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Why Do LGBT+ Lib Dems Get Cross When I Say We "Achieved Equal Marriage"?

25/04/2017 12:44
MarcBruxelle via Getty Images

I've come across this a fair bit the last few days (can't think why it's been coming up *rolleyes*), and as it's a big frustration for LGBT+LDs I thought I'd better post about why.

Lots of people high up in the campaigns department at LDHQ think it's great to say that "we achieved equal marriage". They think that because we campaigned for equal marriage, and the Same Sex Marriage Act passed, we should trumpet our achievement. They think that calling it Same Sex Marriage is bad "framing" and Equal Marriage "sounds better".

The problem is that although we did campaign for equal marriage, we didn't get equal marriage. Here is a list of some of the things that remain unequal:
  • Northern Ireland. There is no recognition of same sex marriage there at all.
  • The Spousal Veto was a part of the Same Sex Marriage Act and actually made things worse for trans people. It's not extant in Scotland, but still applies in England and Wales.
  • Likewise, to get a gender recognition certificate prior to the Same Sex Marriage Act, if you were married, you were forced to have your marriage annulled, even if your spouse was supportive. These stolen marriages have never been restored, despite Same Sex Marriage now being legal.
  • Same sex spouses do not enjoy the same pension rights as mixed sex spouses. This is obviously unequal.
  • The church of England and the church in Wales are legally prohibited from performing same sex marriage ceremonies. This is manifestly unequal for same sex couples who are adherents to the state religion.
  • Adultery and non-consummation. To commit adultery, you must have vaginal intercourse with a member of "the opposite sex". Yup, not only is the strict gender binary embedded in law, but so is the necessity for PIV to happen for it to count as sex. This is... problematic for people who do not adhere to the strict one man, one woman, no genderqueer people model of relationships. Non-consummation of marriage and adultery both rely on PIV sex. And sure, reasons you might split up don't apply at the moment of marriage, but not every marriage will last, and equity in the divorce courts is surely a consideration before we start calling it equal marriage?
  • The special requirements for registering premises for the conduct of non-CofE religious same-sex marriages are more restrictive than for opposite-sex marriages in religious premises. If the premises are shared by several small denominations - which is often the case with evangelical, African and pro-LGBT churches - every last one of the faith organisations which share the premises has to give their permission for the premises to be used for same-sex marriages. In effect, anti-gay churches have a veto over pro-gay churches.
  • There's no humanist marriage in England and Wales (despite the best efforts of the lovely Julian Huppert) - which affects both mixed sex and same sex couples, but still means that humanists are second class citizens (unless they live in Scotland). Equal marriage should be equal for all beliefs (and lack thereof) as well as for all genders and sexualities.
Now, imagine you are one of the people who is affected by one of these things. Imagine you have been faithful to your partner for decades, and you've finally been allowed to marry under this legislation, and you retire loving and happy, only to discover that your pension rights are not equal.

Imagine you are a trans person, and your spouse has been supportive all along, and first you had your marriage stolen because that had to happen for you to get your gender recognition certificate, and when that happened you got a civil partnership because that was the best that was available and you loved your spouse, and then when same sex marriage came in you had to get married for a third time to convert your civil partnership into a marriage, and you'd meantime been supporting other people going through transition and the spousal veto had applied to some of those people... How would you feel in that situation if you were told that we'd achieved Equal Marriage?

Imagine you were the chair of an LGBT+ campaigning organisation. Imagine trying to persuade people that there are still inequities that need to be corrected, that people are still suffering injustices that need to be righted, that work still needs to be done, when everybody says but we achieved Equal Marriage, didn't we? What are you fussing about?

Imagine trying to persuade other LGBT+ people to vote for your party, when they can look at what your party is saying about "equal marriage" and think but they are completely tone deaf to the actual concerns of LGBT+ people, or else they would know that 'equal' marriage is nothing but!

For anybody, in any of those situations, Lib Dems trumpeting we achieved equal marriage! is going to feel like a proper slap in the face. It's going to feel like the inequalities and injustices that you suffer do not matter to Lib Dems. Equal Marriage, as framing, makes a very ugly picture indeed if you are suffering from one of the unequal effects of the Same Sex Marriage Act.

Please, please, please, for the love of Cthulhu, if you are a Lib Dem, stop saying we achieved equal marriage. We achieved same sex marriage. There's still a way to go before it's equal. Our leader gets this. Please get it too.

(this post originally appeared on my personal blog here)

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