Tony Blair: Why we should all share in these celebrations

Much of the opposition to equal rights for gays was downright spiteful

Share

Across the country this week, hundreds of couples will be celebrating a major milestone in their lives. They will be followed by thousands more in the coming months as same sex couples take the opportunity to gain legal recognition and protection for their relationship.

The Civil Partnership Act may not be the biggest change that this Government has brought in. But, by correcting an obvious injustice, removing fear and providing security, it will change the lives of tens of thousands of people for the better. It is also, importantly, another step towards the fairer, more tolerant country which this Labour Government pledged to build.

This landmark measure ends the situation where same-sex relationships were invisible in the eyes of the law, denied any recognition of their commitment. It gives gay and lesbian couples who register their relationship the same safeguards over inheritance, insurance and employment and pension benefits as married couples. No longer will same sex couples who have decided to share their lives fear they will be denied a say over the partner's medical treatment or find themselves denied a home if their partner dies.

As you would expect from this New Labour Government, new rights and privileges are also matched by new responsibilities. Financial support will be expected to be provided for the couple's children, for example, in the event of a breakdown in the relationship.

Such a wide-ranging reform was long overdue. By 1997, society's attitudes to lesbian, gay and bisexual people had changed dramatically. There is, as we have seen already this week, still some opposition to these measures. But I don't believe these views reflect the opinions of the overwhelming majority of people in our country.

Past hostility and suspicions have been replaced with tolerance and understanding. Our laws and political culture, however, had simply not kept pace with these changes. So when we came to power, Britain still had an unequal age of consent and it was lawful to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion and age.

It was something I was determined to help tackle. I was struck when I listened in the Commons to debates on the age of consent and other issues like this just how much of the opposition was based on prejudice which was very old-fashioned and, at times, downright spiteful. It seemed to me that a Labour Government committed to equality must take action.

In the last eight years, we have seen steady and, at times, remarkable progress. The age of consent for gay men has been equalised. Section 28, a law of which a great many Tory MPs were rightly ashamed but which they still put in place, has been repealed. Anti-gay discrimination in the workplace has been outlawed as it will soon be, we intend, in the provision of goods and services. From 1 January, gay and lesbian couples will be able to adopt children jointly for the first time.

I am proud it was this Labour Government that has brought in these modernising and fair measures - and I can't imagine that any government will reverse them. I wouldn't pretend for a moment that MPs from other parties did not campaign for these changes. But I am convinced that we would not have come so far or so fast without the election of a Labour government determined to turn its words on an equal, opportunity society into action.

For the Civil Partnership Act helps highlight again this Government's determination to create a more modern, open, fairer and democratic country. It's a commitment which can be seen in a wide array of measures, not all of which Independent readers may welcome as much as this Act. So along with the Freedom of Information Act, improved rights for parents at work, devolution for Scotland and Wales, better public services, and the creation of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, we have also seen new powers - with more to come - to tackle the antisocial behaviour that still blights too many communities. All are part of our central mission to provide security and opportunity for all.

They are having an impact. Britain is, in many different ways, a more modern, fairer and better place to live than it was. One of the greatest delights about London's winning bid for the 2012 Olympics was that the decision by the IOC was based, in no small part, on their recognition of the dynamism, strength, tolerance and diversity of our society.

There is, of course, no room for complacency. There is still too much injustice, discrimination and unfairness. But in ceremonies up and down the country this week, we can also see that, as a society and country, we continue to move in the right direction. That's a good enough reason for us all to celebrate.

React Now

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

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Business Project Manager

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager job vaca...

Business Analyst (Agile, SDLC, software)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Day In a Page

Read Next
80 per cent of Commonwealth countries discriminate against LGBTI people - will Salmond speak out?  

Alex Salmond must speak out against the Commonwealth's homophobic countries

Peter Tatchell
 

Commonwealth Games 2014: Speak out against homophobia, Mr Salmond

Peter Tatchell
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor