Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert: Today is a landmark moment for LGBT equality

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Writing for PinkNews, Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Gilbert says the publication of the government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill represents a major moment for equality.

Today the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has been published: it’s a landmark moment for all of us. Because when all is said and done, this breaks down one of the last barriers against LGBT people: the opportunity to have a marriage equal to that of straight people. This Bill will do its bit to make our society fairer.

A lot has been said in recent months about the Coalition Governments proposals. But it’s worthwhile to stand back for a moment and think about how far we’ve come and what this Bill is fundamentally about. When Lynne Featherstone stood up at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference in 2010 and said she would fight for this as Lib Dem Equalities Minister, few people thought it would lead to anything. Sure, Nick Clegg had said that he supported it but we all remembered that disastrous interview David Cameron gave to Gay Times. I heard from quite a few people that they were sceptical whether we would be able to convince our Coalition partners of this important change.

Yet, here we are: discussing legislation that will end the state’s ban on same-sex couples marrying. In fact, it goes a step further and allows faiths that wish to marry two men or two women to do so as well. It ends that nod and a wink suggestion that although legally, same-sex couples are equal, they are different and un-deserving of ‘real’ marriage. It allows us to marry whoever we want.

It’s also a landmark moment for transgender people: soon they won’t have to annul their marriage after they have legally changed their gender. That period of change is hectic and difficult enough as it is without the state making couples legally end their relationship, something that was emotionally traumatic for many couples I have spoken to. So it’s right and fair that we end that discrimination and let them stay married.

I know people are annoyed that we’re legislating specifically against the Church of England marrying same-sex couples. Unfortunately, as long as they are the Established Church and have an obligation to marry anyone who wishes to be married in their church under current common law and canon law, we have to make sure that they are not forced to do so until they are ready to accept gay couples. That’s a matter for the Synod and rightly, elected politicians have to stay out of their internal affairs – however frustrating that may be. If it were up to me, I’d disestablish the Church tomorrow but it isn’t, so I can’t.

We already know that a majority of MPs will support equal marriage on 5 February, when this Bill will be debated for the first time in Parliament. The Coalition for Equal Marriage and Out4Marriage have done an amazing job on that and have really helped this campaign along.

But we’re not there yet: I want to see as many MPs as possible vote for – not just a simple majority. So I want to ask you to help Coalition for Equal Marriage, and write, call, email or tweet your MP. Show them that their constituents care about equal marriage. Tell them that you want to be as equal as your straight neighbour, brother, sister, parent, friend and colleague. Tell them that you want to marry who you love, no matter what gender they might happen to be.

I’m looking forward to a very busy “aye lobby”, when I walk through there to vote yes. I’ll be immensely proud to be able to make society a bit more fairer, together with my Liberal Democrat colleagues and as many others as possible. I hope you will be too because without you, it would never have been possible.

Stephen Gilbert is the Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay.