Historically, the battle for equality has been hard fought by minority and marginalised groups fighting for the right to be considered equal under the law.
How we get there is often a long and winding road taking many detours along the way, and the jury’s out on how close we currently are to achieving it. Increasingly, laws are being passed (in the UK anyway) that prohibit discrimination against anyone on the grounds of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and pretty much anything else you can think of. That doesn’t always mean those protected under the law are treated as equals by society in general, but it’s a start.
The fight for gay marriage had one giant stepping stone with the Civil Partnership act of 2004. It allowed same-sex couples to obtain similar rights and responsibilities as straight civil marriage and for the first time, gay men and women in committed relationships were given lasting validation and protection under the law.
But it wasn’t marriage and so the fight continued.
Many people questioned why the word “marriage” was so important. If we had essentially the same rights as a heterosexual married couple, what’s the point in carrying on? Why bother campaigning for what boiled down to a word?
Surely we know now it was more than that. For millions of people, the word “marriage” still stands for so much more than a legal contract. Even some religions were lining up for the right to marry same-sex couples (many Quakers felt deeply uncomfortable that they could not) but were left at odds with the law.
Beyond that, even those who are uninterested in marriage could surely see that equality can never fully take hold while one group is expelled from the standard norms and traditions of the rest of society. Beyond our personal draw towards certain traditions or ways of life, we must see that it’s important we have the option to choose our paths from an open map and remove the obstacles and red tape faced by some demographics and not others.
Equality is about basic fairness as much as anything else – about choice as much as oppression. And so, on 13th March 2014, legislation came into force and equality in England was celebrated by all!
Except it wasn’t.
For the first time, certainly in my life, a lack of equality went the other way. Gay people now have marriage and civil partnership. Straight people only get one.
Again, some are asking why it matters. If civil partnerships were the booby prize, why would a heterosexual couple want one? You already have the golden ticket, take it and be happy that you always could!
But, just like those who see the word “marriage” as an important step to equality and a proud banner of love, commitment and often faith; many couples feel uncomfortable with the historical connotations of the contract (not to mention the fact it’s been such a barrier to equality in the past!) and want to commit to each other both in life and law without the baggage of a sexist, elitist and monetising institution.
To many, marriage has a history too often associated with ownership, expectation, and to the atheists amongst us – God.
To be honest though, whether you understand the motives of individual couples doesn’t really matter in the end. You’re entitled to your opinion, but your opinion should not be enshrined in law.
It’s simple really. Equality goes both ways, and regardless of whether you share the belief of these men and women, you have a duty to support their right to choose how they express their love.
It has been through the increasing support of heterosexual campaigners and allies that we were able to take the final step to marriage equality in the first place. These are the men and women who stood by us in our fight, now it’s time to give something back.
So whether you’re gay, straight, single, married, in a civil partnership or somewhere in between, support civil partnerships for heterosexual couples, because everyone has the right to choose their own path, and until equality is the norm, none of us should be satisfied.
Frankly, it’s just common sense.
Ask your MP to vote for #equalcivilpartnerships on FRIDAY 13TH JANUARY
Start a discussion. Share your views and stories at firstname.lastname@example.org