From England to New England: This is a Gay Marriage Round-Up Post

2012 was a pretty great year for marriage equality. In the United States, we saw the first states to legalize marriage equality by popular referendum, with Maine, Maryland and Washington voters choosing to let same-sex couples tie the knot. The country of Denmark also legalized marriage equality last year, and in Brazil, several states have attempted – with varying levels of success – to require marriage licenses for same-sex couples who want them. A bill before New Zealand’s parliament to legalize same-sex marriage also passed its first reading last year in August, and a bill in Uruguay to allow it passed its lower house. While plenty of countries around the world still make it difficult to be gay, it’s clear that equality is on the march.

In other words, 2013 has big shoes to fill. But we’re less than a month into it, and it’s already looking like some major strides are being made. Including one that a lot of queers have been waiting quite some time for: marriage equality in the United Kingdom (or, at least, part of it).

It’s been a long time coming, but it may finally be here: as of Friday, the British government has published a bill to legalize same-sex marriages in England and Wales. It had its first reading today in the House of Commons, and MPs will get their first chances to vote on it next month. With even many in the Conservative Party, including Prime Minister David Cameron, supporting it, the chances look good for the bill’s passage.

david cameron boris johnston

London Mayor Boris Johnson and PM David Cameron via Peter Mcdairmid/Getty Images

Of course, there are still some, as the CTV News article linked above put it, “traditionalist Conservative lawmakers” who are planning to oppose the bill. But it does attempt to side-step religious objections –and the ferocious debate over homosexuality in the Anglican Church – by exempting Church of England from the requirement to marry same-sex couples. This does put same-sex couples in Britain in an interesting place, though; since they are a state-run church, they have a legal duty to marry any parishioners, which “does not apply to other religions.” Yet this “legal duty” will not be extended to same-sex couples, making them unequal in a particular way. (The Church in Wales – which, while not a state church, has the same legal duty to marry as the Church of England – has the same caveat applied to it with this bill.)

The bill is choosing to treat the Church of England the way that they treat other religious groups in the UK, with regard to same-sex marriage: they will be able to conduct the marriages, should their governing body approve. Currently, however, the Church of England defines marriage as between one man and one woman, so even pro-gay Anglican clergy would not be able to conduct same-sex marriages. Of course, couples will still be able to get secular marriages.

MP Maria Miller via Telegraph.co.uk

MP Maria Miller via telegraph.co.uk

In a country with a state church, how to deal with religious opposition is a lot less obvious than it is somewhere like the United States, where the separation of church and state ostensibly addresses the issue. Yet the UK’s Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government seems committed to trying to respect both LGBT equality and religious freedom. As Culture Minister and Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller, who introduced the bill, puts it:

Marriage is a hugely important institution in this country – one which has changed throughout our history, and continues to change.. The values of marriage bind families and communities together and bring stability. I believe that couples should not be excluded from marriage just because they love someone of the same sex. In opening up marriage to same-sex couples, we will further strengthen the importance of marriage in our society. Our proposals recognise, respect and value the very important role that faith plays in our lives. I have always been crystal clear that I would not put forward any legislation that did not provide protection for religious organisations. This Bill protects and promotes religious freedom, so that all religious organisations can act according to their doctrines and beliefs.

Polls also show that the bill enjoys majority support from British citizens. The UK has had civil unions since 2005, and hopefully this bill will result in more equitable unions for English and Welsh queers. Elsewhere in the UK, marriage equality has also made progress in Scotland’s parliament in the past year.

 

Across the Atlantic Ocean, marriage equality continues its state-by-state trek in the United States, and the only question is who is next. It could be Illinois… or it could be Rhode Island. Thanks to Maine’s re-legalization of same-sex marriage, Rhode Island is now the only state in New England without marriage equality. Some Ocean State lawmakers don’t like that designation, and want to change it. As of today, the Rhode Island House of Representatives – whose speaker, Gordon Fox, is openly gay – passed the measure. To get what a big deal this is, legislation has been considered regularly by the RI General Assembly since 1997, and hasn’t even advanced to a vote until now.

Things look a little bit less certain the Senate, whose President, Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport), is against marriage equality. She was a strong supporter of the civil unions law that passed last year and called it “historic,” yet seems to be bothered by the even-more-historic notion of Rhode Island – and by extension, all of New England – going for full marriage equality. RI is one of the U.S.’s most Catholic states, and Catholic bishops in the state have spoken out against even allowing civil unions for same-sex couples. Teresa Paiva Weed is a Catholic who enjoys strong support from that constituency.

gordonfox

Gordon Fox via Huffington Post

However, Paiva Weed says she will allow a vote on the measure, and if it can get past the Senate, Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent, plans to sign it. His support of marriage equality is such that he, along with Speaker Fox, has blocked previous attempts to make marriage equality a ballot question, taking the stance that a minority’s civil rights should never be put up to a majority vote.

The state’s chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, of course, has insisted on that “majority” point, with director Chris Plante insisting that Rhode Islanders “don’t want to see [marriage] re-defined.” The actual statistics don’t reflect that statement, though; according to a poll last September by Providence-based cable station WPRI, 56% of Rhode Island voters support marriage equality. The only group with majority opposition to same-sex marriage are registered Republicans.

Lincoln Chafee via Politico

Lincoln Chafee via Politico

Rhode Island’s delay on the issue, compared to the rest of New England, may be due to its unique political geography: according to FiveThirtyEight’s state-by-state analysis during the election, it is the most elastic state. That means that a significant swath of its electorate are people not aligned with any political party, which is why they could elect an independent governor. (Maine and New Hampshire also have strong levels of elasticity.) Yet, like most of New England, Rhode Islanders vote reliably Democratic in presidential elections because they’re turned off by the social conservatism of the national GOP; the local Republicans they elect tend to be more moderate. As the national Democratic Party increasingly makes marriage equality a part of its core platform, and opposition is seen as increasingly outmoded and confined to conservative Republicans, it may become more difficult for socially-conservative Democrats like Paiva Weed to continue with their opposition, even in elastic Rhode Island. Along with making appeals to the state’s history of religious tolerance – it was founded by Roger Williams as a haven for those escaping Puritan MassachusettsGov. Chafee has also encouraged passage of the bill by appealing to the state’s economic prospects, stating, “We are at an economic disadvantage with our neighboring states when we do not have the welcome mat out for all those who want to work here and contribute to our economy.”

The idea that it’s becoming more and more unavoidable for governments who want to appear modern and tolerant to support marriage equality is clear in both the UK and the US’s debates over the issue. Hopefully this theme will promote the idea that equality needs to be a reality not only in those countries, but around the world.

Rose is a 25-year-old Detroit native currently living in Austin, TX, where she is working on her Ph.D. in musicology. Besides Autostraddle, she works as a streaming reviewer for Anime News Network.

Rose has written 69 articles for us.

47 Comments

  1. However I am thrilled about this news. Civil partnerships were made legal in the UK on my 18th birthday so I have pretty much always had the option of legal rights with my partner for all of my adult life – which is an amazing privilege. I think most of the UK think that it’s already legal – people seem surprised when they realise civil partnerships aren’t quite the same as marriage. I would be shocked if it doesn’t go through.

    Anyway – have written to my MP. Here’s hoping!!

  2. I just want to add, from another international perspective, that Saba, the smallest of the five Dutch Caribbean islands, became the first Caribbean island to legalize same-sex marriage. This shouldn’t be confused with the ‘recognition’ given to same-sex marriages performed in The Netherlands on islands like Aruba and Curacao. Same-sex couples now have the same full legal rights as their heterosexual counterparts, and can get married on the island. As a native of Saba’s sister island, Sint Maarten, I pretty much cried when this happened and hope my own island follows suit soon.

  3. Unless it’s a deliberate joke that I don’t know about, the caption should be “London Mayor Boris Johnson” rather than Boston Johnston…
    And if it is a joke – can somebody please fill me in, because it sounds funny.

    • No, it was a mistake, and apparently the other news site where I double-checked it made the same mistake as far as the Johnston part goes. No idea where “Boston” came from; I was probably distracted while I was writing that caption. I’ll fix it…

      Edit: Fixed!

        • Sorry, about to rant off topic…

          I imagine that people would watch a show about Boris Johnson but I personally think his buffoonery is much more planned than we are led to believe. For example, apparently he has a hair stylist who makes his hair look like that before public appearances (!!) and supposedly the Victoria Park zip wire incident was staged as a publicity stunt. Which seems to have worked. For example, direct quote from the Daily Mail:

          “Boris emerges from such a farce unscathed. Why? Well, he cheers us up and laughter is therefore part of his milieu. There is no point in mocking him because he already does that so charmingly himself. There is a shamelessness about him — a strange form of honesty — which even allows him to get away with serial cheating on his wife. He is the thinking woman’s John Prescott. He is Britain’s bunga-bunga Berlusconi. It is quite simply unthinkable that the zip wire incident could have happened to a remorselessly grave figure such as Gordon Brown or Margaret Thatcher or the late Enoch Powell. Our brains would barely be able to programme such an image. But Boris, once again, gets away with it. Good old Bozza. Only in Britain! And we say that with genuine pride.”

          This is followed by tons of “best rated” comments with people flapping on about how much they love Boris.

          I am a Londoner and the only good things that have happened under Boris’ reign are all Ken Livingstone policies that Boris stepped in and took credit for (read: Olympics, Barclay’s Cycle Hire). Boris’ own policies all involve taxing the poor and improving lives for wealthy city bankers. My council tax and public transport costs have sky rocketed with Boris as mayor – I’m lucky enough that I can afford to take this on the chin (mostly) but I live in Tower Hamlets and many of my neighbours can’t afford the price increase.

          I just feel that he has a lot of immensely cunning PR behind him, and hides his disgusting right-wing Tory policies behind this friendly bumbling facade. He was voted “most popular politician in Britain” and I suspect that if he was to step back into parliament that he would not struggle to reach PM-status. Which is really, really frightening.

          Sorry, rant over. I can’t stand that evil weasel of a man.

          • No, I totally agree with you. I think it’s scary how easily people overlook someone’s politics etc. just because they are funny or charming.

            Definitely think that he’s way more intelligent and scheming than he lets on (and thought the zip wire probably was pre-planned). It is alarming how people seem to have warmed to him, purely on the strength of what they perceive to be his personality.

            I’m not somebody who’s been won over by his supposedly good natured bumbling. I was just amused by the idea of him in a 70s cop show montage, on an entirely shallow and flippant level.

          • Oh no I didn’t mean that as a criticism (sorry if it came across that way!). I just find it easy to rant endlessly about Boris. Probably need to practice some self restraint… Anything and everything about him just makes me so angry!

          • No, that’s ok! I just wanted to make entirely sure that I wasn’t mistaken for someone that thinks he’s an all right chap and totally harmless – by you or anyone else!

            For the record, I despise Ann Widdecombe and was not swayed by her dancing on Strictly. Being willing to make a fool of yourself doesn’t make up for hateful politics.

  4. I see Britain’s lawyer types haven’t been able to decide what sex between same gender’s actually is, hence a clause not allowing gay people to divorce on grounds of adultry or for that matter annulment on grounds of non-consummation – but hey, an actual legal marriage has been a long time coming (no pun intended)if we have to wait a little longer to end the man enters woman definition then so be it.

    I don’t know where I stand on the Church of England issue. I’m not a religious person, so would never see myself marrying in a church ceremony anyway, and certainly not within their confines, but for gay people who do have faith I can see why it’s of far greater importance than to me.

  5. Even though there’s a lot of Tory opposition, I think one of the reasons David Cameron is going through with it is partly because of how it’s worked out really well for Obama, despite the large portion of US voters who I’d imagine are against the idea.
    I may be misinformed but it’s always sounded like the US was a country with much more homophobia blatantly out there. If they can do it with all the controversy still going on, then so can we!

    • I think the same-sex marriage consultation in Scotland, followed by Scottish government’s decision to introduce their marriage equality bill had a lot more to do with it than Obama, given all the debates over the independence referendum etc the Unionists are very keen on showing that there are no cultural differences between Scotland and England. Maybe I’m just bitter because I live in Scotland and I’ve seen how much effort people put into campaigning for marriage equality, but it annoys me so much that nobody gives Scots any credit.

  6. I’ll be honest, when it comes to sites I least expected to see BoJo, AS was quite high on the list.

    But when it comes to queer marriage, I’m always surprised at Cam’s stance. If he’s up for it, he can’t be that awful, can he?

    Haha, silly me, yes he fucking can!

    • “I’m always surprised at Cam’s stance. If he’s up for it, he can’t be that awful, can he?”

      Certainly, he looks that way from here in the US, but then, our conservatives have pretty much lost their minds over here.

      • Sometimes conservatives in America in general seem like a huge farce. Like a giant joke the universe is playing on us. I’ll hear a member of the House (like Louie Gohmert or somebody) say something about “terror babies” or the government coming for our bacon and I’ll think, “Douglas Adams, did you write this?!”

        • I’m pretty sure at least some of them KNOW they’re full of shit; Karl Rove comes to mind as someone who gives me the impression of being too smart to take the shit he’s saying seriously. Part of what makes the Tea Party and its allies so scary is that they’re true believers…

        • Oh no, I know they’re still jerks, but the idea of conservatives who at least pay lip service to the idea of being reasonable? Sounds like a pipe dream from an American standpoint.

  7. I am really, really excited for us to get marriage equality. I can hardly imagine that it won’t pass- there are a few noisy ~traditionalists~ but the general weight of political and national opinion is with us (I wrote to my MP, who’s gay and in a civil partnership, and had a great and very personal response). The fact that my church remains super homophobic is sad, because I would desperately love to have a proper religious wedding, but… soon I’ll be able to get married whatever the dickhead bishops say. It’s exhilarating.

  8. When will the C of E stop their griping and claim responsibility for gay people wanting to get married? Because it’s their fault, after all.

    Who are the ones that keep banging on about marriage being the ultimate partnership? They are.

    Or whine that marriage is the best environment to raise kids? They are.

    The church has been turning themselves on for hundreds of years with fantasies of all the lurid deviance they think gay people get up, but then it turned out that gay people – like straight people – are, by and large, exceptionally dull and want to live the same old boring life everyone else does. So how can they be surprised that gay people want to do the exact same stuff they’ve been so intent on indoctrinating society to want?

    I am convinced the only way to protect “traditional” marriage as it stands is to redefine it as, say, a blessed union between people and crumpets. Then 99% of the population will run off to expensively wed a crumpet and raise beautiful crumpet babies in designer crumpet baby clothes, while the remaining 1% of “traditionalists” can keep their weirdy hetero marriages.

    • As an Uhmurrican who was raised a combination of Missouri Synod Lutheran (from my bio dad) and Presbyterian (from my mom and stepdad, the latter of whom is a minister), most of my exposure to the Anglican church has come from watching the Vicar of Dibley. It really bums me out that not all real-life Anglicans are as awesome and open-minded as Geraldine Grainger…

  9. Okay, so it totally makes sense that way more people care about UK marriage equality than Rhode Island marriage equality, but does anyone have any feelings about the latter?

    As someone living in Boston, I find the positions of Massachusetts vs. Rhode Island on the issue of marriage equality (one being the first in the country to get it, the other the last in New England) to be interesting given their colonial histories w/r/t religious tolerance and plurality…

    • I can assure you the RI Autostraddle contingent has a lot of feelings on the matter and/or in general. The bill is currently being stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee which is frustrating but expected, as RI politicians are notoriously wacky to say the least. Not that marriage equality is necessarily of the highest priority w/r/t legal protections from a national perspective, but (I think) it’s definitely something to be recognized and worked toward.

      I watched the live stream of the RI House’s debate and vote on Thursday, which was a pretty much your standard back-and-forth of “I CAN’T BELIEVE WE ELECTED THESE IDIOTS” versus “I AM SO FUCKING PROUD RIGHT NOW!”

  10. I’m a Lib Dem in the UK (we’re currently in a coalition gov with the Conservatives) and we’ve been pushing for equal marriage for ages and now it’s actually (probably) happening! So many parties to plan.

    But what’s sad about all this is that, according to various polls and talking to people in the community, the Conservative support of equal marriage is totally stealing the LGBT voter support from us Liberals, despite years and years of hate from the Conservatives 🙁

  11. You would think think the most elastic state would support some fluidity…

    C’mawn lil Rhodey I know you got it in ya! If you’re a Rhode Islander in support of same sex marriage, you can call Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed’s office at 401-222-6655 to voice your support!!

  12. The top Tory leadership is actually fairly socially liberal. Obviously there are some nutters but it’s the back-benchers you really have to worry about.

    Tribal politics is dangerous for a properly functioning democracy! If the Tories proposed a raft of policies you agreed with I bet none of you would vote for them anyway.

    I vote for who I think would be the best LOCAL MP. It’s the grassroots that are important. If people in safe seats vote regardless of the wacky views of their candidate it destabilises the whole party

  13. Your line “marriage equality has also made progress in Scotland’s parliament in the past year” should probably read “Scotland is way ahead of England and Wales with this shit”. It was in fact the Scottish government who moved towards marriage equality first. The public consultation was completed back in 2011 and Scotland is on it’s way to be the first part of the union to offer same sex marriages as well as lifting religious restrictions on civil partnerships.
    I also think that linking the conservative political party with the people who are considered conservatives in the USA because of the name is a mistake. The main parties in Britain are centre parties and veer only slightly left or right of that line. There is NO way a party that held the views that US conservatives hold would ever be elected into power in 21st century Britain. And anyone who spoke about issues in the far right way they do would be considered a fringe lunatic.

    • “I also think that linking the conservative political party with the people who are considered conservatives in the USA because of the name is a mistake.”

      And that’s why I didn’t. In the UK section I used large-C Conservatives and in the US section of the article I used small-c conservatives. It’s not like the Tories own the word; it is a broad political movement that, used in its lowercase form, happens to encompass both the UK Conservative Party and the US Republican Party, if at different parts of the scale.

      The reason I said “Even many in the Conservative Party” is because it’s still a relatively (to the other major parties in Britain) recent thing for them to be supporting marriage equality – not because I’m comparing them with U.S. Republicans. No, it says a lot about the Republican Party, compared to right-wing parties elsewhere in the world, that they won’t budge an inch on this (in general, I know there are Log Cabin exceptions but the GOP’s national platform is explicitly opposed to same-sex marriage).

      Also I don’t think I implied in any way that England and Wales are ahead of Scotland on marriage equality? Considering the stuff dealing with England and Wales is only now getting introduced in Parliament, whereas I said Scotland “has moved forward on it in the past year” I would think the opposite would be implied?

  14. Woah!!
    I made the statement re. Scotland as a proud Scottish parliamentarian who thought they could add (with no intention of taking away from)your piece. I could bluergh on about how the fact that you only dedicated one sentence to the country that started it all (and that is just as much a part of the UK as England, Wales & NI) seems disproportionate but to be honest I understand that these distinctions are much more relevant to the people who actually live here than people in other countries.
    The conservative thing was addressed to everyone & probably more to the people in the comments than to you. And again it was an opinion, not an accusation.
    I found your article interesting & informative. I felt involved enough to comment. I did not anticipate the uber-defensive reply but thanks for taking the time to clarify – Cheers!

    • Sorry, I didn’t mean to come off as defensive, particularly the way I did in the part about conservatives (I think I misread your comment a bit there). As for the part about Scotland, I would have liked to add more about what is going on in Scotland, but the assignment for this was to write about the thing that’s going on in England and Wales, so that’s what I did. I understand feeling like it hasn’t been addressed adequately here despite it being a big deal and I’ll talk more to the other staff about us doing more stories on Scotland’s push for marriage equality in the future.

      You’re right that it probably isn’t as immediately apparent to Americans why Scotland’s push for equality is a big deal, even for an American who tries to keep up with international politics like I do. But part of it’s also that we get our stories from places that are already reporting them, and a lot of places (particularly US-based sources) were reporting the England-and-Wales marriage equality push as “marriage equality in the UK,” making it seem as though it was affecting the whole country. It took a lot of digging for me to figure out that that wasn’t the case, but you can see why if it’s being misreported it might appear a bit bigger on the radar than if the Scotland story is being reported correctly.

  15. Rose thanks for writing this! I have nothing constructive to say about Cameron and marriage equality… nothing constructive or polite! so I won’t comment on that! But just wanted to thank you for taking the time to research and write about whats going on over here. No matter the motivation or politics behind it, it’s a positive shift for us in the UK and its great to see it addressed here on AS!

    nice one!

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