September 26, 2011
Gay marriage: the homophobia is in the small print
Gay marriage might be a step closer to equality, but homophobia still lurks under the surface. H. J. Lucas explores the issue…
You could be forgiven for thinking that the Equality Minister’s recent promise of a formal consultation on “how to implement equal civil marriage for same-sex couples,” is a wholly good thing.
Same-sex couples will indeed have the same legal status as married heterosexual couples, but inequalities will still remain.
The consultation will not include a discussion of religious marriages, nor will religious organisations be forced to carry out same-sex marriages.
In other words, the government is allowing religious organisations to discriminate against same-sex couples purely on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
These double standards in the law create what Peter Tatchell has called a “sexual apartheid” and the promise of a consultation on same-sex marriage follows the pattern of much action concerning gay rights; a grey area of homophobia that lingers under the guise of progress towards equality.
Why will the consultation not include discussion of religious marriages? Some religious organisations actively want to be able to carry out same-sex marriages and they should not only be allowed to but also actively encouraged to do so.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 banned civil partnerships from taking place in a religious setting but this has now been scrapped. Why doesn’t the government just skip this ban and move straight to equality?
There is no good reason why same-sex religious marriages should be banned when religious civil partnerships are not.
One can’t help but think that the government believes that progress must be gradual in order to avoid upsetting the delicate sensibilities of the heterosexual majority.
This is homophobia in the small print which goes unnoticed amid the message that this is a wholly positive move for gay rights.
Should religious organisations be forced to perform same-sex marriages? There is certainly a tension between the freedom of religious organisations to decide how to practise their faith and the freedom of the LGBT community not to be discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation.
This tension will remain as long as some religious organisations are fundamentally opposed to same-sex marriage. Ideally, however, these organisations would realise that marriage has changed for both heterosexual and homosexual couples and they would not need to be forced.
A Church of England spokesperson said of the plans: “The Church of England’s view remains that marriage is a life-long relationship entered into between a man and a woman.” Seeing as only one third of marriages are now ‘life-long’, perhaps it is time the Church of England also accepted that the second part of its definition (the man and woman part) would also not necessarily be the case.
And since when was religious belief a prerequisite for getting married? For some heterosexual couples, their wedding day is one of the only days they have spent in a church. These religious organisations cannot cling onto dogmatic traditions and beliefs in the face of such change.
The Government must also make their position clear as a full supporter of gay rights rather than how they appear now: as a mediator between the church and the LGBT community trying to keep both sides happy.
So before we welcome the move towards same-sex marriages, we ought to read the small print and recognise that there is still a way to go, even if we are moving in the right direction.
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