Skip to content

Tagged with archive, diversity

This article, for LSESU’s The Beaver newspaper, was written in my capacity as LGBT Officer of the Students’ Union

You hopefully saw in your inboxes last week, an email from the Students’ Union highlighting an incredibly important issue. Today, Parliament is deciding for the first time, whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry in civil and religious marriage ceremonies. This vote, of all votes that have taken place since the last UK general election, is probably the one that will define society for generations to come. And it’s not going to be an easy battle for equality. Marriage carries with it a lot of baggage as an institution, and with that comes a lot of competing interests. Whilst the Quakers and the Humanists have come out in support of equal marriage, the Catholic and Anglican Church have decried the legislation; apparently, allowing same sex marriage is going to result in the apocalypse, or our cities collapsing in a Soddom and Gomorrah-esque catastrophe.

But, like it or not, it looks like this legislation is set to pass today, as, according to the Coalition for Equal Marriage, over three-hundred MPs have declared their support ahead of the vote, compared to just one-hundred or so in opposition. But don’t be fooled. If there is one thing the UK does best, it’s parliamentary bureaucracy.

Today’s vote is only the first of many votes that will come before the Houses of Commons and Lords. The vote today marks approval, or otherwise, of the Second Reading. This stage is but a mere stepping stone to the intricate maze of committees and reports and political-ping-pong between the two chambers of Parliament. Make no mistake, if this vote passes today, it’s still an up-hill battle. Once this legislation moves through the Second Reading, it will pass to the Committee and Report stages, where amendments are submitted, legislation is scrutinised and changes are recommended. We then get another vote at the Third Reading, and the same process occurs in parallel in the Lords until eventually we end up with some semblance of legislation. It’s all still to play for, for both sides of this debate.

As a students’ union, we exist to promote, defend and extend the rights of students. We believe that equal marriage is a vital step towards society accepting LGBT people as they are, and fighting homophobia, and that’s why we’ve been campaigning since last October – from the very first day of Orientation Week – to secure the right to marry for LGBT people. That campaign is about to come to the fore. We already asked you last week to lobby your MP by email ahead of today’s vote, and next, we plan on stepping it up a gear and trying to influence the legislation directly by lobbying MPs again. It’s important we do this for several reasons;

Firstly, the legislation provides an asymmetry in an unexpected direction. For some time now, gay and lesbian couples have been able to enter civil partnerships – an institution that has been seen as “seperate-but-equal” to marriages. Crucially, they were only available to same-sex couples, not heterosexual couples. The proposals on the table right now enable homosexual marriage alongside civil unions, but don’t enable heterosexual civil partnerships. What does that mean? For the first time in history, the legal rights of LGBT people in the UK will actually be greater than those of straight people! No doubt this will be used by some to try and delay the legislation; and we mustn’t allow that to happen.

Another example is that of the “quadruple lock”, which makes it illegal to marry as an Anglican Christian – even if the Churches of England and Wales decided they wanted to allow gay marriage – without additional legislation. At the same time, other religions are free to change their legal status for blessing ceremonies at any time. This creates an asymmetry and gives preferential treatment to Christians which is arguably unnecessary. If the law is ironclad enough to protect religious views of Islam, Judaism and Sikhism in these proposals, then why set the Church of England and Wales apart? Procedural reasons relating to Cannon law aren’t a good enough excuse, and we can have a hand in making that case. Many LGBT Christians want to be able to marry, and so they should have the legal freedom to do so as easily as possible.

Students have a role to play in making the case for these kinds of changes to this legislation, and the union is going to enable them to have their say.

Some might have concerns that the union is acting too politically on this issue, or that our role should be to represent everyone’s views as an organisation. But this is misguided. As I’ve already said, the union exists to make students lives better; the decisions it takes on a daily basis are inherently political by the nature of the beast. We won’t always please everyone, because politics is about winners and losers, and by taking no position on a political issue we’d never do anything that might improve the lives of students. If this were a case of lobbying the government to increase the amount of financial support given to students whilst they study, there would be no concern from 99 per cent of students. Equally, when we continue to lobby the government to improve immigration conditions for international students, this is a political decision. Politics pervades what we do as an organisation, and on the issue of civil rights, we must always act to the benefit of the greater good, especially where students have asked us to act and voted for these positions through elections and UGMs.

The rights of LGBT people are some of the most important decisions that societies will ever take. Now is the time to take the bull by the horns, and push for equal marriage, and the students’ union will be there every step of the way. This week’s vote is just the beginning; support equal marriage, and support your fellow LSE students in making it happen.