Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Time for gay marriage

There are many things that make me proud about having been a Labour Minister – being the Bill Minister for the Civil Partnerships Act is well up the list. Compared to some of the other legislation I was responsible for, the Bill had quite a smooth passage through the House of Commons. There had been some pretty lively arguments within government about issues such as equal pension rights – which were finally settled in favour of equality. However, by the time the Bill was introduced to Parliament, I could confidently say that there was no substantive legal difference in the rights offered within a civil partnership to those within a civil marriage. The Civil Partnerships Act 2004 ensured equal rights and recognition. But it wasn’t gay marriage. It was an important and right step, but I now understand that in marriage and in ensuring equality, symbols can be as important as hard legal rights.

The Government is right to propose that civil marriage should be available to all couples. Differentiating between the long term legal commitment of a gay couple as compared to a heterosexual couple does, at the margin, provide an ongoing discrimination. If there are young people made to feel second class at the thought of this, it should change. If there are thugs who feel more justified in laying into a gay man because of this difference, it should change. If there are families who want a marriage to celebrate rather than just a partnership, it should change.

The value of marriage to me does not lie in its exclusivity – it lies in the fact that it is possible to make a public and legal commitment to your partner and to receive the recognition and support of others to make a success of the relationship. My marriage is not less valuable to me if others are able to enter into the same commitment – in fact I think it is more special that others want the chance to do the same.

I’m sorry that the Government hasn’t gone further in offering the legal chance to religious authorities to celebrate same sex marriages. However, the proposed change is wholly civil, so I’m a bit tired of the pontificating of churchmen. Lynne Featherstone is right to argue that religious authorities don’t own marriage. My marriage is not a sacrament. It’s a public and legal agreement which doesn’t need the approval (or otherwise) of the church for its significance.

I’m proud of the Civil Partnerships Act, but happy now to see it amended (or even repealed). It has paved the way for the symbolic but important development of equal civil marriage.

This year, Richard and I celebrate our Silver Wedding – yes, I was a child bride (almost). We will be having a party and plenty of celebrations. It could only add to the festivities if we could also celebrate welcoming many more people into married life.


Jacqui Smith is former home secretary and writes the Monday Politics column for Progress


Photo: Mellicious

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Jacqui Smith

is a former home secretary and writes the Monday Politics column for Progress


  • Dear Jacqui,
    I read your statement with an open mind. Whilst you probably agree it is easy to propose a contraversial issue like gay marriage than perhaps oppose it. This is largely down to the hundreds of New Labour Policy policy on the hoof ideas that have passed and failed. Whilst I recognise your right to have your say, you are now longer in a position to influence policy.

    Bills normally have a smooth passage through the commons but have a rough ride through society. This would normally would mean politicians pass bills through parliament that are unpopular with constituents they represent. You are voted in on fake manifesto policy then continue with an unwritten socialist code in the attempt to transform society by the few in parliamnent against the many in society. This is most definitely true here.
    Lets talk about Morals
    I wish to remind you regards MPs expenses fiasco and previous governments involvement in it. There are no morals in a modern politicians behaviour. Tony Blair has lots of morals raking in £30,000,000 on the back of a New Labour ticket. Many more politicians come to mind. I wonder even if you are getting paid for this article like you were paid £500 to appear on This Week.

    Whether I am religious or not the Morals of the Church of England in comparison to the morals of New Labour politicians…and you know who they are, are so far advanced.

    New Labour and politicians who vote in favour of this propsal will alienate the Christians, Anglican and Catholic, Jewish, Islam and a large working class majority at the ballot box.

    How will labour get elected Jacqui?

    The Labour party is split and it will no doubt split into two parties by 2015. Remember where you heard it first and who told you.

  • Well I wish Jaqui Smith was still an MP and able to influence policy! But still the Civil Partnership Act was a major piece of legislation which was de facto gay marriage but with some pieces left to be tidied up, which is what is now being debated. Interestingly the language of marriage attached to Civil Partnerships immediately including in the press and certainly the majority of people in a Civil Partnership.

    I think the government’s approach, though well meaning, is however wholly wrong and will actually cause problems and make it more complicated than it need be. The role of government in marriage is (a) to state who can and cannot be married, and (b) provide marriages themselves through civil marriages.

    What government does not have the right to do is to say to religious groups that they can’t carry out certain types of marriage which are otherwise lawful. I cannot think of a clearer instance of both discrimination and interference in internal church matters. Having said that same sex couples can marry every church should be free to offer such marriages or, for doctrinal reasons, decline to do so.

    By the way I have no problem each church, synagogue etc deciding its own policy – the whole point of civil marriage is that the church can decide to marry or not marry according to how they define their teachings (e.g. divorcees, people of different faiths and so on). I also have no problem – seeing it has become an issue in the Daily Mail fantasy universe with legislating to protect both a denomination and a celebrant from having to conduct such marriages – just so the matter is clear.

    But to actively prevent religious organisations by legislation from marrying same sex couples when they want to do so on the ground that other religious groupings don’t like it is surely illiberal and crosses a line that ought not to be crossed in a free society – of the State dictating to faith groups what they can and cannot do – making their doctrines and practices for them.

  • Jacqui forgets that she wasn’t responsible for the Civil Partnerships Bill – the inital draft was from Lib Dem Lord Lester as a Private Members Bill.

    The current consultation asks respondents whether they support equal religious marriage, and the extension of civil partnerships to mixed-sex couples.

    It’s nice to see Labour politicians supporting this, but when is the Labour Party going to join the Lib Dems and become the second major party (plus the Greens) to support equal marriage?

  • Yes I had forgotten about Lord Lester’s Bill and I genuinely appreciate Lord Lester’s work on a lot of equality and human rights issues. Nevertheless, I think it will be interesting to see if Lib Dems join Labour in voting to allow religious same sex marriage where the faith organisation itself wishes for it or instead vote with the government (against their policy…). Of course I hope that they do.

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