Equal marriage: As we celebrate, let's not forget those who fought to get us here

And countless centuries of bigotry haven't disappeared with one fell swoop

Share
Related Topics

Just over 40 years ago, Britain’s first gay rights march ended in Trafalgar Square, half a mile away from where MPs yesterday voted in support of equal marriage. These few hundred courageous demonstrators – popularly regarded as perverts, poofs, deviants – were outnumbered by up to twice as many police officers.

As Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy reminded the House, Parliamentarians once looked the other way when policemen beat gay protesters. What progress has been made, when the last legal hurdle faced by same-sex lovers is cast aside – and when a (partly) Conservative government is in power.

There is no doubting that yesterday’s vote was a historic moment. We are finally at the end of the legal emancipation of LGBT people, a process that only began in 1967 with the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Centuries of state-sanctioned prejudice have been obliterated in the last 40 years: some of the last set of laws denying full rights to a minority are now being overcome. But, as ever, it was not the goodwill and generosity of those above that brought us here, but rather the struggle and sacrifice of countless LGBT people who were spat at, ridiculed, demonised, beaten and imprisoned.

Not that countless centuries of bigotry have simply vanished; their death rattle echoed in the Chamber. Tory MP Peter Bone described it as his “saddest day” in the House, claiming a lack of democratic legitimacy for a policy that polls show has majority support.

Sir Gerald Howarth frothed at the mouth, damning the lack of “mandate for this massive cultural change”. The DUP’s Ian Paisley – the son of a man who once launched a campaign to “Save Ulster From Sodomy” – suggested that the ability of same-sex couples to marry would drive straight people away from the altar: MPs laughed at him, and rightly so. And Sir Roger Gale – fulfilling the role of cardboard cut-out, clichéd bigot – compared being gay to incest. The 17th century called, Sir Roger, and they want their speech back.

Tragically, a handful of Labour MPs joined Tory protests at history’s unstoppable march. Stephen Timms affirmed he would vote against the Bill at Third Reading, suggesting that marriage was about children: at a stroke, apparently annulling the marriages of countless childless couples. His fellow Newham Labour MP, Lyn Brown, wondered – having wed too late to have children – if her marriage was therefore not legitimate.

It was refuseniks such as Timms who stopped Labour imposing a three-line Whip on this vote by threatening to resign: Labour’s official view is that civil rights are a matter of individual conscience.

More movingly, some MPs gave an insight into the hardship caused by prejudice. “Progress has come in fits and starts and has not always been easy,” said gay Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams. Tory MP Nick Herbert spoke of gay children bullied in schools and athletes who would not come out. “They have civil partnerships, why do they need it to be called marriage?” demanded critics who would be reduced to rage if their own relationships were called anything else. “This is how it has always been,” they argued, refusing to accept that traditions can sometimes be injustices that have prevailed for too long.

They were schooled with a potted history of marriage by Yvette Cooper: of how women were once mere objects, granted by fathers to their husbands; of civil non-religious marriages – once a huge, controversial innovation – being introduced in 1836; of women still legally being able to be raped by their husbands until the early 1990s.

And so yesterday was not simply about the right of same-sex couples to be legally accepted. It was not simply the acceptance that love is love – with its excitement, warmth, companionship, fear and heartbreak – whatever the gender of those involved. It was about the state finally recognising that LGBT people are the same as anyone else.

That does not mean complacency: homophobic abuse will still be yelled at same-sex couples; young LGBT men and women will still be consumed with self-loathing and terror; and yes, LGBT people will still be punched, kicked. Yet we have come so far, and, in the years to come, homophobia will continue its inevitable retreat. But don’t get too grateful for those Parliamentarians. It was huge sacrifice that got us here. Never forget it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home