Same-sex marriage in England and Wales commences

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March 29 saw the first ever same-sex marriages taking place in England and Wales, and it seems that everybody (according to my mother) has been celebrating tenfold.

To quote her directly, there have been “plenty of weddings/parties/shindigs from celebs and more ordinary folk.”

From Monday’s broadcast of “Our Gay Wedding: The Musical,” to the Cabinet Office raising a rainbow flag in celebration, my mother is far from wrong.

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted his support:

Britain has been steadily improving its LGBT laws since 1967, when the UK decriminalized same-sex sexual activity—thus finally striking down the “Buggery Act” from 1533.

Unfortunately, Margaret Thatcher’s introduction of the controversial Section 28 law followed in 1988, demanding that local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

While it was finally repealed in 2000 by Scotland and 2003 in the rest of Great Britain, Thatcher’s homophobic law was quickly replaced with the Civil Partnership Act of 2004, which allowed same-sex civil partnerships in the UK, entitling couples to essentially the same legal rights as a heterosexual married couple.

The first UK civil partnership took place on December 5, 2005 between Matthew Roche and Christopher Cramp. The ceremony was conducted at St Barnabas Hospice in West Sussex and the statutory 15-day waiting period was waived due to Roche’s terminal illness; he died the following day. Other civil partnerships began on December 19, after the standard waiting period.

In 2000, Her Majesty’s Armed Forces removed its ban on LGBT individuals serving openly. The age of consent was equalised regardless of sexual orientation in 2001. Additionally, same-sex couples in England and Wales were granted the right to enter civil partnerships and adoption in 2005, and transgender people were given the right to change their gender on legal documents.

Fast-forward to 2013, and the Conservative-led government finally passed laws permitting same-sex marriage in England and Wales, as well as recognizing overseas marriages.

As expected, there were months of debate over the legislation, touching on various factors. People questioned whether religious organizations and individuals would be required to conduct same-sex marriages against their beliefs, or whether teachers would have to promote or endorse views about marriage which go against their conscience.

Neither of these is true, of course, considering religious freedom is a prominent right in the UK and the legislation incorporated these freedoms into it, making it illegal for both Catholic and Anglican churches to conduct same-sex marriages.

But regardless of some opposition, mainly religious, Britain has seen none of the large protests France was subject to after the legalisation of same-sex marriage there. Polls have shown around two-thirds of the population support same-sex unions, and many have cited the introduction of 2005’s Civil Partnership Act as a reason for the public’s support.

March 29, 2014 marked the day these laws became a reality as dozens of same-sex couples took their chance to become the first to marry in the UK.

Among the first to tie the knot was actor Andrew Wale and guesthouse owner Neil Allard, who wed at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton just seconds after the stroke of midnight.

Comedian Sandi Toksvig and her partner Debbie renewed their wedding vows, joined by more than 2,000 people, with a host of celebrity faces in a public ceremony.

Politicians from the entire political spectrum lauded the law coming into effect. After years of opposition, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has announced that the Church of England will no longer campaign against the new law.

Although it’s safe to say that the battle for full and unbounded equality is not yet won, the marked governmental celebration and continued public attachment to the importance of LGBT rights suggests people won’t just accept same-sex marriage as the end of the movement.

And considering a recent research poll of 1,007 British adults by ComRes for the Stephen Nolan Show showed that eighty percent of adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four were in favour of same-sex marriage, compared with forty-four percent of over sixty-fives, full equality is not too far away.

So I say those recent “weddings/parties/shindigs” are one of the most significant turning points for LGBT rights, as the United Kingdom finally accepts that both heterosexual and homosexual love are equal in every sense of the word.

429Magazine

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