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24 September 2014

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You are in: Suffolk > People > Profiles > Gay marriage - what it means to us!

Pride London 2005

Pride London 2005

Gay marriage - what it means to us!

On 5 December 2005 a new law passed onto the statute books to allow same-sex couples to form a civil partnership together, recognising in the eyes of society, and of the law, the relationship between two men or two women.

So how important is this new law? Is it a crucial turning point for our community or is it just another piece of legislation to be lost in the masses already in existence? In an age where to be gay is to be trendy, how important is this?

Edwina Currie

Edwina Currie

Politics and Sex

It is difficult for those coming out today to appreciate quite how much life has changed for the gay community in a single generation. Until 1967 homosexuality was still illegal in the UK, and although legalised at the age of 21 for England and Wales in that year, gay people in Scotland and Northern Ireland had to wait until 1980 and 1982 respectively before their sexuality became legal.

In 1994 Tory MP Edwina Currie attempted to equalise the age of consent at 16. Although her amendment failed, the age of consent was moved to 18. It was only in the year 2000, a mere 6 years ago, that equality between gay and straight in the age of consent was reached. The Civil Partnership Act in 2005 is the latest legal step in equality.

Headline News

Social acceptance of a gay lifestyle has altered immeasurably in the last generation. The harsh social stigma attached to homosexuals in the 80s was fuelled by provocative, and often misleading, news headlines. In a world where public opinion is dictated by media headlines, this was a problem.

One huge issue was, and is, the HIV virus. Little was known about HIV in the early 80s and as the medical world tried to get to grips with this new, aggressive illness people took extraordinary actions to prevent the spread of a disease about which they had little information. In San Francisco, the Police department equipped officers with special masks and gloves when dealing with a suspected AIDS patient.

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament

In 1987 the UK government launched its 'AIDS: Don't Die of Ignorance' campaign and although targeted at all sections of the community, HIV was still considered a 'gay disease' and treated its victims, and therefore the gay community, as untouchables. Later in 1987 the first barrier was broken when Princess Diana publicly shook the hand of an AIDS patient. As hysteria slowly died down and reality took over, the stigma attached to HIV+ people decreased. The problem, however, continues.

Section 28 was a problematic piece of legislation, preventing information on homosexuality being presented at school. Media headlines talked of 'converting children to homosexuality' and continued the erroneous link between gays and paedophiles. The headlines failed to mention that research shows that the vast majority of child abuse takes place within the family. This was certainly not one of the 'traditional family values' that the government was espousing at the time. Section 28 was finally abolished in November 2003, much to the distaste of the House of Lords.

Modern Life

It was only in the late 1990s and 2000s that social acceptance of homosexuality has boomed, largely due to favourable coverage in the media, especially on television. The last few years has seen 'gay' as fashionable.

Graham Norton

Graham Norton

Gays and straights merge in programmes such as Big Brother, Queer Eye, Graham Norton, Queer as Folk and the hugely successful comedy Will and Grace, together with popular, and now indispensable, gay characters in all the popular soap operas. By being in the public eye, society has seen that gay people live pretty much the same life as everyone else and the negative stereotypes are slowly dissolving.

Another reason for the slow acceptance by modern society of the gay lifestyle has been the lack of strong gay characters in the public eye. Those public figures who could have had a great influence on the acceptance of the gay community hid their sexuality behind sham marriages, thereby inferring by their actions that homosexuality was something to be ashamed of or hidden.

One of the only strong, proud gay personalities of modern time is Julian Clary, who has never hidden his sexuality and continues to be a very popular personality today. He probably survived the 80s media pressure due to being much quicker and wittier than those interviewing him and too good looking to vilify.

Julian Clary

Julian Clary

A final boom to gay social acceptance was the emergence of New Labour. Whatever your political leanings, it is unthinkable that a Conservative government would have pushed through the kind of social policy that New Labour have. The biggest block to equality has been the Tory dominated House of Lords, and the Commons has had to use its strongest weapon against them, the Parliament Act, to force legislation through.

A gay life

So, ten years ago to be gay was to be vilified by those living around you, victimised at work, have no legal rights, to be equated with AIDS and illness, to be considered a danger to children and to be unseen and unheard. Today, to be gay is to be quite normal, fashionable and acceptable, with the same legal rights as any other couple. This is an incredible transition in just ten years.

So the passing of the Civil Partnership Act is not just another piece of legislation, it is a huge validation of how far our society has progressed and should be acknowledged as a celebration of equality in Britain today.

last updated: 23/05/2008 at 09:58
created: 01/02/2006

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Nicola Humphries
I wouldn't say that equality was reached yet. Then again, I doubt it'll ever be reached, mainly due to religious beliefs (no offense to anyone out there) and then, of course, to indiviual thoughts. There will always be someone who will think "That's sick" when two men/women are holding hands or something. I think it's rather sad that the church doesn't really allow proper church marraiges. And why can't homosexual couples adopt, Callen? If homosexuality is equal, then surely it would make no difference. It's not going to effect the "third party" since they will still have loving parents, just of the same gender. Its better than having no parents, isn't it?

i think that it is a great idea that people can do civil partnership in britian today

Mark Taylor
As previously stated, I find the need to debate on this topic due to my personal life challenges, I am a nurse with the NHS, who due to the nature of my job engages with the “Gay debate”, with various more mature members of staff, all of whom, to me, have been very supportive of my sexuality. I have known my partner for 10 years, although we have only been a couple for 36 months I cannot express what our recent civil partnership means to me. The recent Gay rights legislation has enabled me to make the same life long commitments and show of love to my life partner as a heterosexual person. I feel complete with him and know that I have found the person of my dreams, I feel complete.


leigh and maddie
we think that it's a disgrace that gays shouldn't be allowed the same rights as hetrosexuals. everyone's alwys saying that communities should be equal. yet this hypocritical act contradicts this belief.

Callen, I feel I must come back on your comments. Firstly, I don't believe gay people wish to emulate male/female relationships. This would suggest that being straight is the 'proper' way and anything else is merely a copy of this. Also, I'm not sure why the introduction of a child to the 'mix' would complicate matters any more than if the couple were straight- gay people are not a danger to children, nor is the child's sexuality going to be influenced by living with a gay couple (and even if it was, why is that a bad thing? Surely the same must be said for living with a straight couple?). Don't misunderstand me, I'm not accussing you of homophobia - but surely such underlying attitudes are liable to perpetuate prejudice?

CALLEN [The Voice]
I agree with many views here supporting and in particular richards below. If two human beings feel love for one another and the physical attraction is genuine than who cares if they are of the same sex!? If they decide to set up home and emulate m/f couples why shouldnt they have the same legal benefits? i do feel uncomfortable when children enter the equasion though because than a 'third' person has to enter the mix and then the emotional comflicts makes everything complicated. Of course same sex couples can be good parents but..and its a big but! CALLEN [The Voice]

I thnk that gay people should be allowed to get married! Love is love is any form, so who are we to say what's right and what's not! I also think that we should just keep our business out of it, People who admit that they are gay are very brave to come 'out the closest' in todays world.Good on them!

The fact that 'issues' such as civil partnerships are still open to debate shows that there is a long way to go before our society is free of homophobia. If somebody suggested that we debate whether it is 'moral' for people of different races to marry, they'd (rightly) be laughed off. But when it comes to gay rights, we not only welcome all views but praise ourselves for being so democratic! Let's be very clear - the people with the problem are those who cling on to ridiculous prejudice. Gay people are not guests, not 'alternative' people to be tolerated and welcomed into 'normal' society. How patronising! Let's please put the dark days of ignorance behind us and face up to the remaining prejudice with united courage.

you need to add something and a subtitle to this about the stigma attached to homosexuals..if that is ok .....thankyou \

stephen bowden
i think it is fantastic that gay marriage is now part of society people that are against it are empty headed everyone lives there life differently so they shouldnt be so critical over a procedure that is now part of the law.

it is true that GOD made and born couple not single,it is just to refusel of GOD law.

Jon bowno]
I feel this is a great thing i'm gay and i enjoy my life as the only gay in the village

Gay marriage is the best thiing ever... finallly this world is being less homophobic....

The fact that same sex couples can't reproduce the traditional way shouldn't be an issue. Not all heterosexual couples that get married have children, and people seem to be generally just fine with that. Then once two men/two women want to get together and suddenly it's wrong that they can't have kids? That is complete and utter bull, and anyone with half a rational mind should see that.

i think gay marriage is ok

Homosexuality is perverse and deviant. Get married? Can you produce children from your own bodies? How is it that you can be inflamed with lust for somebody of the same gender?

Jennifer Brown
I grew up in Nacton, Hemley and Shingle Street and on (and in) the River Deben. I came to the US in 1972 and have lived here since. I am lucky enough to have moved to Massachusetts in 1999, and in 2004 my wife and I were married in Old Ship Church in Hingham, Mass in front of family and friends. After 23 years together, it was an apsolutely wonderful event, one that we will treasure always. Life is indeed very different now than it was when I was growing up, and getting divorced was a source of stigma. I appreciate all the work of all the brave folks who created change and the opportunities it has afforded so many of us for unimaginable events - like civil unions and marriage! to date, there have been about 8,000 marriages of same sex couples in Mass!

Hi im a 16 year old lesbian and I recently got engaged to me partner. I was wondering what age I have to be to get married?I now live in Northern Ireland.. is the age the same as Scotland?

Paul Marsden
Stephen, Actually the age at which you can register a civil partnership is exactly the same as when you register a marriage. Anyone over the age of 16 can register a civil partnership. However anyone who is 16 or 17 needs to obtain the written consent of their parent(s) or legal guardian(s) beforehand. In Scotland individuals aged 16 or over are able to register their partnership without the need for parental consent. This is also the rule, in Scotland, for opposite-sex couples who marry). I hope this clears up your confusion.

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