Rejoice! The ban on same-sex marriage in England and Wales is being finally lifted after a campaign for its repeal that lasted 43 years. The ban was imposed for the first time in 1971. Previously, there was no legal prohibition on lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) couples getting married.
The 1949 Marriage Act does not require marriage partners to be male and female. The outlawing of same-sex marriage is a recent and historically brief invention by what was a deeply homophobic political and religious establishment.
At last, in the first few seconds of 29 March, the ban on same-sex marriage is history. Equal marriage will become a reality. Hurrah!
This is the culmination of a long and often lonely battle to secure marriage equality. For more than two decades, I championed the campaign to open up civil marriage to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. This included organising the first challenge to the ban, when five same-sex couples from the queer rights direct action group OutRage! filed marriage licence applications at Westminster register office on 19 March 1992.
Peter Tatchell and OutRage! organised the first challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage, when five lesbian and gay couples filed applications for marriage licences at Westminster register office on 19 March 1992
As organiser of the subsequent Equal Love campaign, I pushed not only for equal marriage but also for the repeal of the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships. Denying straight couples the right to a civil partnership is just as bad as prohibiting LGBT couples from marrying. This is a fight against discrimination that I am still fighting. I support heterosexual equality too.
The coalition government made the legalisation of same-sex marriage needlessly complicated. All it had to do was repeal the law banning same-sex marriage. Under the main marriage statute, the Marriage Act 1949, there is no legal impediment to the marriage of LGBT couples. They are, by default, allowed to marry.
Instead, David Cameron and Nick Clegg chose the senselessly complicated, convoluted option of legislating a completely new set of marriage laws exclusively for same-sex partners.
We now have two separate marriage laws - the Marriage Act 1949 for opposite-sex couples and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 for same-sex couples. This is not equality. It is segregation in law.
The ban on same-sex marriage was first enacted in the Nullity of Marriage Act 1971. It was made law to head off attempts by trans people and same-sex partners to get married. This ban was later incorporated into the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.
All the government needed to do to ensure marriage equality was repeal the 1973 Act and amend some secondary legislation. That would have been the simplest, cheapest, fairest and most principled way to ensure equal marriage for all.
Speaking personally, I would not want to get married. I share the feminist critique. Marriage has an unseemly patriarchal, heterosexist history. But as a democrat, I defend the right of others to marry if they wish. I believe we should all be equal before the law; that homophobic discrimination is wrong and should be overturned. Banning LGBT people from marriage is anti-gay and anti-trans discrimination. That's why I fought to overturn it, despite my own personal reservations about the institution of marriage. I say: love and let love. Let everyone have equal rights and responsibilities.
I will attend the first - or one of the first - same-sex marriages in the UK. It takes place immediately after midnight - on Friday night / Saturday morning - at Islington Town Hall in Upper Street, London N1 2UD.
My friends, Peter McGraith and David Cabreza, who have been together for 17 years, will marry. I am their chief witness.
The two grooms will be joined at the Town Hall by a large throng of friends, well-wishers and LGBT equality supporters from 11pm.
You are invited to join us outside the Town Hall on Friday night for this historic, momentous occasion. Because of limited space, only official wedding guests will be able to get inside.
Peter McGraith and David Cabreza will hold press conferences outside the Town Hall on Friday night just after 11pm and again just after midnight. You'll have a chance to greet them and share their joy. Bring your friends - and bring rainbow flags, streamers, whistles, sparklers, vuvuzelas and flowers. Celebrate with us the overturning of a 43-year-old law that denied same-sex lovers the right to wed. See you there!
For more information about Peter Tatchell's human rights campaigns, to receive his campaign e-bulletins and to make a donation: www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org
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