Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013: some thoughts
17th July 2013 saw the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 receive royal assent and become the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. Woohoo! Wild dancing and extreme happiness...
Well, to a certain extent yes. But I actually felt a little bit like we had collectively shrugged, smiled and moved on. There didn't feel much celebratory. The news hardly covered it (rumours say that Cameron is unhappy at the lack of coverage). I can't help but feel that he's concerned because he used a lot of political capital to get it through in an attempt to show a warm fluffy side to the conservatives and without the positive coverage, all he's had was Peter Bone, David Burrows and co leading the action against the move.
The Act itself still leaves much to be desired. We got some really good positives from it - for the most part, marriage is marriage is marriage, but beyond that, we fought for and got a review of Civil Partnerships, a review of related pension issues, the ability for religious organisations to opt in to marrying us - none of those were originally envisioned by the government.
On the other hand, that we overwhelmingly said to sort Civil Partnerships in the consultation and then still seemed to take the government by surprise on the issue meant that we got a review on Civil Partnerships rather than action. The provisions for the spousal veto and the unwillingness of the government to understand or compromise on the issue show how much work still needs doing on battling transphobia. The spousal veto, pensions and the opt-in-ness of religious organisations shows where same sex couples are still being seen as different and inferior within marriage law.
But the real reason I don't feel the need to celebrate this, and indeed pulled away from watching the debates, was that it was obvious at second readings that, despite the noise from the bigots, it was going to pass. The anti-same sex marriage forces may have spoken most and spoken loudest but they were batshit crazy. They were indulged. It was obvious they didn't have the support. It got to the point where I was waiting for the next "Merciless Prism of Equality" or "Members of the Aggressive Homosexual Community" or Tebbit's proposal to his son, or "ARTIFICIALLY INSEMINATED LESBIAN QUEEN HEIR"rather than worrying about how tight it was going to be - I was enjoying it as a spectator sport. They were a laughing stock.
The one thing I am celebrating though is that I don't think this is over. After Civil Partnerships, where S'onewall led the way and refused to accept that there were limitations, I felt so alone in hating the idea of segregation. I don't feel that this time. Yes, there are some people who are swallowing S'onewall's line about how much they had to do with this and thanking them or copying their slavish thanking of the Parliament, but it really feels like there is a much better understanding of the limitations and much more willingness to work to fix those problems.
I will say this though - Thank you S'onewall... without your outright opposition the community would never have come together to show you how fucking wrong you were and we would never have gotten this far today. You could have spent the last few years saying "of course we would like equal marriage but our priority is here at the moment..." but instead you trotted out lies about how expensive it would be, argued (despite not understanding the argument) that because some people don't want marriage at all it should remain unequal. Thank you for galvanising a community against you.
Thank you, properly, to Campaign for Equal Marriage who did a sterling job of actually empowering people and getting them to engage with the process. I hope that they get a well deserved break, but we need the spirit and oomph they embodied if we're to keep this autonomy.
My own experiment to try and write up all the amendments and their meaning fell a little flat. It's bloody hard work to understand it all and keep up with it. My ultimate hope with that experiment was that we could find some way of becoming a detailed resource able to examine things in detail - in my mind I had Groklaw as a model. I think that the time-sensitive nature of amendments made doing that difficult. I'd love to have another crack (but my mind goes to "there must be a way to automate this... Bill Mark Up Language" or something" (seriously, I can see xml, xpath and xslt being useful tools and a way of showing how various amendments will affect the final bill)).
Oh, yeah the other reason I'm a little slow to celebrate... apparently it's going to take about a year to tell registrars that they can now marry two people of the same sex. I really hope this is because of database problems
So, yeah, there you go, some of my mixed feelings.