UK gay marriage: a hollow victory

By Samuel Spencer –

About an hour ago, the marriage bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons, meaning that in the next day or two it will be signed into law by the monarchy, and from then on gay marriage is fully legalised in England and Wales, meaning that we are as free to get married, live happily ever after, have hideously traumatic divorces or to stay together for the kids (delete as appropriate) as the heteros.

However, whereas I was filled with joy when the news spread across Twitter that anti-gay marriage legislation had been made unconstitutional in the United States, despite being British I have been unable to be anywhere near as enthusiastic at the news that gay marriage has passed over here. Apart from the enjoyment I’m getting from the fact that gay marriage is going to be signed into law by a queen, in fact, the whole thing has left me feeling decidedly uneasy.

Surely I should be happy, you say, that I can now marry anyone I choose to (if only Ben Whishaw would accept my messages…)? Well, yes, I can, being lucky enough to be born in the South West of England, but the same cannot be said for my friends north of the border or across the Irish sea. Whereas what was so exciting in America was the fact that anti-equality measures were made illegal (in theory)  across the entirety of the country 300 million people call home, from the tundra of Alaska to the islands of Hawaii, gay marriage campaigns here haven’t even been strong enough to even limp over Hadrian’s Wall.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m as much a supporter of devolution as anyone else –  after all, living in London shows you clearly how little those in the bubble of Westminster must know about rural Scotland or Northern Ireland. However, surely there must come a point when something overpowers regional or religious differences, and I’d say that point is when we get to human rights issues. And let’s be clear here: refusal to accept homosexuals as having equal rights, in my view, is a human rights violation.

Even if you are not as committed to gay politics as I am, there comes a point where you have to make a point for the sake of national image. As more and more European countries (and our more conservative neighbours over the Atlantic) ratify gay marriage laws, Northern Ireland and Scotland risk looking like the equivalent of the slightly racist grandmother around the Christmas table. How can Scotland’s leaders, trying so hard to show themselves as a country ready to be independent, do this whilst being beaten in the progressive gay rights stakes by a country that the Westboro Baptist Church call home?

So congratulations to all of us who can now have our big white weddings/intimate registry services/pagan ceremonies of conjoinment (again, delete as appropriate), but don’t think for a second that this fight is anywhere near over.

More of Samuel’s work can be found on his blog, ARTSCLASH.