Peter Tatchell on Marriage

Note: Peter Tatchell will be speaking at the Libertarian Alliance Conference, to be held in London on the 30th-31st October 2010. See the LA Website for details.

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Is marriage equality a priority?

Time to end the ban on same-sex marriage

London – 19 August 2010

A recent Pink News poll, found that 98% of its readers believe that civil partnerships are not enough. They want full same-sex civil marriage.

The main UK gay lobby group, Stonewall, does not call or campaign for marriage equality; claiming it is not a priority.

All other major LGBT groups oppose the ban on gay marriage and want registry office civil marriages to be open to all couples, without discrimination.

Peter Tatchell of OutRage! writes for Pink News

The main issue is not whether same-sex marriage is a priority but whether LGBT people should be banned from getting married. We should not be banned. Equality is the number one issue.

No LGBT organisation claiming to support equal rights should remain silent and inactive while we are denied the right to marry. Such outrageous homophobic discrimination must be challenged.

Campaigning for marriage equality does not preclude us from also campaigning against homophobic bullying or for LGBT asylum rights. It is not a case of having to choose one campaign over another. It is possible to simultaneously push for equality on several fronts.

Nor is the main issue whether same-sex marriage is a good thing. I share the feminist critique. Marriage has a history of sexism and patriarchy. I would not want to get married. But as a democrat and human rights defender, I support the right of other LGBTs to marry, if they wish. I resent the fact that people are deemed ineligible to marry, simply because they love a person of the same sex.

Every LGBT organisation should be publicly backing the right of lesbian and gay couples to get married in a registry office on exactly the same terms as heterosexual men and women.

Imagine the outcry if the government banned black couples from getting married and required them to register their relationships through a separate system of civil partnerships instead?

Most of us would condemn it as racist, to have separate laws for black and white people. We’d call it apartheid, like what used to exist in South Africa.

Well, black people are not banned from marriage but lesbian and gay couples are. We are fobbed off with civil partnerships.

Civil partnerships are not equality. They are a new form of discrimination. Separate is not equal.

In terms of law, civil partnerships are a form of sexual apartheid. They create a two-tier system of partnership recognition: one law for heterosexuals (civil marriage) and another law for same-sex couples (civil partnerships).

This perpetuates and extends discrimination. The homophobia of the ban on same-sex civil marriage is compounded by the heterophobia of the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships. Just as a gay couple cannot have a civil marriage, a straight couple cannot have a civil partnership.

Two wrongs don’t make a right. In a democracy, we should all be equal before the law.


The views of other LGBT organisations and campaigners can be viewed here on the Pink News website:

Britain’s main gay rights lobby group, Stonewall, declined to participate and was not willing to express its point of view.


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12 responses to “Peter Tatchell on Marriage

  1. Er… is this an official position of the LA? It would be wrong to impose state sanctions on homosexuality, but it is also wrong to try to impose such relationships as putative marriages, which implies social recognition, and would in fact work out as a coercive measure with respect to those who don’t agree with homosexuality. This is about as wrong as wrong can be. Marriage is essentially a religious concept – and this is just an attempt to ruin the concept of marriage for those who are genuinely married.

  2. What is marriage and what does one exactly want here?
    As far as God is concerned (if marriage is understood as a union before God), the Bible clearly states that same sex, sexual relationships, are not acceptable to God. So I suppose that rather deletes that option from a Judaic or Christian perspective.
    As for a “civil marriage”, being a civil contract, well I guess that is up to the civil authority.

  3. Christopher Houseman

    Further to John B’s first question (what is marriage?), it would be helpful to have definitions of the terms “marriage”, “civil marriage” and “civil partnership”, including information on what rights the parties of these respective arrangements are recognised as having, and by whom these rights are recognised.

    As for John B’s second question (what does one exactly want here?)…

    If the debate regarding “gay marriage”, “civil partnerships”, etc. is just another tug-of-war over who gets state recognition for what, I’d much rather see the state removed from any oversight, regulation, subsidy or sanctions regarding any of these arrangements. “Civil marriage” can revert to being “common law marriage” (with or without ceremonies and certificates as one pleases), and the decision over whether to proceed with an individual religious marriage can be left to the discretion of the officiant, subject as now to the relevant religious laws, customs and authorities.

    If, on the other hand, the “gay marriage” campaign is nothing more than an attempt to politically (viz. forcibly) impose on religious adherents and the wider society a definition of marriage with which either or both disagree, then I fail to see why any libertarian would support such a campaign.

    Even if freedom of conscience for supporters and practitioners of marriage as traditionally understood were not at stake, the state cannot compel recognition in the hearts of individuals, and there’s no point pretending it can.

  4. I fail to see what the fuss is about. There is no univeral recognition by the religious of civil marriages as they stand. Catholics regard them as licensed fornication. Some Christians regard remarriage after divorce as void. And marriages between most people over the age of 40 have no chance of generating offspring.

    If two men want to go through a civil wedding ceremony, that is their right and their business. The rest of us will be required to recognise this in the same way as we’d recognise a business partnership between the two men. So long as no religious organisation is forced to bless such unions or to provide premises, there is no reason for anyone else to complain.

    Of course, people should be free to denounce such unions in whatever terms they please. And there should be no “hate crime” laws that make it illegal to laugh at or shun married homosexuals.

    But gay marriage really is a non-issue.

  5. It seems that if there is any “fuss” it is coming from Mr Tatchell. The rest is comment. :)

  6. Sean Gabb, no, no, no! For a start, there should be no such thing as a “civil wedding”. What’s that? There should simply be the sacrament of Matrimony, for those who wish it, and no registry office alternative. Now we’re told that people are worried about housing and pension rights: well, we could say “you can register as a fiscal unit, whether 2 men, or 2 sisters, or even a whole commune of people” – in that case they could inherit their homes and pensions and have no worries (although we ought to get of out of the inheritance tax business…). But for people who a religious ceremony, “to death do we part”, the Established Church is for them – but they should be told there is no such thing as divorce. If you go into a vow that is lifelong for better or worse, there is nothing the state can do that can get you out of your vow. So you either go the religious marriage route (with no exit), or you register as a fiscal unit, or you just live together – but there is no such thing as a civil wedding.

    Sean opined: “If two men want to go through a civil wedding ceremony, that is their right and their business. The rest of us will be required to recognise this in the same way as we’d recognise a business partnership between the two men.”

    No. No. I couldn’t recognise such a thing. Two men living together and sharing a bed are just that – two men living together and sharing a bed. They cannot becoming related to each other in any way – or in no way I would recognise. Their private life is just that – their private business, but I am not to be “required” to recognise it. Required to! Sean, why aren’t you calling for state sanctions on people like me who don’t recognise these “relationships”. What about transsexuals? Am i to be “required” to recognise their “gender reassignments”. I don’t. And won’t.

    Look! I am a conservative, and although I believe in an essentially free culture, I don’t support a complete absence of a common culture. I would support strong punishments for clergymen in the Church of England who preform “same-sex weddings”. That is because it is our Established Church. The clergymen are abusing the £7bn in funds collected over the centuries (largely from Queen Anne’s Bounty) towards the promotion of the Anglican religion, and spending it on totally opposite purposes.

    Actually, as I see it, freedom is a cultural compact – it is based on the culture of old England, and when we start to lose our cultural bonds with one another, we naturally become less free, as the little platoons recede and the state steps in to regulate society directly. The Church of England is a vital part of my vision of England – and I am totally disgusted with the triumph of heresy and blasphemy in the church today.

  7. DJ – Let me answer some of your points. The first is that we may not be arguing over much at all. You call it a fiscal unit. I call it a civil marriage. Others call it a civil partnership. They all amount to the same – common household, next of kin relationship and so forth. I won’t argue over the differences.

    Now, going to the question of recognition, I am not arguing that you should be required to bow down and regard male or female unions as holy. you should be at perfect liberty to laugh and them and denounce them and regard them as morally void.

    However, there are certain situations in which unions that you do not like should clearly be recognised.

    Suppose two men are in some legal relationship that confers on their sexual relationship the same network of rights and responsibilities as marriage. one of these men falls seriously ill and cannot decide anything for himself regarding his cure. You are a doctor. Do you take instructions from the sick man’s partner? Or do you ignore their legal status, and insist on taking instructions from some blood relative? Or do your recognise a relationship that you may abhor FOR THAT PARTICULAR PURPOSE?

    This is what I mean by recognition. You are not at liberty right now to express your abhorrence for such unions. I wish that you were. But even if you were at complete liberty to do so, I hope you will accept that there are some situations in which you have no reasonable choice but to accept a freely-chosesn status for two people that alters what would otherwise be their legal rights and responsibilities. That is not an endorsement of what they do in bed together.

  8. Let us remember that “marriage has a history of sexism and patriarchy” because — in simple terms — for most of human existence, women’s sexuality was deemed to require particular “watching” because sexuality led directly to children. Everyone knew the identity of a baby’s mother. But fathers wanted to know their offspring were definitely their own.

    Yes, that was so “unenlightened” we know, but it was not fundamentally unreasonable given those fathers were usually feeding, clothing and housing those offspring. But since sex has (in our West at least) in the last 50 years been separated from pregnancy, that worry is much less an issue that it had always been previously. Nor do we concern ourselves nearly as much about any rapacious enemy breaching our town walls, overpowering our protectors and carrying off and/or raping all our women and enslaving our children by those women. In our post-modern comfort, the fixation by some on same-sex marriage as “necessary” for “equality” perhaps demonstrates better than any other issue our era’s complacent smugness that all will always be happily as it is now.

    Let’s hope so. But many of us remain decidedly underwhelmed by Mr Tatchell’s arguments about “equality,” and his vacuous comparing of same-sex marriage to racial discrimination. Indeed, he’s got his history backwards. Apartheid and bans on “interracial” marriage in America as a result of slavery WAS the historical aberration. Before, people of different races had commonly been married; late ancient Rome, for example, was as polyglot a society as any since. Eliminating those racial bans that were concocted starting in the 1600s merely righted nonsense that should never have been.

    Now, it is same-sex marriage that will be introducing the latest historical aberration. Maybe it is a good idea, but the notion of two men or two women marrying is, frankly, utterly revolutionary: it is not really equivalent to any other social change, ever. Yet Mr Tatchell pays no heed to that reality, and never manages to address the far wider social issues that will arise subsequently if such a revolution is embraced:–tatchell-ban-on-samesex-marriage-must-be-lifted-2000521.html#comment-56946702

    And why might that be? Because it is better not to think about it? Because it doesn’t serve an ahistorical, contrived narrative?

  9. Two main points.

    In Britain, marriage has never been completely a State matter (unlike countries such as Italy where the Mayor of a town will often act as the ‘vicar’)

    Secondly, comparing homosexuals not being able to marry with bans on interracial marriage is a false analogy, bordering on dishonest.

    I’ve got nothing against men or women wanting to make their own living and personal arrangements, good luck to them, BUT Libertarians should still have some regard for the culture and customs of the people and not seek to arrogantly sweep them away.

    If homosexuals want to live together they shouldn’t be put at a disadvantage by the State, but it is NOT a Libertarian position to INSIST that people must recognise that union as a ‘marriage’. That is social engineering, the opposite of respect for peoples liberty.

  10. Just as a general point, marriage and various similar ceremonies predate the Christian Church and were traditionally, in Britain, civil contracts without any requirement for a sanction by either the State or the Church. The Church waged a long, hard struggle to get control. Christians and other religious people like to believe that they invented marriage, but they did no such thing.

    If you want a traditional marriage in England, you should in fact just agree with another person to marry, as a private matter. That is as traditional as it gets. It was the promise- the civil contract- that was held to be legally binding, which is why there is the custom of witnesses to the stating of that contract, in case dispute arises.

    Over time, it became customary for the church to bless the marriage, which had already taken place. It thus became customary to hold the marriage at the church door, before proceeding inside for the Bride Mass.

    “Husbondes at churche dore have I had five.”

    It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that marriage in the church itself became obligatory, after a hard, centuries-long campaign to get control of it.

    So, point is, in this fair and sceptred isle, marriage is anything but a religious concept. It’s a civil concept. And regarding dj’s original post saying that it is “imposing” on others to make them recognise it, it is no more an imposition than the imposition upon others to recognise any marriage, if imposition that is, though I can’t for the life of me see how I’m being imposed upon when I call Mr Baggins’s wife Mrs Baggins. It’s not quite up there with the gulag, is it?

    Religions have this strong tendency to pick up on customs, take them over, then pretend they invented them. It’s a sort of false consciousness.

  11. Graham Davies

    Why do I get the impression that the likes of Mr Tatchell will not stop until vicars are threatened with jail for refusing to give their blessing to homosexual partnerships? Perhaps it is the tone of what he has written.

  12. Graham
    I think something similar may apply in Ireland with the recent passing of the Civil Partnership Act. Of course priests are NOT required to officiate at a “civil partnership” between two men. However if the two insist on attempting to hire a Church hall afterwards for a celebration and the priest refuses then I think he could be sued under Equality legislation. Let’s see how that works out.