Sunday, 4 July 2010

An Open Letter To Lynne Featherstone @lfeatherstone

Dear Ms. Featherstone,

Yesterday it was reported that you would be beginning "consultations" about the status of equal marriage and civil partnerships sometime in the future ( It also reports you'll be contacting both sides in this consultation, in effect suggesting equality is not an automatic right for all citizens but one that should be negotiated. I do wonder if the Government of the day consulted racists whilst creating the Race Relations Act. I also wonder who will be "representing" the LGBT community. I suspect Stonewall may well be consulted. This unrepresentative group doesn't represent the LGBT community in full nor support equality. I trust this will be kept in mind when listening to their "concerns".

However, in the spirit of consultation, I thought I'd write to you on my own behalf to call for something radical. Equal marriage. I understand that the idea of allowing people to marry who they wish is alien to our Coalition partners, but thanks to the Lib Dems "Marriage Without Borders" campaign, I trust you are a little more supportive of the concept. I, unfortunately, have become concerned at your recent Parliamentary answer to Chris Bryant MP in which you suggest that rather than support equality, your Government would further embed the unequal status of civil partnerships by allowing a religious component. Whilst the recognition that LGBT people, and religious organisations that support them, have religious freedom rights just like those who identify as heterosexuals is welcome, the result of that move would be to set back the cause of equality for quite some time to come.

The simplest and easier way to allow people in the LGBT community religious freedom would be to remove those sections in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which forbid or cause the dissolution of such marriages. This would allow them to choose a civil or religious marriage as they deem fit without impeding anyone else's freedom to have their own sort of marriage or partnership.

It would solve other problems too. As you know, the separate nature of marriages and civil partnerships unfairly discriminate against those in the transgender community. Removing the right sections of the act stated above would remove this discrimination and allow those couples who wish to remain together after one transitions to do so. We also have a confusing state of affairs whereby a couple may legally marry in another country, such as Canada, but find that upon their return to the United Kingdom they have their status "demoted" to a civil partnership. This creates legal confusion and, more importantly, a great deal of distress to those involved. With marriage equality on the march around the world, we need to have a like for like (rather than a best match) institution in our country to solve any misunderstandings that might otherwise arise.

How does the Government plan to tackle discrimination against members of the LGBT community when those same members are discriminated against by the Government? The Judge in the case of Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger, a couple married in Canada, clearly ruled that they WERE being discriminated against. Religious civil partnerships will not solve this. A separate set of rules for transgendered people would only create confusion (and would fly in the face of the simplification of laws called for by Nick Clegg in his Your Freedom initiative). The only answer is marriage equality. Religious freedom, equality, and basic human decency demand it.

You have a chance to progress equality. You also have a chance to set it back by years, perhaps decades. I beg of you, please make the right decision. LGBT people still have no voice, whilst people and organisations such as Stonewall, Chris Bryant MP and Nick Herbert MP further their own careers and objectives by denying the need for equality. We need people to speak for us, to defend us and to raise us up from our current second-class citizen status. Please let one of those people be you.

Yours Faithfully

Jason Kay

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist


lynne said...

Hi Jason

I hear what you say.

Paul Brownsey said...

Dear Lynne,

'I hear what you say' is an evasive phrase which could mean anything and nothing. The rapist hears the victim's pleas to stop, even though he carries on.

A major source of the problem here is that the religious claim ownership of marriage, even of civil marriage, as though a man and a woman who marry in a register office were 'really' entering into a religious institution. It is legitimately open to them to say who qualifies for religious marriage but not to dictate who is eligible for marriage simpliciter, and that is what they seek to do.

Jae said...

I think it's deeper than that. Religious organisations should be free to marry (and not marry) whomever they so wish. What the mainstream religious organisations seem to forget, in their claims of "an attack on religious freedom", is there are, right now, other religious groups who do want to offer religious gay marriage (such as the Society of Friends). It's truly hypocritical of any religious organisation to say "Because it doesn't work for us, it shouldn't be allowed".