Not yet happily ever after: legalisation of gay marriage is just the beginning

1 August 2013

Finally.  The dates are being set, the venues are being booked and the wedmin spread sheets are up and running.  The law has caught up.  Gay marriage is now legal in England and Wales and no doubt the first same sex wedding plans are underway. 

This is undoubtedly a legal milestone, in the same way as the decriminalisation of homosexuality was back in the 60s.  But before we get caught up in the champagne fuzz of wedding planning, we need to consider the lingering hangover of inequality, both at home and abroad. 

For example, under our domestic laws, heterosexual couples are still unable to enter into civil partnerships; but, as civil partnerships start to be converted into same-sex marriages, are they set to become redundant legal relics anyway? 

And how are religious organisations going to handle their same sex marriage policies?  Are we going to see rifts within religious groups?  Were the harbingers of doom right - will this all lead to the further secularisation of our society?  Or is that what led to gay marriage hitting the statute books in the first place?

Same sex marriage is now legal in 14 countries, as well as parts of Mexico and some states in the US.  Progress is being made.  But this all stands in sharp contrast to the raft of anti-gay legislation that has just been ratified in Russia. 

Just six months before Russia is due to host the Winter Olympics, Mr Putin has signed a law which means any tourist/foreign national suspected of being gay or “pro-gay” can be arrested and detained for up to 14 days.  Another recently introduced law bans the adoption of Russian-born children not only to gay couples but also to any couple (or single parent) living in any country where marriage equality exists.  Another law classifies “homosexual propaganda” as pornography.  This involves a broad, vague definition leaving anyone who advocates tolerance or makes “pro-gay” statements at risk of arrest and fines if the statements are deemed accessible to children.

The international outcry has gone viral, with protests including global boycotts of Russian vodka, and the stage is being set for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to be the next battleground for the gay rights movement.

Back at home, England and Wales are now apparently the best countries in Europe in which to be gay, bisexual or transgender.  David Cameron has stated that he wants to export our same sex marriage bill around the world.  The obvious place to start is the Commonwealth - homosexuality remains illegal in 41 of the 54 states.  Next year’s Commonwealth games are being hosted by Glasgow.  Surely the perfect sporting stage upon which to spread the message of equal rights.

Gay marriage may now be legal in England and Wales but, with the champagne on ice, it seems the battle for true equality, at home and abroad, is only just beginning.

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