(Editor’s note: Human rights activist Peter Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, wrote this commentary for the London Evening Standard and shared it with SDGLN.)
The opponents of same-sex marriage have unleashed a torrent of homophobia unseen in this country for two decades. Hardly a day passes without them depicting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people as unfit and unworthy of marriage; giving comfort and succour to bigots.
They claim to support love and marriage but they want to deny gay couples the right to marry the person they love. Then, having demanded the law discriminate by barring same-sex partners from getting married, they have the audacity to insist that they are not homophobic.
Let’s be blunt: A person who opposes legal equality for LGBT people is homophobic - in the same way that a person who opposes equal rights for black people is racist. They are heterosexual supremacists who want to maintain their dominance and reserve for themselves the privilege of marriage.
Although many defenders of the ban on same-sex marriage profess to support civil partnerships, that’s not what they were saying 10 years ago. Most of them fought civil partnerships - and every other gay law reform of the last decade - using the same intolerant arguments they now deploy in a bid to thwart marriage equality.
Their rabid defence of the tradition that “marriage is between a man and a women” echoes the past defence of other inglorious traditions: slavery, colonialism and the denial of votes to women. We eventually abandoned these traditions because we evolved as a society and deemed them to be wrong.
Marriage has been redefined many times down the centuries. It used to involve polygamy and child brides. There was a ban on divorce and the remarriage of divorcees. Wives were the property of men and, until recently, rape was legal in marriage. In some countries, inter-racial marriage was once prohibited by law. Given that marriage has been often redefined in the past, why can’t it be redefined again to embrace loving LGBT couples?
In a propaganda ploy typical of many fanatics, the naysayers depict the government as being out of touch and claim to represent the silent majority.
Yet more than 70% of the public, including 58% of people of faith, reject discrimination in marriage law and support the right of same-sex couples to have a civil marriage, according to a YouGov poll. ICM found that 57% of those intending to vote Tory at the next election support equal marriage.
Critics say same-sex marriage was sprung out of nowhere. Not true. At David Cameron's request, I met George Osborne and Theresa May before the 2010 election and secured their agreement to review the ban on LGBT marriage. This commitment was published prior to election day in A Contract for Equalities.
The antis say there is no need for this legislation at this time. Wrong again. The Equal Love campaign, which I coordinate, has a legal challenge to the gay marriage ban in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Realising the UK government is likely to lose, Cameron agreed to press ahead with same-sex marriage soon after our case was filed in Strasbourg. Understandably, he didn't want to send a minister to the ECHR to argue in favour of maintaining discrimination in marriage law. I may disagree with David Cameron on austerity and public spending cuts, but on gay marriage I salute him.