Peter Tatchell: Ban on same-sex marriage must be lifted

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The Independent Online

When David Cameron hosts gay community leaders at Downing Street tomorrow night, the elephant in the room will be the ban on same-sex civil marriage. It is the last homophobic law in the UK. The coalition government, despite its professed support for gay equality, is refusing to repeal it.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg supports same-sex marriage, but he's sacrificed it as part of his deal with the Conservatives. So we are left with a Prime Minister and a Deputy who talk gay rights but who are unwilling to abolish the one remaining law that discriminates against lesbian and gay people – even when the abolition of this law has strong public support.

A Populus poll commissioned by The Times newspaper last June found that 61 per cent of the public believe same-sex couples should be able to get married in a register office on exactly the same basis as heterosexual couples. The Government is clearly lagging behind public opinion. It's time David Cameron and Nick Clegg caught up.

True, we have civil partnerships. They remedy many of the injustices previously experienced by gay couples. But they are not equality. They have created a two-tier system of relationship recognition and rights.

The homophobia of the ban on same-sex civil marriage is now compounded by the heterophobia of the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships.

Just as queers cannot have a civil marriage, straight couples are prohibited from having a civil partnership. These twin discriminations reinforce and extend inequality.

Imagine the outcry if the Government reserved marriage for white people and introduced a separate partnership register for black couples. It would provoke accusations of racism and apartheid – and international condemnation.

Let's face it, marriage is the gold standard. Civil partnerships are marriage lite for queers. They are second best. No thanks. Even though I am no fan of wedlock and would not want to get married myself, I defend the right of other same-sex couples to make that choice, if they wish. We should all be equal under the law.

If the government is sincere in its commitment to gay equality, it should forget about fancy Downing Street receptions and concentrate on delivering gay rights policies, including marriage equality.

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