When numerous same-sex couples said “I do” on the stroke of midnight in England and Wales yesterday, the same-sex marriage milestone was finally reached by many who had long campaigned for what is being hailed as a victory for equality. There was a rush by many to coordinate their nuptials in order to claim the accolade of being the first same-sex couple to get married in the UK. However, although the joyous moment for countless LGBT lovers was celebrated by many, there were still those who sought to rain on the gay parade, as it were, and deride the move as a crime against faith. Thus it seems that same-sex marriage is still a needless source of controversy in the UK despite its recent legalization.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passed in July of 2013 but it was not until March this year that couples were able to actually tie the knot properly after registering their intention to do so under the act. The legislation does not cover the whole of the UK, being specific to England and Wales, however Scotland has passed similar laws which will come into effect later on in the year. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland remains fairly stringent in its bias against same-sex relations, mainly due to their predominantly Catholic population.
It is the Catholic Church which has proven the biggest source of vocal opposition to same-sex marriage and which continues, even now, to campaign against its new legal status. This is despite the fact that none of the legislation requires churches or Catholicism to recognize or carry out marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples (although surely there is not likely be a high demand for them anyway?). The basis of their argument is grounded in the principles of a traditional family unit and the purpose of marriage they declare is provided in their scriptures as procreation, a biological impossibility for same-sex couples. Despite the support of the Church of England (which is Protestant) on the matter, many Catholic groups have voiced considerable protest throughout the long fought campaign for equality of marriage rights.
Given the issues which the Catholic Church has had in the past over a high incidence of underage forced sex, often between self-confessed celibate members of the clergy and children under their care, it would perhaps be a better use of their time to campaign against that pernicious practice that is a latent hypocrisy within their religion instead of targeting innocent people just trying to affirm their love for one other. Their increasing calls for tolerance to be extended to their views on the issue of same-sex marriage are undermined by their refusal to accept that marriage is not an institution presided over by religion and certainly not by Catholicism specifically. If it was, the vast majority of people in the world would be ineligible to get married as atheism, other faiths and people who just do not care, vastly out-weigh the number of Catholics in the world.
Yet despite these heart-warming assertions in reference to love and its universality, the fact remains that almost a fifth of the nation would not attend a same-sex marriage ceremony and a significant proportion of the population still vehemently oppose the legislation, thus illustrating the needless controversy that still surrounds same-sex marriage. However, it may just be a case of people being set in their archaic ways as research suggested that young people were much more likely to support same-sex unions than their older counterparts, with 80% of 18-34 year olds in favor while only 44% of over-65’s amenable to the change. Also women were more likely to support the practice than men, with three-quarters of females polled backing it, compared to the 61% of men giving it a thumbs up.
However, apart the conservative backlash the achievement of reaching the same-sex marriage milestone has been hailed by many politicians and famous faces as a victory for equality in the UK. There have been numerous messages of support for the newly weds and those soon to walk down the aisle. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, spoke of how it sent a message to people about the nature of equality and that love should not be divided or determined by law while his deputy Nick Clegg claimed that the UK would become a “different place” as a result.
The gay and lesbian community have been overwhelmed by the positive response from so many people and insist that the focus should be on the progress that has been made and the many reasons to celebrate such a decision, rather than fixating on the negatives. Many rightly see this as a marker of how far the county has come regarding their approach to equality. Only 25 years ago it was illegal to discuss same-sex relationships in schools, LGBT people were eligible to be sacked from employment due to their sexual preferences as well as being banned from serving in the armed forces. Between then and now there has been a steady progression towards this landmark decision with lobbying for homosexuality to be a legal choice, then for the age of consent to be equal with that of heterosexual couples and then a steady stream of demands overturning most of the obstacles faced by the LGBT community. They refused to accept anything less than the rights given to those of a more conventional sexuality and should be proud that their achievements have paid off as the “civil partnership”, that for so long served as a pointed reminder of their inferior status of their love in the eyes of the state and society, has finally been replaced with a true recognition of their love: marriage.
Same sex marriage should rightly be viewed as a triumph for love, equality and freedom, and while the fight for equality is by no means complete, this is an excellent step in the right direction symbolizing the removal of the last legal discrimination against the LGBT community. Although it is impossible to ignore the fact that same-sex marriage is still a needless source of controversy within the country, hopefully it will not remain that way for long. Maybe with the passing of time the necessity of same-sex marriage will come to be recognized by people from all walks of life as the right choice for a progressive, positive and equal society.
Commentary by Rhona Scullion