Thursday, December 22, 2005

Now this is what I call a progressive partnership

Looking at the dozens of happy couples today (even Elton and David), it seems incredible that less than forty years ago, men were jailed for having consensual sex with other men - and jaw-dropping that the law in Scotland was only changed to mirror that in England and Wales in 1980 and Ulster took until 1982 to catch up, despite Ian Paisley's Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign.

But now, they've got the same sort of rights that everybody else takes for granted. Until today, a gay partner had no legal standing - they could be refused access to their partner's bedside in case of illness, could be denied any involvement in their funeral and missed out on the benefits of pensions or been made homeless by having to pay death duties.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff came out (ahem) with an enlightened statement harking back to the good old days of s28, one of the Thatcher era's nastier pieces of tabloid-pleasing legislation.
'What the Government should do in terms of public policy is support marriage rather than undermine it. To put beside marriage an alternative or what appears to be a perfectly approved legal alternative lifestyle I think does not help the institution of marriage at all.'

Pardon me, but this is supporting marriage - if you regard marriage as two people making a lifetime, loving commitment to each other. While the registration irons out certain legal niceties, I don't believe that these people are doing it for an adminstrative convenience. For them, this brief ceremony is a public affirmation of who they are and their love for each other. I've been struck by how long some have waited for this - 40 years, 18 years, 16 years, 14 years, 7 years. Remember also the handful of couples registered by special licence in advance of today - including one gay couple who registered their partnership just hours before one of them died. This really does matter and is actually good for the overall stability of society.

This is one area where the government's record is enviable, but I still can't help feeling that this is less of a celebration of something new than a freedom too long denied or an injustice righted. Still, raise a glass to the 700 happy couples across the country tonight. Good luck one and all.

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