The Prime Minister should be commended for endorsing equal marriage for same-sex couples despite the prejudices of many of his own Conservative MPs, says Peter Tatchell.
Alex Wong - Getty Images
Gold standard: same-sex marriage could be fully legal by 2015
David Cameron is getting lots of stick over the government’s austerity measures and the consequent job losses and cuts in public services. Some people see him as an old-style Tory reactionary, out-Thatchering Margaret Thatcher.
But on at least one issue the Prime Minister is a blatant liberal. He’s pledged to legalise same-sex civil marriage by 2015 - and possibly sooner according to recent leaks. Even critics of his economic policies, like me, have been moved to commend Cameron for endorsing equal marriage.
Moreover, he has stuck to his guns despite fierce opposition from religious leaders, from up to 100 backbench Tory MPs and from dozens of Conservative constituency associations.
The Prime Minister realises that this issue is a simple matter of equality and non-discrimination. A fundamental principle of a democratic society is that everyone should be equal before the law. There should be no exceptions, not even on the issue of marriage.
Cameron has looked at the evidence and concluded that the current ban on gay couples getting married is unjust discrimination that serves no public good. Indeed, it signals that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are deemed inferior, second class and unworthy of the gold standard: marriage.
In contrast, legalising same-sex marriage is the recognition that LGBT people are of equal worth and have an equal right to the legal validation of their love and commitment.
Civil partnerships for gay couples are fine but limited. They are a form of legal segregation based on sexual orientation. Separate is not equal.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone is entitled to equal treatment and protection against discrimination, including the right to marry. UK equality legislation enshrines this same principle: equal human rights for all.
Marriage equality is consistent with these human rights values and principles.
Equal footing: David Cameron
It is true that the anti-gay Coalition for Marriage amassed 559,000 signatures against same-sex marriage. Of course, many of those who signed did so in the false belief that the government was going to force religious institutions to marry same-sex couples. This is not true. No faith will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages. The new law will apply to civil ceremonies in registry offices only.
The organised campaign against marriage equality may have garnered a huge volume of signatures but it is still out of touch with public opinion. The YouGov poll in June found that 71% of British people support the right of same-sex couples to have a civil marriage.
Regardless, this issue is not about numbers. It’s about principles.
Even if there was only one same-sex couple in the whole of the UK and everyone else opposed their right to get married, that one couple would still be entitled to equal human rights.
Majorities, no matter how large or loud, do not have a right to ride roughshod over minorities. Human rights, including the right to get married, trump all other considerations.
In a free society, people of faith are entitled to believe that homosexuality is wrong and to not marry a person of the same-sex. However, they are not entitled to demand that their particular interpretation of holy text is enshrined as the law of the land and imposed on everyone else.
One of the litmus tests of a democracy is respect for the human rights of minorities. LGBT people are a minority but minority status is not a rational or moral reason to discriminate against them - or against anyone else.
Peter Tatchell is director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which campaigns for global rights