As we approach the two year anniversary of same-sex marriage in the UK, Lynne Featherstone – author of Equal Ever After – reflects on the incredible progress achieved so far, and what remains to be done.
We are coming up to the second anniversary of the day that marriage became equal – 29 March 2016.
Over 15,000 same-sex couples have been married since the law was passed.
Same-sex marriage (which hopefully over the next few years will just be called ‘marriage’) is my totally happy place in politics. I was the architect and originator of the same-sex marriage law. No one knows the real story of how it came about, except me.
My story started right at the end of the journey to same-sex marriage; I stand on the shoulders of giants. My book Equal Ever After tell of how I made it happen and is dedicated to all the brave men and women who fought against the discrimination of centuries, suffering insult and injury and sometimes death. I simply had the privilege to go the last mile.
It is quite an extraordinary story – full of revelations, thrills and spills. Bet you didn’t know that I had managed to get both same-sex marriage and heterosexual civil partnerships through all governmental hoops – but David Cameron threw out straight civil partnerships. Just before I made the first public announcement that the government was going to proceed with same-sex marriage, he gave me an ultimatum: he would stop same-sex marriage from going ahead if I didn’t agree to drop straight civil partnerships! I can’t write what I thought about that – it is unprintable.
Since the publication of Equal Ever After, I have been doing readings and talks all over the country and it is a complete joy. It’s such a happy piece of legislation and I am so totally grateful to have had the opportunity to change the world a little bit for the better – the very reason I went into politics in the first place.
Lovely things have happened since the passing of the Marriage (Same-sex Couples) Act 2013. I won three awards, which was amazing, but the best thing by a mile is when a young person comes up to me after I have been giving a speech somewhere on some topic – and says ‘thank you for what you did – you changed my life’. To be honest, politics doesn’t get better than this.
The London School of Economics and Social Law named their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Moot after me. A moot is an issue that is ‘subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty’. So the LSE-Featherstone Moot takes a difficult issue in this area and debates it. They held their first SOGI moot on 4/5 March and the brightest students from all over the country came to compete and be judged by eminent judges and advocates. The ‘moot’ issue was one very similar to the Asher Bakery row.
It will be an annual event now, and I am super honoured to have been asked to lend it my name.
However, as lovely as all this is, it is too tempting to see what is definitely a landmark piece of equality legislation as a full-stop. There is still so much to do.
A sad reminder of this was the meeting of Anglican primates convened by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in February this year. It was meant to be a real push to move the global churches’ position on homosexuality beyond that issue. That would enable more time to be spent on other matters of great import, such as climate change and religious violence.
The proposition from Justin Welby was that, given the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the various parts of the Anglican Communion, the communion should change to allow that difference more expression. It failed. It not only failed, but the actual outcome went the wrong way. Six African churches were insisting on sanctions against the US Episcopal, which had consecrated a gay priest. The hardliners won.
This summer, the July session of the synod will spend two days in private, discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage. We can but hope…
We must keep up the pressure.
During the course of my journey, I more often than not encountered the unforgiving face of religions, couched in hideously unloving and homophobic language. I hope one day all those religions that condemn homosexuality will see the light, so that the whole world can live equal ever after.