Labour MP Steve Reed: The battle for equality is not yet over

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Writing for PinkNews, Steve Reed, Labour MP for Croydon North and Patron of LGBT Labour welcomes the publication of the government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – but warns “this is no time to rest on our achievements.”

The publication of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill this morning is a major step forward in the journey towards equality for LGBT people in the United Kingdom – a journey that was begun by a Labour government nearly 50 years ago when legislation was passed to allow consensual gay sex for the first time.

We’ve come a long way since then, both within the LGBT community and in British society as a whole. In 1999 Tony Blair’s Labour government amended sex discrimination regulations to offer protection to transgender people – the first in a series of major reforms that meant that when Labour left government in 2010, LGBT people had an equal age of consent, LGBT issues could be discussed in schools for the first time, discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or gender were banned, trans people had full recognition of their change of gender and same-sex couples could have their relationships recognised in a civil partnership. The Tories opposed nearly all of those changes, just as they voted through Section 28 which stated in law, for the first time, the offensive notion that gay relationships are ‘pretend’.

Now, in the face of opposition from many Tory MPs, the Labour Party will be responsible for voting through the legal changes that will allow same-sex couples to marry for the first time in British history.

The Labour Party is founded on the concept of equality. Without that historic struggle, today would never have been possible.

But this is no time to rest on our achievements. When MPs get the first chance to debate this bill on 5th February, there will be many in the Chamber of the House of Commons – most of them on the government benches – who will argue against equal marriage. It’s clear from the great work carried out by the Coalition for Equal Marriage and Out4Marriage that there are still many MPs who do not support this move to allow people the freedom to marry who they want.

That’s why I want first and foremost to encourage everyone reading this to start writing to your MP, meet them, discuss with them the proposals and show them that we do care, we do matter and we do want equality. Those groups opposed to equality are bombarding MPs with their views. Don’t let them go unchallenged.

Many organisations who oppose marriage equality, such as the Christian Institute, claim that LGBT people don’t really care about it this reform. We must stand up and show them that this is simply not true. I know that millions of LGBT people in our country care very deeply about being given the same rights as our straight friends.

On February 5th, I will be voting to support this bill alongside Ed Miliband and the whole Labour Shadow Cabinet. So, please do everything you can to encourage your MP to join us on the right side of history. Let’s get this bill passed and let’s say goodbye to inequality once and for all.

Steve Reed is the Labour Cooperative MP for Croydon North and Patron of LGBT Labour.