Tony Blair: With hindsight maybe I should have gone for equal marriage and not just civil partnerships

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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has questioned whether it might have been possible to have achieved marriage equality during his time in office.

Mr Blair made the remarks in a BBC Radio 4 programme broadcast yesterday, covering recent history of the gay rights movement.

As Prime Minister from 1997-2007, Mr Blair presided over a whole host of landmark pieces of equality legislation, including equalising the age of consent, removing Section 28 and banning homophobic and transphobic discrimination in the workplace.

Speaking to Reverend Richard Coles, Mr Blair was asked why equal rights were a policy issue for his government.

He replied: “I grew up with and knew people who were gay and it was perfectly obvious to me: it was something that came to them naturally and therefore if you weren’t treating them equally it was literally just a matter of prejudice because they weren’t going to stop being gay as a result of that – they were just not going to enjoy equality.”

Mr Blair continued: “People felt there was going to be an enormous amount of opposition to moving forward on this issue. I felt particularly with my own generation at the time, and younger, that really that opposition was very thin.

“So it was something I believed in, something I felt could be done, and something that I feel should be done.”

Mr Blair praised the current government for taking gay equality “to a further stage”, but also suggested, with the benefit of hindsight, that it’s possible Labour could have been even bolder with its introduction of civil partnerships in 2005.

“I think at the time we worked this out quite carefully in conjunction with the gay community and it seemed like the right thing to do – but I also think it’s right now to take [civil partnerships] to a further stage.

“I don’t know looking back whether it might have been possible to have gone that way [for same-sex marriage] right at the beginning, but at the time it seemed like a very big step – and indeed was.”

The former Labour leader concluded: “I think civil partnerships were really important because it created a whole atmosphere of normality around gay relationships, and it allowed people not just the dignity of making a statement about a particular relationship, but it really knocked down the last walls of prejudice.”