Peter Tatchell Foundation submission to Equalities Minister
Minister for Equalities
Government Equalities Office
14 June 2012
Dear Lynne Featherstone,
Submission to the government consultation on marriage equality
We welcome and thank the government for its commitment to legalise same-sex marriage by 2015.
We see this issue as a simple matter of equality and non-discrimination.
In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. There should be no exceptions, not even on the issue of marriage.
Barring same-sex couples from marriage is unjust discrimination that serves no public good. It signals that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are deemed inferior, second class and unworthy of marriage.
In contrast, legalising same -sex marriage is the recognition that LGBT people are of equal worth, equally part of humanity and have the right to the equal validation of their love and commitment.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone is entitled to equal treatment and protection against discrimination, including the right to marry. UK equality legislation enshrines this same principle: equal human rights for all.
Marriage equality is consistent with these human rights values and principles.
The Coalition for Marriage has amassed 559,000 signatures against same-sex marriage; many of whom signed in the false belief that the government was going to force religious institutions to marry same-sex couples.
This issue is not about numbers. It’s about principles.
Even if there was only one same-sex couple in the whole of the UK and everyone else opposed their right to get married, that one couple would still be entitled to equal human rights.
Majorities, no matter how large or loud, do not have a right to ride roughshod over minorities. Human rights, including the right to get married, trump all other considerations.
In a free society, people of faith are entitled to believe that homosexuality is wrong and to not marry a person of the same-sex. However, they are not entitled to demand that their particular interpretation of holy text is enshrined as the law of the land and imposed on everyone else.
One of the litmus tests of a democracy is respect for the human rights of minorities. LGBT people are a minority but minority status is not a rational or moral reason to discriminate against them – or against anyone else.
Accordingly, we support full equality, not mere LGBT equality, and urge the government to legalise:
• Same-sex civil marriages
• Opposite-sex civil partnerships
• Religious same-sex marriages by clergy who wish to conduct them.
In a democracy, it is very important that there is equality for all, including for LGBT couples who wish to get married, for heterosexual couples who want a civil partnership and for same-sex couples who’d like a religious marriage.
All needless, unjustified restrictions should be repealed. The state should not impede individual choice. It should empower couples to make the choice that is right for them.
The UK’s current twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships are unjust discrimination. Equality in law is a fundamental principle of a democratic society.
Heterosexual civil partnerships
Equally as important as legalising same-sex marriages is the legalisation of opposite-sex civil partnerships. Equal human rights should be applied universally and without bias. Heterosexual equality is just as important as LGBT equality.
We are disappointed that the government has, thus far, not agreed to lift the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships. It is our hope that as a result of this and similar submissions you will reconsider and embrace the principle of equal rights for all.
Under the government’s plans to legalise same-sex marriage, but not opposite-sex civil partnerships, LGBT couples will end up with two options: a civil marriage or a civil partnership; whereas straight couples will have only one option: marriage. This is unfair and discriminatory.
From talking to people all over the country, we have amassed considerable evidence that a sizeable number of heterosexual couples would prefer a civil partnership. Some dislike the sexist, patriarchal history of marriage. They regard civil partnerships as more modern and egalitarian.
If this is the way they feel, the law has no legitimate grounds for impeding their wishes. They should be given a choice: a civil marriage or a civil partnership, identical to what the government proposes to offer same-sex couples.
Regardless of the number of straight people who would like a civil partnership – whether it is large or small – the fundamental issue is that the law should treat everyone equally.
Heterosexual couples should be able to have a civil partnership if they wish. Let them decide, not the state.
For the last decade, the Netherlands has had both civil marriages and civil partnerships open and available to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. Two-thirds of Dutch civil partnerships are now between straight men and women.
We believe there would be a similar take-up of civil partnerships by heterosexual couples in the UK if the current ban was lifted.
For all these reasons, we urge that both civil marriages and civil partnerships should be accessible to gay, bisexual and heterosexual couples, with no discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Religious same-sex marriages
We very much regret the government’s apparent intention to maintain the ban on religious same-sex marriages in all circumstances, even if people of faith want to conduct them.
This is not only homophobic discrimination against religious LGBT couples, it is also an attack on religious freedom. We urge the government to think again on this issue and to legislate fully for LGBT equality and religious autonomy.
In contrast to many other organisations, we go beyond urging that religious same-sex marriages should be permissible for faith organisations that wish to conduct them.
It is our contention that any individual minister of religion licensed to conduct marriages should be free to perform a same-sex marriage in their place of worship, if they wish to do so.
The license to conduct marriages is conferred on individual clergy and therefore the decision to conduct same-sex marriages should rest with him or her – not with the leadership of their faith organisation.
Allowing faith bodies to veto the conscience of individual clergy is wrong. It confers unjustified power on religious hierarchies to the exclusion of the individual minister of religion who holds the license to conduct marriages. It usurps his or her moral judgement.
This is why we urge the government to legalise religious same-sex marriages for licensed minsters of religion who want to perform them.
In addition to the aforementioned points, we urge:
• Civil partnerships should be retained for LGBT and straight couples who want an alternative to marriage.
• Existing civil partners should be given the option to convert their civil partnership into a civil marriage, with a special ceremony if they desire this.
• Married transgender people should not be required to divorce their spouse before they can receive a gender recognition certificate.
Thank you for giving consideration to our submission.
Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation