UK Home Secretary promises equal marriage for same-sex couples

Posted Mar 21, 2011 by Andrew John
Britain's Tory Home Secretary Theresa May has promised government action on legalising formal marriage for gay couples. Straight couples, she says, will also be able to choose civil partnerships.
UK Home Secretary Theresa May
UK Home Secretary Theresa May
Wikimedia Commons
Civil partnerships have been available for same-sex couples since 2005, but not for opposite-sex partners.
It was Teresa May's first major speech on gay rights, and she also spoke about the Con–Dem coalition's wish to allow religious groups to host civil partnerships.
May was speaking at an event hosted by the gay lobby group Stonewall. She said: "No religious group will be forced to host a civil-partnership registration, but for those who wish to do so this is an important step forward, not just for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights but also for religious freedom."
Europe's biggest gay news outlet, Pink News, reported in mid-February that the British government had "admitted that there is an imbalance between civil partnerships and civil marriage and is actively examining ways of addressing this."
The outlet continued: " understands that the government’s preferred option is to eventually open civil marriage and civil partnerships to all couples, whether straight or gay."
Equality 'about fairness'
In its latest story, Pink News says that, although May had voted in favour of civil partnerships, "she had voted against an equal age of consent [it now stands at 16 for bot gays and straights], gay couples adopting and the abolition of Section 28 [of the Local Government Act 1988] – an effective ban on discussing homosexuality within schools."
The outlet points out that, after her appointment, May wrote a column for it in which she called for cultural as well as legal recognition of LGBT people.
May told the Stonewall gathering: "For me, equality is about fairness: it’s about equal treatment and equal opportunity.
"It’s about building a better society. Not a society where everyone gets the same outcomes. But a society where everyone is treated equally; and where everyone is given the same opportunities – regardless of their gender, their race, their gender identity or their sexual orientation."
She said later in her speech: "And we will go further: we will implement Section 202 of the Equality Act, which will remove the ban on civil partnership registrations being held on religious premises.
Quakers and Liberal Jews
"No religious group will be forced to host a civil partnership registration, but for those who wish to do so this is an important step forward, not just for LGB [lesbian, gay, bisexual] rights but also for religious freedom. Let's not forget that this amendment was brought forward in response to religious groups such as the Quakers and Liberal Jews wanting to celebrate civil partnerships."
More than a year ago – in February 2010 – even some Anglican Bishops wanted to see religious same-sex civil-partnership ceremonies and Britain's Green Party were calling for such ceremonies to be religious for those who wanted them to be.
Some senior bishops in the UK’s upper legislative chamber, the House of Lords, told The Times back then that they would support an amendment to the Equality Bill the following month, effectively lifting the ban on civil-partnership ceremonies in religious premises.
The Green Party became the first political grouping to officially support an end to the ban.
When civil partnerships for same-sex couples became active in 2005, it was specifically stated that no religious building or religious language should be used, which has led to campaigns by several groups since then.
However, in February this year a senior Roman Catholic, Archbishop Peter Smith, said ending the current ban would threaten traditional marriage and said his church would strongly oppose it.
Collision course
The Guardian reported: "A statement from the archbishop of Southwark, the Most Rev. Peter Smith, said it was neither 'necessary nor desirable' to allow gays and lesbians to have civil partnership ceremonies in religious premises and accused the government of 'considering a fundamental change to the status of marriage'."
The paper said the Catholic Church was on "a collision course" with the government.
Smith is quoted as saying: "Marriage does not belong to the state any more than it belongs to the church. It is a fundamental human institution rooted in human nature itself. It is a lifelong commitment of a man and a woman to each other, publicly entered into, for their mutual wellbeing and for the procreation and upbringing of children."
The Guardian goes on to say: "There was also implicit criticism of those religions and movements supporting the change – Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews have welcomed the government's modernising agenda."