Why I'm backing equal marriage

Richard Branson explains how his experiences in business and charity work have led him to join the Independent Voices campaign for equal marriage.

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The Independent Online

When I set up the first Virgin Records store in 1971, gay rights were a far cry from where they stand now. It was just five years after sex between men had been decriminalised and, that same summer, parliament passed an act defining marriage as a state possible only between a man and a woman.

From the very start, the Virgin group and I have been committed to furthering the cause of equality around the world, and gay rights is a crucial part of that battle.

In fact, my involvement started back in 1967, when a few friends and I founded a charity called the Student Advisory Centre that was able to offer some help and guidance to young people with a variety of problems. The Student Advisory Centre’s tagline was ‘Give us your headaches’, and we provided an outlet for people to discuss issues such as abortion, adoption, contraception, drugs, educational problems, marriage, psychiatric help and much else besides.

But one of the main things we were able to do was give assistance to young people in the process of coming out. This kind of service was extremely rare at the time, but we understood the benefits of it and took a huge number of calls.

Ignorance about homosexuality was rife in those days. Gay people were coming out into a world that still hugely discriminated against them because of the person they loved. Thankfully, today we live in much more enlightened times. There is, however, still one fundamental right that is being denied - the right for every couple in love to marry. And that is why I’m writing to support Independent Voices Equal Marriage campaign.

The UK is lagging behind the rest of the world on this vital issue. Government must remedy this at the earliest opportunity.

Marriage isn’t for everyone, but it should absolutely be an option to get married for everyone if they wish to do so. Getting married myself was one of the proudest moments of my life. My daughter Holly’s wedding was among the most delightful days I will ever experience. And I greatly look forward to my son Sam’s wedding sometime in the (hopefully not too distant) future.

There is no reason every person should not get to enjoy these moments for themselves, regardless of whether they are straight or gay. I have always liked the message of Stonewall, a lesbian, gay and bisexual rights charity, for anyone who has a problem with homosexuality. “Some people are gay. Get over it!” It’s time the law took heed of this simple slogan and stopped discriminating against the gay community by excluding them from the institution of marriage.

Many countries around the world already allow gay people to marry, including Canada, South Africa, Argentina, Sweden and Portugal. In the US, gay marriage is one of the key issues being debated in the build-up to the Presidential Election. But as things stand, the UK is lagging behind the rest of the world on this vital issue. Government must remedy this by changing the law at the earliest opportunity.

At Virgin, we have always prided ourselves on treating everybody the same regardless of their sexuality. Is it too much to ask for the law to do the same?