Ray Collins on why LGBT people deserve the same rights and respect as every other citizen in our country
Since 1997, the situation for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain has changed significantly. And with the exception of civil marriage we have full legal equality.
Much of that progress was made, I am proud to say, under the last Labour government. But I am also proud that across all political parties there is now a consensus that respects the right of lesbian and gay people to celebrate their relationships. Britain can rightly now claim to be a beacon to the world of equality for gay people. On this final step I am immensely proud of David Cameron for being prepared to stand up and be counted. His personal commitment to equality in marriage is something I celebrate.
My husband Rafael and I have taken every opportunity given to us to celebrate our 16 year relationship on an equal footing in civic society. When parliamentary opposition delayed progress on Civil Partnerships we went ahead with a ceremony in London City Hall. After that Bill was finally passed, we legally tied the knot in Islington Town Hall. It was a very moving moment for us, our family and friends to be part of a ceremony that finally gave legal recognition to the inherent worth of a loving relationship between two people of the same sex.
I am glad that some who opposed the civil partnership legislation appear since to have had a change of heart. Hopefully it is because they are persuaded by seeing how the law has helped transform the lives of lesbian and gay people in our country rather than attempt to frustrate this move to full equality.
In a recent letter to Lord Waheed Alli, the Bishop of Salisbury wrote that public support has increased in civil partnerships those very qualities for which marriage itself is so highly regarded, increasing commitment to working on the relationship itself, contributing to the wellbeing of both families of origin, and acting as responsible and open members of society. He went on to say that the ‘quadruple locks’ contained in the Bill provide extraordinarily robust protection for those religious bodies unwilling to conduct same sex marriage without accusation of being homophobic.
It is of course a matter of religious freedom that those religions and Churches that do want to conduct same sex marriages should be able to do so.
With so much to be proud of, why do we need this legislation?
For Rafael and I, it’s that our relationship be equal in the eyes of the law. It would also help tackle the prejudice that remains. Like many, I believed the introduction of civil partnerships would bring about a change in attitudes and real reductions in the prejudice that lesbian and gay people face. Sadly this is not the case.
Recent Polling for Stonewall has shown 20,000 homophobic crimes annually, 800,000 people in 5 years witnessing homophobic bullying at work, 96% young LGBT people in secondary schools routinely hear homophobic language, and three in five gay pupils who experience homophobic bullying say teachers who witness it never intervene.
Unfortunately recent letters and emails to me also provide evidence of continued prejudice towards the LGBT community. Being defined as immoral and evil is just for starters. Statements made by many public figures have compared same-sex relationships with child abuse, slavery and bestiality. Comments like this fuel aggression and homophobic bullying and cause huge damage to the self-esteem of young people in particular.
Sadly all this suggests that those changes Labour made have not been enough to diminish the remaining prejudice. By passing this Bill, Parliament will send a very clear message - that LGBT people are equal and deserve the same rights and respect as every other citizen in our country.
Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is a Labour Peer, and a member of the Shadow DfID and Health teams
Published 4th June 2013