British Gay Groups Fighting Over Marriage Equality
Though same-sex couples in Britain are allowed many of the same rights and protections as heterosexual married couples under civil unions provisions, they have yet to gain full marriage equality. The current Prime Minister, David Cameron, has spoken in favor of marriage parity for gay and lesbian families, but in a twist, GLBT equality groups are divided as to whether to pursue full family recognition before the law.
The U.K.’s primary GLBT equality organization, Stonewall, has so far declined to offer its support for full marriage equality, according to a Sept. 21 news release from equality advocate Peter Tatchell of another equality group, OutRage!
The news release reported that at a Sept. 20 meeting of the Liberal Democrat party, which is a partner in the current British coalition government, Stonewall leader Ben Summerskill claimed that the cost of implementing full marriage equality would be too exorbitant. Summerskill asserted that the total tab would be close to $8 billion.
Tatchell slammed Stonewall’s refusal to support marriage equality in Britain, stating that, "Although Stonewall does a lot of valuable, important work, on this issue it is wrong. It is, in effect, actively undermining the campaign for marriage equality."
The news release cited an article in Pink News on Stonewall’s position and contended, "A recent online survey of LGBT readers by the Pink News website found that 98% want full marriage equality. Stonewall does not represent LGBT opinion on this issue. It is out of touch."
"While many straight politicians now support same-sex civil marriage, Stonewall is refusing to campaign against the homophobic ban on gay and lesbian couples getting married," Tatchell said. "It is shocking to see a gay equality organization declining to support equal rights legislation because it might cost too much. No other equality organization makes equal human rights contingent on the cost. It is deplorable to insinuate that we can only have equality if it doesn’t cost too much."
Tatchell also questioned the sum that Summerskill quoted. "If civil marriage and civil partnerships are the same, as Stonewall has always claimed, how could marriage equality cost more?" Tatchell asked. "Every other comparable LGBT organization in the world is campaigning to end the ban on same-sex marriage, but not Stonewall. It is out of step with the British and global trend towards equal marriage rights."
"Of all the bizarre places to come out against marriage equality, an event run in conjunction with DELGA, the Liberal Democrat LGBT organization, would seem to be the most odd," wrote blogger Zoe O’Connell. "But that’s just what Ben Summerskill, head of so-called ’equality’ organization Stonewall did today."
"Mr. Summerskill also accused PinkNews.co.uk of running an ’unethical campaign’ against Stonewall after it asked every LGBT rights organization/ political group to outline their stance on marriage equality," the Pink News story said. "Only Stonewall refused to answer."
Earlier this summer the Liberal Democrats announced a plan to make civil marriage accessible to gay and lesbian couples. Tory leader and Prime Minister David Cameron campaigned on a platform of GLBT equality, and made efforts to court GLBT voters.
But for Stonewall, a plethora of other considerations came into the equation. Pink News reported that Summerskill had other reasons for not wishing to pursue marriage equality, including a fear that heterosexual friends would exploit civil marriage provisions meant to benefit same-sex families, and a claim that many feminists see marriage as a morally objectionable arrangement. Summerskill also reportedly argued that the GLBT community’s priorities ought to rank the problem of anti-gay violence above the right of same-sex families to enter into full civil marriages.
In a Pink News article from July 1, 2009, Summerskill posited that many gays do not even wish to have marriage equality as a right. Summerskill told Pink News, "[T]he issue on marriage is that again, there are a lot of vocal supporters, but the thing they’ve always focused on is actually the real rights and entitlements. As I said, we know there are quite a lot of gay and lesbian people who wouldn’t want marriage, and some have explicitly said so."