announced commission, the idea of offering the same for marriage has not even been mentioned.

There is, contrary to claims of equality, clear inequality being maintained between two sets of people – one that instead of ending the distinction between unions creates just another form of division.

Lesbian and gay couples are being given their own brand of marriage, with the other choice-holding sort saved for heterosexuals.

Granted a religious element if they opt for a civil partnership, if instead marriage is chosen, the option is taken from them. That civil partnerships are permitted to have religious involvement ironically furthers the sense of segregation – it being solely for homosexuals and thus a union of lesser importance not in need of protection.

Marriage is being offered to gay people but with a condition, and does so ensuring it remains closed-off, the proper institution that will not be tainted.

It should be little surprise that in the fight for equality and respect for all shapes of family, David Cameron would end up failing. The man who as recently as 2003 voted against the repeal of Section 28, Cameron is now said to be “emphatically in favour” of gay marriage, seemingly having lost his bigotry one night in the past eight years.

There’s a need for honesty – not simply in the Coalition’s motivations (a timely gift to the Lib Dems presented as a change in morality) but what it is that the commission is actually offering. Those expected to look closer are failing, with Ed Miliband, traditionally outspoken on LGBT rights, having now fallen silent.

To permit same-sex couples to marry is a key step in the right direction but without allowing the option of religion it is a falsity to dress it up as anything remotely equal. It is marriage inequality between unequals – and as the grown-ups in each Party applaud themselves for their toleration, that should not be forgotten.

** As featured on New Left Project


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