Gay Marriage: Is It Time To Ban Inequality Once And For All?

06/01/2011 12:05 | Updated 22 May 2015

Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle don't want to get married. That's not so unusual these days - many couples decide that tying the knot isn't really for them. But this particular couple does wish to enter into another sort of union - one they believe is more appropriate to their balanced and modern relationship: a civil partnership.

Today, as part of the Equal Love Campaign, which is spearheaded by equal rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, they will make their application to Islington Council. They will be greeted with wagging fingers, tut-tuts and a resounding 'no' because, just as it is not legal for gay couples to enter into marriage, it is not legal for heterosexual couples to enter into a civil partnership. Ridiculous, no?

Since they came about in 2005 (and oh my god, how late was that coming?), civil partnerships have given same sex couples much the same rights as married people; once they've signed on the dotted line, they are recognised by law as couples, and as families. The fact that these unions could not be referred to as marriages was a sticking point, but many campaigners felt they had achieved what they had set out to - to secure the same legal rights for homosexual couples.

Nevertheless, it's really hard to understand why this 'gift' of near equality was never extended to the full. Here we are, in a democratic country that supposedly prides itself on equality for all, and yet only after enough pressure was exerted were gay couples told, "okaaay, you can have all your rights and everything, but you can't actually call it marriage - let's keep something sacred!"

What a load of old tosh, and so typical of the huff puff attitude that seems so damn hard to get rid of here. So what was the problem? Tatchell told me, "Civil partnerships were introduced as a compromise. The government did not want to upset the religious lobby and the right wing tabloids. They are a halfway house. It's now time to move on by legalising full same-sex marriage."

It seems crazy that we ever came to have this complicated, backward and discriminatory dual system, but it is time, says Tatchell, that it was modernised to the full. "Denying couples the rights to civil marriage and civil partnership on the basis of their sexual orientation is wrong and has to end. Both civil partnerships and civil marriages should be open to everyone, without any discrimination."

The campaign will see a total of eight couples, four straight and four gay, apply for licences they know they will be denied (Rev Sharon Ferguson and her partner Franka Strietzel have already been turned down - they applied to be married in Greenwich on 2 November). And the next step will be taking their cases jointly to the courts, on the grounds that denying everyone equal treatment is contrary to the Human Rights Act.

It's possible that even if the case goes to the Supreme Court, a judge might rule the decision is one that must be made in parliament. I look forward to hearing, then, what excuses are left in the House of Commons - especially in light of the fact that the Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1 October. The act clearly states it is: "the basic framework of protection against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation in services and public functions; premises; work; education; associations, and transport." Under this act, gay couples will in fact be allowed to enter into civil partnership in a place of worship, if the proprietor is in agreement.

Little by little.

To anyone who says marriage is a holy union between a man and a woman, I say more than two thirds of men and women marrying today choose a civil ceremony anyway. And, frankly, I suspect that many who do walk up those pretty, draughty aisles do so just because they can't resist the pomp and ceremony.

A Populus opinion poll last year showed 61 of votes this year, you'd hope they'll agree that that sort of majority is worth listening to in this case as well.

By: Pip Jones


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