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

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

Amanda Hess
Armed RCMP officers approach Centre Block on Parliament Hilll  

Ottawa shooting: A shock attack in a peaceful nation

Jeffrey Simpson
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama