A YEAR ago this week, the world watched as the flawless Kate Middleton left behind the life of a commoner and entered the royal world of marital bliss with Prince William.
More than 24 million of us gathered on our sofas, 72 million watched on youtube and more than 500,000 were there in person to catch a glimpse of Kate’s beautiful dress, her first married kiss, her sister’s perfectly-formed bottom – and why? Because the world loves a wedding – especially in the UK.
For most us, the anticipation of getting married starts at five years old, putting a tea towel on our heads, sliding our feet into mummy’s high-heeled shoes and wearing with pride a ring made from knotted grass around our finger.
Though we grow up, ditch the tea towel and, for the most part, buy our own shoes, the dream lives on. The conditioned hope that one day we will enter into a stable, happy and committed lifelong marriage remains high on our list of life goals.
Secretly, we all want a little bit of what Kate Middleton has, the perfect partner, the perfect dress, the perfect wedding.
And we are all entitled to that. If we work hard to find the person we love and save for years to afford our wedding, then we are permitted to have it. Aren’t we?
Though William and Kate are unconventional in many ways, the one huge similarity they have with the majority of people in the UK is their sexuality. They are very typical of most couples. They are a man and a woman and, as such, they enjoy the privilege of being able to legally marry.
Since the Civil Partnership Act of 2004, same-sex couples up and down the country have been grateful for the opportunity to legally commit to each other. They have exactly the same rights as any couple entering into a civil marriage, but the only thing preventing same-sex couples from marrying is the word itself.
It seems odd to have different names for the same process, and it’s a little like putting a carrot on the end of an equality stick if you ask me, but the Government have decided to do something about it. They are having a consultation to test the waters for a future that allows same-sex couples to have civil marriages.
They are calling it the Equal Civil Marriage Consultation.
Launched by Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Theresa May and Minister for Equality Lynne Featherstone, the consultation will look at changing the law on same-sex civil marriage but will not currently address issues regarding religious marriage.
The document explaining the consultation begins by stating: “It was argued by some that having two separate provisions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples perpetuates misconceptions and discrimination.”
This is a view that Cllr Scott Seaman Digby, Hillingdon Cabinet Member for Co-Ordination and Central Services, and I share.
“If someone is a taxpayer and a citizen contributing to the State, I can’t understand why they couldn’t get married,” he said. “It is about equal human rights.
“Why have a different thing for same-sex couples when civil marriage is owned by the State and not the church?
“This consultation is to the exclusion of religion, which is fine. And, for the future of same-sex marriage, it is an absolutely wonderful thing.”
For Georgia Mannion, 23, and fiancé Jennifer Krase, 26, the consultation comes a little late as they are due to tie the knot on July 28.
The couple have spent seven months planning their civil partnership and, while the name doesn’t affect the way they view their big day, Georgia explains that it does affect how others view it.
“From being children, we’re conditioned into wanting the life where we ‘grow up and get married’,” she said. “Everyone knows what a marriage is and everyone understands what a huge commitment it is. A ‘civil partnership’ sounds watered down. It sounds like a loveless contract and, when discussing the ceremony vows, it feels like it, too.
“Though it’s better than nothing, it should be called marriage. It’s a legal contract, irrespective of anyone else’s religious beliefs and, when the law disqualifies you from something that is allowed to other people, you are still essentially a second-class citizen.”
Georgia was made aware of the way other people view her ceremony while speaking to a councillor, who corrected her use of the term ‘marriage’, insisting: “It’s not a marriage, let’s be clear.”
She added: “You’re basically made to feel different. You shouldn’t have to define what your relationship is in terms of something else when it’s the exact same. We’re just made to call it something else.”
The consultation recognises this need for equality and even admits the current law is intolerant. It states: “It’s not right that a couple who love each other and want to formalise a commitment to each other should be denied the right to marry.”
This is not to say that everyone is in support of the idea, though. Only last month, Christian group Core Issues Trust attempted to launch an advertising campaign promoting reparative therapy for gay people.
Their adverts were due to appear on the side of London buses as a counter to the pro-gay marriage campaign of gay rights charity Stonewall.
Stonewall’s advertisements read: “Some people are gay. Get over it!”.
Core Issues’ adverts were set to read: “Not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud.
Get over it!” which appears to suggest that gay people can be cured.
Mike Davidson, of Core Issues Trust, said at the time: “We believe our present campaign contributes to the debate on gay marriage because it aims to expose the myth that anyone is ‘born gay’ and that no-one ever moves away from homosexual desires, feelings or behaviour.
"‘Marriage’ between people of the same sex is unprecedented in Judeo- Christian values and tradition. We oppose gay marriage primarily on those grounds and because we believe it will ultimately damage marriage between opposite-sex couples.”
He said Core Issues would be taking legal action against the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who prevented the adverts from being published on buses as it did not represent a tolerant London.
In a bid to collate all views on this issue, the consultation is therefore seeking opinion on how it can remove the ban on same-sex marriage in a way that works for everyone.
One suggestion to iron out the creases of inequality in marriage is to open up civil partnerships for heterosexual couples as well as civil marriage for homosexual couples.
Chris Boucher, chair of Outwest, a support, representative and social group for the LGBT communities of West London, including Hillingdon, said: “The difficulty is that same-sex couples can have a civil partnership but not a civil marriage.
“Heterosexual couples can have a civil marriage but not a civil partnership! This is discrimination on all levels. Everyone should be allowed to choose their preferred way of having their relationship recognised.
“A change in the law would bring parity between same-sex partners and heterosexual partners, which could only be for the greater good of everyone.”
A change in the law would also allow couples that currently have a civil partnership to ‘convert’ it to a civil marriage, as well as allowing transgender people to convert their gender without having to legally end their marriage or civil partnership.
Readers are encouraged to express their opinions online over this 12-week period and before June 14.
After this time a summary of responses will be published, along with the Government’s response on the way forward, based on the points raised during the consultation. Exciting stuff.
“We already feel like we’re getting married and whatever the law calls it won’t change that,” said Georgia. “The law calling it ‘marriage’ will change what other people think of it, though, and how other people perceive our relationship.”
So would a change in the law be for better or for worse? Is it fair to allow gay people the Will and Kate experience?
The results of the consultation will be highly anticipated. Whether that is on the same scale as the royal wedding is for you to decide.
Readers can have their say using the online response on survey, http:// www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/equal-civil-marriage/ or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org