Peter Tatchell: The equal marriage bill is commendable, but flawed

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While legalising marriage equality is welcome and commendable, the government’s refusal to end discrimination against straight couples in civil partnership law is flawed and wrong. Opposite-sex couples are legally prohibited from having a civil partnership and for no rational reason David Cameron intends to keep it that way.

Despite proclaiming that the legalisation of same-sex civil marriage is driven by the principle of equality, the government’s forthcoming legislation will retain the inequality of the current legal ban on heterosexual civil partnerships.

This will mean that for the first time in British law gay couples will have legal privileges over heterosexual couples.

Some straight men and women don’t like the patriarchal traditions of marriage. They’d prefer a civil partnership. Why shouldn’t they have that option?

In the government’s public consultation last year, 61% of respondents supported extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. Only 24% opposed.

Under government legislation, there will be two forms of official state recognition for lesbian and gay couples: the present system of civil partnerships and the new system of civil marriages. Heterosexual couples will have only one option: marriage. They will be subjected to legal inequality and discrimination.

This is very wrong. I support straight equality.

This legal case helped prompt the government to commit itself three months later to end the ban on same-sex marriage.

Our European Court case also seeks to overturn the prohibition on opposite-sex civil partnerships. This aspect of the legal case will continue, despite the government’s legislation of marriage equality.

My four decades of human rights activism have been based on the principle of equality. I can’t accept equal rights for gay couples but not for heterosexual couples.

In a democratic society, we should all be equal before the law. Straight men and women also deserve equality.

Both civil marriages and civil partnerships should be open to all couples, without any sexual orientation discrimination.

In the Netherlands, where civil marriages and civil partnerships are available to all couples – gay and straight – the vast majority of civil partnerships are between heterosexual men and women. Some straight people prefer them.

If civil partnerships were made available to heterosexual couples in the UK there would probably be a similar significant take up.

This issue is not about numbers. It is about equality. Even if only a handful of straight people wanted a civil partnership, they are entitled to have one.

Peter Tatchell is director of the London-based human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, and coordinator of the Equal Love campaign.

The views in this article are his own and not those of