Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone MP, has been urged to initiate a government review and public consultation on the ban on gay civil marriage.
The call came from OutRage! campaigner Peter Tatchell during a meeting with Ms Featherstone and other lesbian and gay rights campaigners, which took place at the House of Commons on Tuesday 27 July 2010.
The meeting was convened by Ms Featherstone to take soundings from gay campaigners on allowing civil partnerships to have a religious content, which is currently prohibited, and on the option of extending civil marriages to same-sex couples.
“The coalition government should undertake a public consultation to determine whether the ban on gay marriage ought to be lifted. It should invite representations from individuals and organisations and, on the basis of the submissions received, decide if the ban should stay or go,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
“Maintaining the ban without considering public opinion is unreasonable and unjustified,” he said.
Ms Featherstone responded by saying that the government needed to take one step at a time, beginning with giving religious bodies the option to hold civil partnerships, if they wished, in accordance with Lord Alli’s successful amendment to the Equality Bill earlier this year.
Mr Tatchell replied:
“Action on improving civil partnerships and reviewing the ban on gay marriage are not mutually exclusive. They could run together in tandem.
“This is an issue of equality. In a democratic society, we are all supposed to be equal under the law. The bans on same-sex civil marriage and on heterosexual civil partnerships are not equality. They are discrimination. It’s anti-democratic.
“The government is out of step with popular opinion. Without any major campaign or wider debate, nearly two-thirds of the British public now say that the law on civil marriage should not discriminate.
“A Populus poll for the Times newspaper in June 2009 found that 61% of the public believe that: ‘Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships.’ Only 33% disagreed.
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“Marriage is the gold standard. Civil partnerships are second best. They are not equality. A separate law is not an equal law.
“We would not accept the government telling Jewish people that they were prohibited from getting married, and offering them instead a separate Jews-only civil partnership system. We’d say it was anti-Semitic and not the kind of law we would expect to find in democratic Britain. Well, that’s the way I feel about civil partnerships. They are institutional homophobia.
“Civil partnerships create a two-tier system of partnership recognition: one law for heterosexuals, civil marriage, and another law for same-sex couples, civil partnerships.
“This perpetuates and extends discrimination. The homophobia of the ban on same-sex civil marriage is now compounded by the heterophobia of the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships.
“Just as a gay couple cannot have a civil marriage, a straight couple cannot have a civil partnership. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
“The official policies of Liberal Democrat, Conservative, and Labour parties do not support same-sex civil marriage. They oppose it. They support discrimination.
“The Green Party is, so far, the only party officially committed to giving same-sex partners the right to civil marriage – and to giving heterosexual couples the right to civil partnerships,” said Mr Tatchell.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell will receive an Honorary Doctorate for services to human rights, this Friday, 23 July.
The award from Sussex University will be made by the Chancellor, Sanjeev Bhaskar, at the graduation ceremony at Brighton Dome.
It is in recognition of Mr Tatchell’s 43 years of campaigning for human rights, democracy, global justice and LGBT freedom.
Commenting on his Hon D.Litt (Sussex), Mr Tatchell said:
“I was hesitant about accepting this honour. After all, my contribution to human rights is very modest. I am a long way from being a brave and effective campaigner. Many others are much more deserving than me.
“I would never agree to a royal honour but this award is different.
“My decision to accept was partly because the initiative for this honorary doctorate was a grassroots one, from the staff and students. I am honoured by their recognition of my human rights work.
“I accept this award in solidarity with the many heroic, inspirational activists who I support in countries like Uganda, Somaliland, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Baluchistan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Western Sahara, Iraq, Palestine and West Papua.
“The message I will deliver in my acceptance speech is this: Be sceptical, question authority, be a rebel. All human progress is the result of far-sighted people challenging orthodoxy, tradition and powerful, vested interests. Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream about what the world could be – then help make it happen. In whatever field of endeavour you work, be a change-maker for the upliftment of humanity.
“I do my bit for social justice, but so do many others. Together, through our collective efforts, we are helping make a better world – a world more just and free. .
“My key political inspirations are Mohandas Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst, Martin Luther King and, to some extent, Malcolm X. I’ve adapted many of their ideas and methods to the contemporary struggle for human rights – and invented a few of my own.
“I began campaigning in my home town of Melbourne, Australia, in 1967, aged 15.
“My first campaign was against the death penalty, followed by campaigns in support of Aboriginal rights and in opposition to conscription and the Australian and US war against the people of Vietnam.
“In 1969, on realising that I was gay, the struggle for queer freedom became an increasing focus of my activism.
“After moving to London in 1971, I became an activist in the Gay Liberation Front, organising sit-ins at pubs that refused to serve ‘poofs’, and protests against police harassment and the medical classification of homosexuality as an illness.
“I was roughed up and evicted when I disrupted Professor Hans Eysenck’s 1972 lecture which advocated electric shock aversion therapy to ‘cure’ homosexuality.
“The following year, in East Berlin, I was arrested and interrogated by the secret police – the Stasi – after staging the first gay rights protest in a communist country,” said Peter Tatchell.
Read more about Peter Tatchell’s four decades of human rights campaigning here.