For the LGBT community in Britain, 2012 was a year of tumultuous wedding preparation, with all the usual anxieties; would anyone get cold feet? But also more than a fair share of drama, there is no forgetting all the rows over whether it should be a traditional church wedding or a register office affair.
In spite of the commotion, gay marriage is firmly on the coalition government’s agenda, and with very loud detractors, the issue makes the headlines every other day. Whatever your views on marriage, it is encouraging to see even conservative politicians advocating rights for same-sex couples. And wedding bells are not just in the air in Britain, the states of Washington, Maryland and Maine legalized gay marriage by popular vote in the US elections. Closer to home, Denmark introduced equal marriage legislation. Moreover, Scotland, New Zealand, France, Luxembourg, Finland, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and possibly Taiwan look set to give the ‘I do’ in 2013.
Not everyone, gay or straight, believes in marriage. Some feel it is an archaic institution and are quite happy with the equivalent legal rights available through civil partnership, as defined in the Civil Partnership Act from 2004. Some also call for making civil partnership available to straight couples, who don’t want their union labeled a marriage.
In the UK the difference between civil partnership and marriage may, at times, seem like a mere issue of semantics. However, given that the struggle for LGBT equality is global, the impact of discussions and decisions made at Westminster may well go beyond the symbolic. There is no question that people fighting for LGBT rights look to what happens elsewhere. This also goes for those fighting against LGBT rights, who are unlikely to pass-up any arguments, even when unwittingly supplied. It is perhaps on this point that the attitude, words and actions of the coalition government and the Church of England gain broader importance, as some of the countries with the worst records on LGBT issues have particularly close ties to the UK through the Commonwealth and Anglican Communion.
Closer to home, the outcome of the heated debate on gay marriage in France will have a direct impact on all UK citizens. We are also EU citizens and, as such, have the right to live and work in any EU country we choose and are entitled to bring our family. However, this right is, in practice, restricted for same-sex families. It is not easy to move somewhere where your rights as partners or parents are not recognized. As things stand, in France they aren’t, same-sex couples there lack, for example, the right to adopt. It is therefore vital, not only for the French LGBT community, but for us too that France take another step in the direction of full equality. Here again, setting an example is important, lobbyists will always use examples and arguments held up in neighbouring countries. Hopefully the momentum for equality will continue; the more countries recognize full equal rights, the more pressure there will be on others to do the same.
Of course, for every action, there is a reaction. I found my festive spirit somewhat dampened by comments made by a few conservative Christian clerics in the UK and the Pope. They found Christmas, traditionally a time to come together, a good opportunity to vehemently oppose gay marriage with arguments that, at times, bordered on the ludicrous.
Yet Christmas has come and gone, it is now time to look to 2013 as a year to spread further equality in all aspects of LGBT life, while bracing ourselves for the possibility of a continued backlash. Perhaps we should view it as a sacrifice for broader equality, bearing in mind the tough conditions faced by other LGBT communities around the world.