The passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill through both Houses of Parliament has been everything from heartfelt to outrageous, sensible to downright absurd. It has raised fears of hoards of aggressive homosexuals and of the real and present danger of a lesbian queen. It has prompted suggestions from noble lords that they should be allowed to marry their sons and reasonable contributions from interested religious parties.
The contributions of Yvette Cooper and Sir Gerald Howarth this evening epitomised the contrast between how the debate has been constructed on both sides. This evening also saw the Bill clear its final parliamentary hurdle and make its way to Royal Assent and into law.
The most positive thing about the passage of the Bill is that it has enjoyed not only cross-party support in Parliament but broad support with the public as a whole. It is heartening to see so many people in this country supporting the rights of others to marry, to share that love and commitment with their friends and family and to enjoy equal treatment under the law.
The passing of this Bill has many practical implications. It means that heterosexual people and homosexual people have the same pension rights. It means that the protections enjoyed by heterosexual partners are no longer denied to someone on the basis of sexuality. It means that there will be a lot more fabulous weddings. And yes, it also means more money for the divorce lawyers in years to come.
For me, however, the passing into law of equal marriage is not about pension plans and entitlements, as important as they are, but it’s about something much more. It’s about acknowledgement and acceptance.
When I was born in 1990, the age of consent for homosexuals was twenty-one as opposed to sixteen for heterosexuals. Section 28 meant that telling gay teenagers that it was alright to be themselves was illegal in schools. Homophobia was rife. Progress came, slowly but surely. In 2001 the age of consent was equalised. In 2003, the year I became a teenager, Section 28 was abolished and gay kids could finally be told in the open that their sexuality was not something to be ashamed of. In 2005 we had the introduction of Civil Partnerships and today, in 2013, we have the legalisation of marriage for homosexual couples. In twenty three years the political and societal change has been enormous.
This new law won’t change the fact that some gay kids face bullying. What it will do, however, is give the gay teenagers suffering this kind of abuse the knowledge that the country does not treat them differently. That the law does not treat them differently. That, with the exception of blood donation, they are not prevented from doing anything on the grounds of their sexuality.
Homophobia, like all other kinds of prejudice, is a taught behaviour. No-one is born hating gay people or opposing their right to love and equality. This kind of attitude is taught. Nothing will change the fact that some parents will still indoctrinate their children with unfounded, vicious hatred but children growing up in a society where marriage can be between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman will be children who grow up accepting this as normal and as something to be celebrated. A wedding and a marriage will be a celebration of all kinds of love, not just one.
There will be a lot written about this Bill and its legal implications. There will be support, opposition and apathy. Much of it will be important and reasonable. For now, though, I have only one thing to say.
From today, I have a future where the law does not discriminate against me on the grounds of my sexuality. I have a future where any relationship I am in will have the same status as any which my straight friends form part of. I have a future where I can, at some future date with a person I may or may not have even met yet, stand and declare my love and commitment in the same way as anyone else. I have a future where I know I will not be denied marriage. I have a future as an equal citizen of my country. There are no words adequate enough to explain what that really means so these will have to do-
To everyone who has supported this Bill in Parliament, in private, in public and in society, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.