Today, the Members of Parliament in Britain are going to vote on the issue of gay marriage.
For years now, same-sex couples have been allowed to have “civil unions” in the UK, which ostensibly offer all the same rights and benefits of “real” marriage. However, there has been increasing dissatisfaction with this arrangement, as many view it as a broken compromise.
My friend Emma explained the problem with Civil Unions perfectly on Facebook today:
“Nothing will take away from the commitment I made in my civil partnership, and it was every bit the perfect wedding, but the very fact that some people are holding on to this vestige of traditionalism and deciding to vote against the bill shows that in others' eyes, there still is some distinction between marriage and civil partnership - if it was already considered equal, this would be a non-issue.
“For each time I've had to tick 'civilly-partnered' over 'married' on a form, for the time the doctor said 'civil partnership - is that real? is that legal?', for each time I've had to explain that 'yes, it's like marriage, but not called marriage', I hope the ministers vote YES today.”
That, to me, explains why it’s so important that this bill passes – because the current compromise is poisonous to any notion of true “equality.”
A few years ago, when civil unions were first made legal in the UK, we Brits were incredibly self-satisfied about how we’d “solved” the problem of gay marriage; and finally found a solution for same-sex couples who wanted to make a commitment to each other.
But the fact that there was always a clear distinction between the definition of “marriage” and the definition of “civil unions” meant that they were never truly equal. In fact, the whole arrangement reminded me of all the segregation laws in the American deep south, which had promised to keep blacks and whites “separate, but equal” yet never lived up to the “equal” part of that promise.
The proposal to bring true marriage equality to Britain is being driven by the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition government, headed by Prime Minister David Cameron and backed by some of the country’s most respect politicians.
In a letter appealing to other MPs to support the measure, MPs William Hague, George Osborne and Theresa May argued: “It’s no longer acceptable to exclude people from marriage simply because they love someone of the same sex,” and insisted that supporting the bill was “the right thing to do at the right time.”
But passage of the same-sex marriage bill is far from guaranteed – and, ironically, opposition to the bill comes not from David Cameron’s political opponents, but from within the ranks of his own government.
More than half of the 305 Conservative MPs in Parliament have threatened to vote against the bill; threatening its passage, and hinting at a deep division within the government.
Conservative backbencher Nadine Dorries argued that the bill undermined “traditional” families, claiming: “The evidence to prove that the traditional family structure, of mum, dad and children is the one which works best for a strong society is overwhelming.” She makes this assertion despite the fact that she, herself, is a single mother to three daughters, who abandoned her husband to pursue her political career.
There is also considerable opposition to the bill outside of the halls of Parliament; especially from within the Church of England, where performing same-sex marriage will be illegal and lobbyists like Roger Scruton and Phillip Blond, of think tank ResPublica, claim that same-sex marriage “will erode and ultimately destroy the meaning of marriage.”
Even pro-gay advocates have their own criticism of the bill, with blogger Stayvers arguing that the proposal was a pointless and cynical gesture by conservatives, because, “It doesn’t make any structural changes to the existing social order, rewards gay couples for behaving in a way which society deems palatable, and manages to appear progressive. It’s a win all round for the powerful.”
But ultimately, my ears are deaf to all this criticism. I have yet to hear a cohesive argument against allowing same-sex marriage that isn’t mired in appeals to “tradition” or religious bigotry. But my friend Emma sums up the issue far better than I ever could:
“As far as I'm concerned, the biggest threat to marriage isn't more marriage. It's divorce. We got over that one about 500 years ago. Love makes up the majority of my DNA, I'm pretty sure of it. Love has to win today.”
Hopefully, love will. You can track the events in parliament as they happen here, on the Politics.co.uk live feed hosted by Parliamentary journalist Ian Dunt.