I was having tapas yesterday with a gay and religious friend – he and his partner said vows together in church many years ago – and he said, perhaps thinking about the Archbishop of York’s comments – that he thought this whole “equal marriage” campaign was a mistake – it was just provocative, and there was no need for it.
John Sentamu said:
“Up to now, the only reason I have been given for a desire to redefine marriage to embrace same-sex relationships is that it meets an emotional need of some same-sex couples (only some, as I have forcefully been led to believe some reject the concept of marriage altogether).
“If the rights of civil partners are met differently in law to those of married couples, there is no discrimination in law, and if civil partnerships are seen as somehow ‘second class’ that is a social attitude which will change and cannot, in any case, be turned around by redefining the law of marriage.
“It may even make social attitudes go in reverse gear.
“So I submit that to use the law to redefine marriage when there is no legal inequity involved is a misuse of the statute.
“It must never be used to give comfort or reassurance but to remedy an injustice.”
It’s true that a lot of the campaigning for equal marriage has been about wanting equality – to be able to say simply “we are married” instead of “we are civil-partnershipped”. About not having a “separate but equal” bit of legislation. I think Sentamu is wrong on multiple counts, but he may genuinely be unaware, as my friend last night was, of three injustices which access to marriage will remedy.
The Civil Partnership Act allows pension companies to treat civil partners as “not spouses” in pension agreements. A private pension company can, when calculating a civil partner’s share of the main beneficiary’s pension, ignore all contributions made to the pension fund before 5th December 2005. This inequality will gradually become less relevant as the years go on (all contributions made after 5th December 2005 must be treated equally whether for civil partner, wife, or husband) but it is a considerable financial disadvantage for older same-sex couples.
Two: No forced divorce.
This will only affect a small number of people, but it is a huge discrimination. When a transgendered person applies for their Gender Recognition Certificate, if they are married, then they are required to divorce before they can be fully legally recognised as their true gender. This requirement is solely because UK law doesn’t permit same-sex marriages or mixed-sex civil partnerships. No one should be forced to divorce against their will, and no trans person should be forced to choose between full gender recognition and their marriage.
Three: Improved civil rights in other countries.
Marriage is universally understood, and explicitly recognised across national borders. Even a country in which gay marriages are not performed may recognise a same-sex couple as legally married (Israel and Mexico, Italy and France). But civil partnership, and other civil unions, may not be so recognised, and this can cause huge problems for the survivor if their civil partner dies.
Mary Fee MSP proposed:
That the Parliament welcomes the news that the Marvel comic, X-Men, will feature its first same-sex marriage, which will feature Northstar, believed to be the first openly gay comic superhero; understands that, in 1992, Marvel was the first comic publisher to reveal a gay superhero; notes that Northstar is not the first gay character to have had a same-sex marriage in the comic book world, and agrees that same-sex marriage should not be restricted to the world of literature and fantasy.
Though (nerd alert!) one reason Northstar could propose to his boyfriend Kyle is that Northstar’s real name is Jean-Paul Beaubier and he is Canadian. The ban on same-sex couples getting married was lifted in Canada between 2003 and 2005.
Same-sex couples can also marry in the Netherlands since 2001, in Belgium since 2003, in Spain and South Africa since 2005, in Sweden since 2009, in Argentina, Iceland, Norway and Portugal since 2010, and in the US in six and a half states, the District of Columbia, and in the Coquille and Suquamish Nations, since 2004 onwards. In not one of those countries have any of the fears which the anti-marriage brigade promote come to pass – not even including the claim that lifting the ban on same-sex couples marrying somehow “redefines marriage”.