With a UK general election due within months, the political issues around gay inclusion provide some fascinating contrasts with the US – and with our own recent history. Perhaps the clearest example is that of gays in the military. Last night, at a reception to mark the contribution of the LGBT community to British life, Prime Minister Gordon Brown “paid tribute” to gay and lesbian members of the British Defence Force.
He told guests at 10 Downing Street, including a number of gay service members, that there was a “debt of gratitude we can never fully repay”. He said that the pride they felt was “nothing compared to the pride we feel in them”.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the British military allowing out gay soldiers.
Brown himself is sounding remarkably like Obama the candidate in his “fierce advocate” mode, promising that
“no one need walk the road to equality alone again.”
At the comparable reception last year, he slammed the Prop 8 ban on gay marriage in California.
Brown personally has an intriguing background here. Often described as a “son of the manse”, he is the son of a Scottish Presbyterian pastor, steeped in religious values and a strong sense of moral issues. In politics though, this moral sense finds expression in issues of social justice, not in enforcing sexual standards on others. So when he boasts to an LGBT audience of the gains under a Labour government, in which he was either the Prime Minister (as now) or the next most powerful member of the government as Chancellor of the Exchequer, we can take it that this satisfaction is genuine.
He also listed the achievements made for gay equality in the last ten years, such as gay adoption and fertility rights for lesbians, saying people had warned these things could not be done.
It is also worth remembering here, that in achieving this progress, he and his party have repeatedly come under strong opposition from the churches, including the Catholic church, as it has done again this week . The Cardinal of Glasgow has slammed the Labour government for its record on so-called “family values” – this in what should be a Labour stronghold, just months before a crucial election.
The one small contradiction between Brown’s words and government action is on gay marriage. In criticizing the absence of gay marriage in California, he has sidestepped the important point that here at home, gay marriage is also (technically) not legally recognized. To be fair, this limitation is only technical. The “civil partnership” legislation comes close to providing marriage in everything but name, with three important exceptions. The first, of course, is that name. Words are important, and the terminology around civil partnerships just doesn’t work in the same way. There are no exact counterparts to the words “husband” or “wife“, other than the very sterile sounding “civil partner” . There is no equivalent word for “wedding“, or for “married“, and no verb to take the place of “marry” . There is no way to say “Will you marry me?” that will work in quite the same way.
The legislation is so anxious to limit offending religious sensibilities on this that it is prohibited to host the commitment ceremonies in any religious premises, or to include any religious references in the words or music used. Many people would want to have some religious content, with or without approval from the established churches. Finally, there is the minor curiosity, probably of limited importance to anyone, is that the validity of the union does not depend on sexual consummation, as it does with heterosexual marriage. When the legislation was introduced, these weaknesses had very little opposition within th LGBT community, who then saw the legal protection offered, and the symbolism it offered, were (rightly) seen as a major advance, which was welcomed.
Now, sentiment is changing, and with it the political winds. Leading politicians have declared in favour of full marriage, including some leading Conservatives, and also the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the third party in British politics, who may well hold the balance of power in the event of a hung parliament. No major party or leading politician here ever speaks any more against gay inclusion, in any area of life. With Gordon Brown’s promises that we will no longer be “left alone”, it is reasonable then to conclude that there is now widespread political support to move from religion free civil partnerships to full civil marriage.
The only remaining question is, after the election, freed from the vote chasing, will there be any urgency to the matter, or will we see a repeat of Obama’s foot-dragging?
(Read the full report at Pink News)
- Gay Marriage, UK: The Legal Challenge Begins (Queering the Church)
- The End Is Not In Sight – But the Journey Has Begun (Queering the Church)
- Europe-wide Marriage Equality Coming Closer (Queering the Church)
- Equality and inclusion advancing, worldwide. (Queering the Church)
- The End Is Not In Sight – But the Journey Has Begun. (Queering the Church)
- Give Thanks For This Kairos Moment of LGBT Inclusion (Queering the Church)