The Anglo File

Conservative MPs Think Brits Don’t Care About Same-Sex Marriage. Do They?

It was last October that Prime Minister David Cameron (right) made his first big push for same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom.

“Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment,” he said in a press conference. “Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

Liberal Democrats have been in strong support of same-sex marriage for a while but some members of the Cameron’s Conservative party are, how shall we say, less than pleased with his stance.

On Tuesday, Conservative MP David Burrowes told The Independent:

“Many colleagues are worried that it would fundamentally affect how marriage between a man and woman has historically been viewed in this country. There are strong doubts that we need to go down this path. It would open up a can of worms and a legal minefield about freedom, religion and equalities legislation.

“Gay marriage is a debate we don’t need to have at this stage. It is not an issue people are hammering us on the doorstep to do something about. It is important that there is a reasoned debate around how we view marriage rather than about homosexual rights. It may open up old wounds and put people into the trenches; no one wants that.”

Cameron’s push for same-sex marriage is part of his agenda to bring the Tories into the 21st century (or at least the late 20th century), but Burrowes demurs. “There are many other ways that the Conservatives can show we are a modern party—not least our social justice agenda. This is too important an issue to decide in terms of where it positions our party.”

Unlike the U.S.  where civil unions, domestic partnerships and state-sanctioned gay marriages don’t provide the same protections heterosexual marriage does—Britain’s Civil Partnership Act of 2004 gave LGBT couples all of the same rights as their straight counterparts, from parenting and adoption to inheritance and job benefits.

So the fight for marriage equality in the UK is a social-justice issue, Mr. Burrowes.

But maybe Cameron is advancing a cause no one’s worked up about it. That’s how Burrows sees it: “It is not an issue people are hammering us on the doorstep to do something about,” he told The Independent.

Is that true, UK queers? Are you happy with the current state of affairs or is it a question of separate but equal. Share your views in the comments, chaps!

Image via  DFID – UK Department for International Development

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  • Jae

    Given the problems the separate but equal institution causes expat Brits, mixed-nationality couples and transgender folks the idea it’s just a semantic issue is offensive to me. f the Tories not only don’t know about this stuff, they don’t care either.

    Marriage equality and civil partnership equality (we have straight couples who want a civil partnership but aren’t allowed one) are not issues that are going to get the average Brits heart beating but they are important, necessary and hopefully inevitable.

  • Becky Rose

    UK gay and not happy here.

    Marriage by any other name is apartheid.

  • Cdub

    Actually, this only affects England and Wales, not Scotland. There is a separate bill being proposed in the Scottish Parliament just now, and which is at a more advanced stage than the proposition by David Cameron’s government.

  • Mike UK

    conservative mp’s don’t live in the real world plus the daily mail will kick up so much of a fuss that those who do vote for marriage equality risk losing their seats in the next parliament because mr & mrs middle england won’t vote for them!

  • Sohobod

    “Marriage by any other name is apartheid.”

    No it’s not. I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate.

    Apartheid probably had more of a debilitating effact on people than being being in a marriage or a civil partnership. As the article said: “Britain’s Civil Partnership Act of 2004 gave LGBT couples all of the same rights as their straight counterparts, from parenting and adoption to inheritance and job benefits.”
    This is NOT a big issue for English gays. But it IS a big issue amongst hand-wringing Guardian-reading English gays who have no sense of proportion or grasp of reality, who enjoy thinking of themselves as victims. If you want to know what being a real victim is like – be gay and Iranian.

  • Freddie

    Angry British gay here demanding the right to marry. As has been stated by Queerty, this is not a battle for legal recognition, as civil partnerships already afford that. It’s the right to be treated equally. The real battle won’t be in the Commons, where the Liberal Democrats and opposition Labour parties will offset any Tory rebellion, but the more socially conservative House of Lords, who could delay it for years.

  • Fagburn

    There is no bill – this story is junk.

  • David

    I’m a Brit and it really tears my heart out that gay Brits are separate from the res of heterosexual society. It tears my heart out even more that others seem perfectly ok with this and we probably will never achieve equal freedom. i’m crying as i type this.

  • tefinger


    The Independent reports:

    “Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat Equalities minister and driving force behind the change, will go ahead with a consultation process on marriage laws in March, to be followed by legislation.”

    Whether or not that is true, only time will tell. I’d hardly call my story “junk” though.

    Later, gater.

  • Biggiggles

    I’m always surprised when I go home to the UK how people don’t seem to be bothered by this issue. It’s totally different from here in the USA. Honestly, it does seem to me that UK gays are pretty happy with the status quo.

    But you have to remember that the history and context of civil unions in the UK is different from the USA – gay couples enjoy all the same rights and responsibilities as married straight couples, there’s not as salient a history of “separate but equal” institutions as there is in the USA, the LGBT community is far less coalesced around gay rights issues/political lobbying etc as it is in the USA, and the culture is very different (there’s nothing like the social issue ‘culture wars’ that there are here).

    On this particular issue I’d have to agree that UK gays don’t seem terribly unhappy with the status quo. I might be wrong, of course, but we have yet to see anything like the big push for marriage in the UK as there has been in Australia and the USA.

  • Isaac C

    @David: You HAVE equal freedom. If the U.S. Civil Unions were equivalent to those of the U.K. Civil Partnerships, I and many other gays here would be quite satisfied.

    Stop whining.

  • Fagburn

    @tefinger: Umm, yes, tis, it’s not happening…
    Beyond The Independent’s fantasies.

  • David

    @IsaacC Separate but equal is NOT equal. They’re called “civil partnerships” to distinguish unions from the the union the rest of society shares. It’s dehumanizing.

  • Daez

    @David: I’ll agree that it is dehumanizing, but I will definitely agree with Isaac C. I would be happy with civil unions that were truly equal to marriages here in the US. I feel that if the gay community would push for such laws they would be passed much more quickly than marriage laws. This all or nothing bullshit is prolonging the fight, and many are suffering because of it.

  • David

    @Daez I don’t know. I would like to see the process sped up but I really don’t think that the US gays should settle for anything less than FULL equality. And separating us from the rest of society is not full equality. I really hope you all don’t end up settling and end up giving the right-wingers what they want.

  • Sohobod

    @ David

    “I really hope you all don’t end up settling and end up giving the right-wingers what they want.”

    Who cares what right-wingers want? I mean really – who gives a flying f##k?! This is what’s wrong with this whole marriage v Civil Union debate. It’s more about fighting people and being on a winning side, rather than actually thinking about how its going to effect gay people, who just want their and their partner’s futures protected.

  • Robert in NYC

    Mike in the UK, as a transplanted Brit who travels often back and forth between here and the old country, I can tell you David Burrowes is spinning his wheels and going nowhere. Lynne Featherstone, equalities minister is committed to legislating for and passing marriage equality. I suspect once the consultation begins in March, more support will follow. 63% of Brits polled in 2010 are in support of it and the figure now is probably a lot higher.

    As for the House of Lords, it has limited power believe it or not. It can only delay a bill for up to two years and the bill can be reintroduced and passed without their consent. It’s been done before with other bills, not many but some.

    The Daily Mail, Britain’s right wing equivalent of the New York Post is now getting letters of support from its readership for making same-sex marriage legal. We don’t have as much religious meddling in our political system as we do here. In fact nobody like Santorum would be a viable candidate even in the Tory Party today. The majority of Brits aren’t religious and the UK as whole has one of the lowest church attendance rates in Europe and the world. Of course there will be the expected strong objection by the mainstream religions, but from the outset, the consultation will make it quite transparently clear that no religious denomination will be required to recognize or officiate same-sex marriages. The recent amendment to the civil partnership law allowing denominations to hold their civil partnership ceremonies on their premises was reviewed by the legal team for the Church of England and concluded that the law would not compel it or others to acknowledge them. Marriage equality will have the same language. In fact I believe now that the religious element for civil partnerships for those who want them is now the law, this will have laid the groundwork for an easier passage of same-sex civil marriage legislation. Though I was never a Tory supporter, I have to concede their party is evolving rapidly. It’s unheard of for any conservative Prime Minister or President in the western world supporting marriage equality.

    That said, I suspect the Labour Party whose leader supports it will probably adopt it as official party policy in conjunction with the Liberal Democrats who’ve already done so. With two parties officially endorsing it, there’s no way the Tories could be guaranteed re-election in 2015 without the support of gay voters if marriage equality isn’t passed. They had to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in the last general election as a result of a hung parliament to form a viable government. The Tories need the gay vote more than the Liberal Democrats or Labour. It’s a win-win situation for them even if some in their party aren’t happy about it. To do otherwise is political suicide for their party.

  • Robert in NYC

    Another thing I forgot to mention is that the foreign born partners of British gays are allowed to reside and work in the UK even if they’re not in a civil partnership. We still don’t have that right over here, not even for married gay couples.

  • David

    @Sohobod Um no. It’s about being 100% equal. It’s dehumanizing and pointless for gay unions to be separate from the union that everyone else enjoys. It keeps us separate and that’s not OK.

  • Isaac C

    @David: There’s nothing “dehumanizing” about having full equality, which is what you gay Brits have.

    @Sohobod: I absolutely agree.

  • Bryan

    The looniest conservative MP is probably still saner than the sanest Republican candidate the US has.

  • Steve

    In both mathematics and law, anything other than “equal” is, “not equal”. In the UK, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and several Human Rights Acts, all guarantee “equal” rights. The Equality Act of 2006, specifically includes sexual orientation.

    It is good to know that at least some conservative politicians know how to read.

  • James

    Being gay in the UK is, on average, much easier than in the US. Marriage is something I’d like to have the oppurtunity to do, but considering that a civil partnership over here comes with all the legal benefits as a marriage, most gay guys and gals I know aren’t fussed. What does it matter what you call it? It means the same thing if the two partners love each other.

    I find it embarrassing that some gay Britons have the audacity to bitch about equality when a sizeable portion of our American cousins are forced to hide who they are for fear of being bludgeoned to death by some bigoted arseholes. Yes there are places in the UK where discretion is the better part of valour, but by comparison we live in a much better place.

    Yes, we have to have a year-long dry spell before donating blood, but compare that to the barbaric “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that was only just repealed in the US and consider yourselves lucky. End rant.

  • Lefty

    @James: With respect, I think there have been recent cases in the UK of gay people either being murdered or driven to suicide (possibly) for being gay. I also think the distinction between the ban on donating blood and DADT is completely arbitrary. Both are based on governmental bigotry based on stereotypes.

  • M Worth

    Gay marriage is definitely coming. The Conservatives backbenchers don’t seem that fussed, I think they’re just going through the motions.

  • James

    @Lefty: Actually I agree about the “arbitrary” thing. Dunno what I was thinking other than to stick two things together and hope they made a cohesive point. I suppose my opinion does come from a fairly lofty position: I’ve never lived in a place where my lifestyle made a difference to how people treated me and I’ve had good role-models to guide me away from the “bad” side of town. I hope that the Conservatives decide to implement it, but if they don’t then the next government will lest they lose the all important Pink Vote.

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