Marriage Equality – Act now

September 24, 2010 3:11 pm

LGBT LabourBy Daryn McCombe / @daryn_mccombe

This year, at our AGM, LGBT Labour overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for equality in marriage and now we have succeeded in getting our contemporary resolution into the priority ballot this Sunday at Labour Party Conference in Manchester – now we need you to make this a reality.

If enough CLP and Trade Union delegates vote for it then we will have a debate which could see the Labour Party calling for, campaigning on and delivering full marriage equality for LGBT people across the UK.

Our motion calls for full equality in civil marriage for the LGBT community and full equality for the heterosexual community in civil partnerships. It will also mean that Trans people do not need to dissolve their current marriage or civil partnership provided that they and their partner agree to continue their relationship.

Even today LGBT rights campaigners are using this campaign to attack the Labour Party. But lets get one thing clear at the beginning – Labour, in power, did more for LGBT rights at home and abroad than any other British government. Labour has a proud record of equality and it is at the heart of our movement. But now is the time to go further.

There are 3 main reasons why I think delegates should support us on Sunday. 1) Separate is never fully equal, 2) its about liberty and 3) now is the right time.

1) Separate is never fully equal

I accept that the legal difference between Civil Partnerships and Civil Marriage is minimal in the sense they were an important advance and corrected many of the past injustices experienced by LGBT people. But small legal differences can lead to big social divisions. Social attitudes often aren’t shaped by the subtleties of legal debate but by the words that we use. At my civil partnership ceremony next year I will not be allowed to marry, instead I will register my civil partnership. The sentence leaves you cold and lacks the social meaning that marriage has behind it. Peter Tatchell puts it like this:

“Some people say that civil partnerships are sufficient for gay couples. This is hypocritical. They would not accept a similar ban on black people getting married.”

“They would never agree with a law that required black couples to register their relationships through a separate system called civil partnerships.”

“It would be racist to have separate laws for black and white couples. We’d call it apartheid, like what used to exist in South Africa. Well, black people are not banned from marriage but lesbian and gay couples are.”

Civil Partnerships were a massive achievement of which the whole party can be proud. But now is the time to reach further, to press on towards full equality – this motion does this, because whilst we are separate we can never be fully equal.

2) Its about liberty

Labour must once again become the champion of liberty. It cannot be right the state interferes in anyones personal relationships unless of course they are threatening or abusive in any way. How can it be right for two people who are married and want to stay together to be forced to divorce? It can’t, yet that is what the law forces married Trans people to do. Of course it’s important to ensure that the partners of Trans have the option to dissolve their marriages or civil partnerships but when a loving couple want to stay together the state should not interfere.

In the same way two people should have the freedom to choose the form in which their relationship is recognised by their families, friends and the state. If two men in a loving committed relationship want to have a civil marriage provided by the state, why shouldn’t they? Similarly if a woman and a man want a civil partnership why can’t they have one?

This motion is about people’s liberty and the right to choose how their relationship is recognised.

3) Now is the right time

Every single progressive move in modern history has been made by a Labour government. From race relations to gender equality Labour has been at the forefront of progressive change in our country.

All five of our leadership candidates are on record as supporting full marriage equality so whoever is declared the winner of the Labour leadership contest on Saturday they are ready to lead; all they need is a party that will follow.

Now is not the time for us to shirk this leadership. This week the Lib Dem Conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of marriage and Civil Partnership equality. I welcome their support for equality but they are locked into a coalition with the same old Tories who are unlikely to allow this to go forwards. No doubt the Tories want to gain some progressive credentials by talking about the issue but it is action not words that matter.

Public attitude is with us too. A survey for the Times in June 2009 cited 61% of the public in favour of the statement “Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships” only 33% disagreed.

Now is the right time for this motion to ensure Labour is at the fore front of the fight for equality.

If you’re a CLP or Trade Union Delegate you can help us
1. by voting for our motion in the priority ballot – remember the Trade Unions have the voting power to get their four motions onto the order paper – so CLP delegates can feel free to back our motion number one.

If you’re a CLP or Trade Union Delegate or if you’re attending conference you can help us
1. by lobbying your delegates to vote for our motion
2. by campaigning with us outside the leadership conference on Saturday and the conference venue on Sunday
3. by coming to our party

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