With the same-sex marriage bill passing its second reading, we hope it is the beginning of more progressive legislation for LGBT rights
In the past week we have seen a key battle for LGBT equality fought and won, with a healthy majority in the commons supporting the same-sex marriage bill. This has been the culmination of a great deal of campaigning, including from our own students’ union and the NUS, and has been greeted with general joy and euphoria from most quarters of note.
The acceptance of a community, whose very sexual preferences were seen as deviant and as a threat to the natural family unit in mere decades previous in this country, into an institution so incredibly associated with traditional family values is undoubtedly a significant symbolic step for the community. Thank god that long gone are the days of legislative persecution, of section 28, of even the existence of similar but decidedly separate civil partnerships only (though of course those could do to be opened up to two-sex partnerships, but that’s a different issue).
This government has had a fair deal of hypocrisy when it comes to LGBT issue. Equal marriage is the government’s attempt to appear queer-friendly, despite cuts to key services that disproportionately affect the LGBT community. These services include mental health provisions, homeless support, and sexual health services to name but a few. Less than 50% of Conservative MPs even backed this change, so we certainly should not be too quick to congratulate the government. Though a liberal conservative is better than the alternative, most certainly, though a relative scale.
Legislative equality is something all liberation movements strive for. It is no doubt an important and good thing, though it is not something which is without its problems. If we look to the womens’ movement, there are few areas where women are not legally equal to men – however this hasn’t meant an end to discrimination, indeed in many ways it has made it harder to fight it as it is harder to persuade people of the very real issue of oppression.
For the pink-pound spending well educated middle class gay men of Brighton, marriage equality and introduction into the great institution is probably one of the few remaining hurdles for liberation, but for others within the community whether or not very liberal religious organisations can hold marriage services, or that civil marriages instead of civil partnerships can be had makes little difference to everyday realities.
Friction that already exists between the constituent parts of the community may well come to be exacerbated by the equalisation of marriage, as the differences of levels of liberation and oppression become clearer. Whilst some portions of the community might feel that much of the fight is behind us, and that events such as pride should be a celebration of how far we have come when, for example, trans* people are unable to get passports or register their identity on even the most basic of forms (which normally ask to tick the box of male or female, as though there are but two options), when LGBT youths are eight times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts and when two-woman sexuality is routinely sold and presented for the benefit of men on the pages of ‘lad’s mags’. For many years the LGBT community has had friction between its constituent parts, one hopes that such breakthroughs as equal marriage do not ultimately come to do it harm.
Having said this, the effect of having LGBT issues discussed at such lengths in the House of Commons, and with the end of such debate being a win for our community (and all good sense) cannot be underestimated. For the LGBT youth seeing people clapping the victory in the chamber from the public gallery the feeling of not being alone, and no longer being ‘separate but equal’, is surely immeasurable. For the parts of the community that the legislation does not directly benefit, of which of course there are alas too many, it seems reasonable to assume that this legislation might herald more progressive legislation from future governments. Whilst there were of course the unfortunate members of the house who said stupid and bigoted things (including a beautiful moment when the classic ‘Adam and Steve’ reference was made, incorrectly), there were also great speeches in defence of the bill. Let us hope that Joe Biden was right when he pointed to trans* issues as the next great civil rights battle to come.
This is by absolutely no means the end of the struggle, but it certainly is a most important step forward, hopefully for all LGBT people.