Maria Miller: Equal marriage would have made suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst proud

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller says that Wednesday’s Royal Assent of equal marriage fits a proud tradition of British social reform, including the suffragette campaigns of the women’s rights activist Emmeline Pankhurst.

Writing in an column for The Telegraph following this week’s Royal Assent of the same-sex marriage act, the Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities said: “It’s an extension of the work of all those individuals; Emmeline Pankhurst, Sir Robert Peel and the many others who have argued for and created social change over the generations.”

She added: “Whilst this legislation may be about marriage, its impact is so much wider. Making marriage available to all couples demonstrates our society’s respect for all individuals regardless of their sexuality.

“It demonstrates the importance we attach to being able to live freely. That gay or straight, you have the same right to live a happy and fulfilled life in Britain today. It’s an extension of the work of all those.”

Mrs Miller’s comments continue the theme of the article she wrote last month, where she compared the equal marriage bill to Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up a bus seat in Alabama, as well the actions of another suffragette, Emily Davison, who fell beneath a King’s horse at the Epsom Derby.

The Culture Secretary also commented on the act’s historic value, emphasising the progress we have made since homosexuality was first decriminalised. She wrote: “Yesterday was an historic moment that says so much about the country that we are, and the country that we want to be.

“As a nation, we’ve made huge progress since 1967 around LGB&T rights and for many it has seemed a long journey and for many young people it’s difficult to believe that homosexual activity was still a criminal offence as recently as 1967.”

In June, Mrs Miller told PinkNews that although we have come a long way since 1967, “the fact is there are still many people who feel ashamed, who have hidden or who are still hiding their sexuality, through fear of homophobia or transphobia.”

Mrs Miller also commented on the importance of maintaining diversity following the act’s passing.

She said: “Now we will put in place all the necessary arrangements to ensure same sex couples can now actually marry – be that as liberal Jews, Quakers or in a civil ceremony.

“Work is already under way to implement the new legislation, and we plan to celebrate the first same sex wedding in England and Wales by next summer.”

Last month saw the Culture Secretary table a clause to the Public Order Act which would protect critics and opponents of same-sex marriage from prosecution.

She added: “Throughout the passage of this bill there have been strong views on both sides.

“We have listened to all the issues raised, ensuring that the religious protections it contains are strong and effective and that those that believe marriage is between a man and a woman are equally protected.

“The naysayers thought that this legislation would encounter insurmountable difficulties in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons, it has passed undefeated at all stages, a huge achievement for Parliament and a testament to the recognition that it’s time had come.

“MPs are privileged as elected members to debate and decide on many issues that make a tangible difference to the lives of our constituents, on issues that strengthen the fabric of our society.

“What is politics for if not to help us build a fairer and more equal country? We will celebrate that the marriage of same sex couples has finally become law, we have achieved a historic milestone that will resonate in many people’s lives – and I am proud that we have made it happen.”