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I can't be at the LibDem party conference this year, because it clashes hopelessly with a very busy freshers' week here in Leeds. But I have been following along as much as possible via the BBC Parliament channel and my many friends who are busy tweeting from the conference hall.

I've been following with particular interest this morning (either side of holding a meeting to explain to freshers how Study Abroad works), because conference has been debating the Equal Marriage proposal which LibDems for LGBT action (aka Delga) were drafting when I went to their strategy conference in the summer.

The good news is that that motion has now passed, making the LibDems the first UK party in government to officially support the introduction of equal marriage. You can read the full details of the new policy, including the equality of opportunity which it pledges for transgender people, religious organisations, and the status of relationships across international borders, here.

I am really, really, really, really pleased about that.

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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 21st, 2010 11:41 am (UTC)
That's excellent news! (And no thanks, I gather, to Ben Summserskill.)
Sep. 21st, 2010 11:48 am (UTC)
Yes, indeed. Thanks for the link to your friend's post there - it's a great response to a total piece of idiocy from Stonewall.
Sep. 21st, 2010 08:21 pm (UTC)
Good news. I'm slightly surprised that it wasn't already Lib Dem policy though.
Sep. 21st, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I know what you mean. It's something senior party members have been speaking in favour of for a while, and it has already been official policy for the Scottish branch of the LibDems since March this year. But it did have to be formally proposed and voted on at conference before it could become official policy for the whole party. As far as I know, that hasn't actually been tried before today.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 22nd, 2010 08:28 am (UTC)
Good news! About time too :-)
Sep. 24th, 2010 08:25 am (UTC)
OK please don't kill me if what I say is really uneducated or uninformed, I'm not trying to start drama..
But don't we already have civil partnerships in this country? What do they need more marriage equality stuff for?
From my own soapbox marriage equality screams to me about the still unequal status of wives automatically taking their husbands surname and any kids taking this name. It was my understanding civil partnerships have the same rights and responsibilites as a hetero marriage?
Sep. 24th, 2010 09:20 am (UTC)
I've been asked about this before, so I hope you won't mind if I start off by linking to my previous conversation on the subject. There, my main point was that an 'equal but different' system is fundamentally not equal - it perpetuates and enshrines difference. By saying that same-sex couples have to have something called a 'civil partnership' instead of a 'marriage', society is saying that same-sex relationships are not equivalent to opposite-sex relationships - and I do not believe that to be true. As an analogy, imagine if mixed-race couples were not allowed marriages, but only civil partnerships, and I think you will see the problem.

In addition to that, which I consider to be the main point, civil partnerships are also not exactly equivalent to marriages in law anyway. For example, adultery is grounds for divorce in a marriage, but it does not count as legal grounds for a dissolution (the equivalent to divorce) in a civil partnership. So the name is not the only difference - there are some slight differences in the legal status of the partnership, too. And this doesn't just affect same-sex couples. Some opposite-sex couples would actually prefer to choose a civil partnership rather than a marriage, because they feel that the legal rights which it offers are more appropriate to their own relationship than a marriage. The motion which the LibDems have now passed seeks to equalise things in both directions - so that opposite-sex couples can choose civil partnerships if they want to, just as same-sex couples can choose marriages.

Finally, because at the moment the legal definition of marriage is a partnership between an opposite-sex couple, and the legal definition of a civil partnership is a partnership between a same-sex couple, this causes problems in cases where one member of an existing couple goes through gender transition, and they and their partner wish to stay in their existing relationship. For example, if a man who is married to a woman undergoes gender transition in order to become female, that couple's marriage is then legally voided, even if both partners want to stay together. If you want a very honest and moving account of how exactly that situation would feel to the people involved, you can read this person's account of it here. The new proposal would bring an end to this problem, since both marriage and civil partnership would be open to everyone regardless of the gender of the couple concerned, so they would simply be able to stay in their existing relationship.

I do entirely take your point that there are other problems with the institution of marriage, and with the relationship between men and women within that institution. But equality isn't a zero-sum game. Granting equality of opportunity of the type proposed in this motion doesn't in any way hinder the also very important cause of women's rights, within marriage or elsewhere. In fact, arguably the more that any one given area of social inequality, such as the disadvantages experienced by LGBT people, is addressed, the more it does to raise awareness of other similar areas of inequality and ensure that they are addressed too. In other words, I see the fight for LGBT rights as sitting alongside and enhancing the fight for women's rights, not detracting from it.
Sep. 25th, 2010 09:44 am (UTC)
Thank you for such a comprehensive and understanding reply. You have opened my mind to this issue.

I guess why I have been so anti any more, is because I am one of those people that would prefer a civil partnership. I don't like the word 'marriage' or all the connotations that comes with it, as you allude to about atheists taking a sacramental passage, albeit not in a church. I watched some trash TV yesterday, even there a young bride saying she was going to obey her husband (not part of the vows she was being interviewed) and was happy to do this as he'd make the right decisions for them.. I know its personal choice for her to do that, but I don't want to be part of an institution that condones subjugation of women. Honestly I feel so strongly, like this is a human right to be able to choose for oneself and that would include choosing to submit to someone.. I understand BDSM relationships but they are more overt and everyone should know what they are getting involved with. Far more dangerous the unspoken obeyance in a vanilla context. Men are only human too! He's never going to have a selfish moment in his entire married life?! hmmmm
OK that's all a bit tangenital, essentially my point is marriage is so backwards and outdated (from my perspective) I couldn't understand why anyone gay or straight would want it. Straight people have to as its their only option if they want legal recognition.
Also my friends in the real world that are gay also favour civil partnerships, they don't want 'gay marriage'

However, I appreciate we don't represent the entire UK and there may be people that want 'marriage'. I hope they don't take civil partnerships away entirely though, they seem far more civilised, modern, respectful. Perhaps because in same sex couples there is no room for sexism. Two partners are truly equal before the law.
Sep. 25th, 2010 02:25 pm (UTC)
Cheers - I'm really glad that it was helpful to you, especially in clarifying your own thinking on marriage.

For what it's worth, I used to feel very much the same as you about marriage. Regardless of issues of sexuality, it was something I felt I didn't ever want to do because of its associations with Christianity and the sexist elements in the tradition as it currently stands in the UK - 'giving the bride away', 'honour and obey', speeches made by men but not by women, wives taking their husbands' names and so forth (as you've said in your own post).

But then I thought - ah, but almost all humans societies and cultures throughout history have had some kind of pair-bonding ceremony equivalent to marriage (though obviously called different things in different languages). So marriage isn't actually an inherently Christian institution, much though the church today apparently likes to think it is. In fact, it had already existed for centuries, if not millennia, before Christianity even developed.

Once I realised that, it also made me realise that marriage doesn't have to be inherently sexist either. At the current point in time, the institution of marriage has so far tended to be structured in a way that disadvantages women, mainly because the societies which have used it have also been structured more widely in an unequal fashion. But I now feel that marriage is a flexible institution, which only needs to be defined as a ceremony which establishes a familial bond between two people in the eyes of the society which they belong to. Beyond that, it is up to the couple concerned to choose how they want to relate to one another within that institution. On that basis I no longer see it as an impossibility for me.

On the other hand, I can certainly understand why you might feel that for you the institution of marriage is already too tainted by its traditional connotations. Certainly, even if a couple have talked in detail about how they want their marriage to be, and agreed to treat each other with complete equality within the relationship, that doesn't stop other people from assuming that their relationship is imbalanced in favour of the man, and thus (for example) assuming that he can speak for his wife without her needing to be consulted. And if a couple haven't really talked about it or specifically thought it through, then yes - it can lead to examples like the girl you are referring to above in the TV programme, who stumble blindly into a sexist form of relationship, just because society at large has set her up to assume that that is the only way her marriage can be. Definitely not good...

Anyway, it sounds like this motion is in fact exactly what you need, because it commits the Liberal Democrats to opening up civil partnerships for people like you who would prefer them to marriage. As for what the queer community wants, a poll conducted by Pink News a couple of months ago found that 98% of respondents wanted equal access to marriages for same-sex couples. So that's a pretty clear signal that this is addressing a real social need.
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