Thursday 18 July 2013

Marriage Equality: Taking Stock And Preparing For The Future (AKA It Ain't Over)

Stonewall, yes that lot, have been crowing with victory over the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act. Celebrity friends have been pouring gratitude upon them and fawning over "man of the moment" Ben Summerskill as if he was the Messiah (and not just a very naughty boy). Perhaps we should pin this law wholly upon Stonewall as another mark against them.

During the process of the consultations on religious civil partnership implementation and then same-sex marriage Stonewall moved from "Meh" through supporting only civil marriage to accepting the Government's plans for religious and civil marriages. At no time did they lead the debate, simply following the suggestions of the Government rather than lobbying them for more. But more telling still is that they seemed oblivious to the flaws of the bill as it proceeded through Parliament and were hellbent only on seeing it pass unamended as originally proposed. This sort of uncritical devotion speaks volumes of Stonewall's lack of real emotional investment in the outcomes of the legislation.

I've said it during the debates and I'll say it again: this act is flawed. That doesn't mean I don't celebrate its passing. It is a brave step in the right direction. But, as I'd wished those who introduced civil partnerships had done back in 2004, I can both celebrate the Royal Assent and commiserate over the missed opportunities (and grave injustices).

When I took the time to really consider why I found civil partnerships so deeply unsatisfying, I discovered the terrible consequences the passing of the Civil Partnerships Act had had on the relationships and well-being of trans people. I won't pretend I knew about these all along, but once I did they persuaded me fully of the rightness of fighting for marriage equality. Before I'd just been grumpy, after I was truly enraged. (Christine Burns does a remarkable job of giving us some history here).

However the Act that has now been passed is not only insufficient in remedying the situation but is, in fact, only making things even more intolerable. Sarah Brown has been involved in bringing the problems with the "Spousal Veto" to everyone's attention and summarises the situation here.

As the situation cools and Stonewall loses interest and moves off in search of footballers who can be persuaded to wear one of their t-shirts, we must begin lobbying the Government to fix this issue.

Another inequality remains undecided. Pension equality was a sleeper issue, though well-known among marriage equality enthusiasts for a long time, and didn't really take off in the Parliamentary debates until the very end with people like Mike Fryer MP and Lord Alli championing the matter. They managed to get an amendment through that will ask the Department of Works and Pensions to reconsider the current restrictions. But that doesn't mean we'll get what we need so we must be vigilant and not let this review pass without careful monitoring.

Civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples is often considered somewhat of a joke but to those who want it, and to trans people in civil partnerships awaiting a GRC, it is important. Another review has been proposed and again we must be careful to ensure it happens transparently.

On a "minor" note, I'm still deeply concerned at the language of the bill which fails to create marriage equality in the style of most nations but instead creates a separate institution known as "same-sex marriage".

And we have the humanist wedding consultation ahead of us, an important challenge to the monopoly religion and the Government hold over marriage.

So there is still plenty to campaign on, to fight for and to defend. It is time to prepare ourselves for battles ahead.

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