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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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