The Government has announced plans to legislate for gay marriage in England and Wales. It seems that the Scottish Government will also legalise 'gay marriage' in the near future.
In 2004, The Civil Partnership Act gave same-sex couples rights and responsibilities similar to those in a civil marriage. Civil partners have the same rights to property, inheritance, social security and pensions as married couples. Civil partnerships can be dissolved in a process similar to divorce. However, in 2006, a court ruling made it clear that legally marriage is a formal relationship between a man and a woman.
The right to gay marriage is the last piece of the equality jigsaw. Most gay people don't want 'gay' marriage, they just want the access to marriage and family life that heterosexual couples have.
Several faith groups oppose gay marriage, and last month the Government announced that the Church of England and Church in Wales would be banned in law from offering same-sex marriages. It has also made it clear that other religious organisations will not be compelled to allow same-sex marriages in their buildings. However, if the proposed changes to the law go through, it is possible that legal challenges may follow.
If a same sex couple wants their marriage to happen in their place of worship, they could bring a challenge under the Human Rights Act. Such a challenge would end up at the European Court of Human Rights and the Government's blanket ban on religious marriage, like the blanket ban on prisoner voting, could be ruled unlawful. However, this would not compel individual religious institutions to carry out same-sex marriage but would mean that couples could look around for a religious ceremony at those institutions that chose to perform same-sex marriage.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
- keep up to date with the legislation
- make sure that their equal opportunities policy is up to date
- check that the language, photos or images in displays, policy and information leaflets do not refer to 'family' in ways that just means a two-parent heterosexual family
- provide books for the children which include same sex couples. For a comprehensive list of books go to: http://www.outforourchildren.org.uk/childrens-books/
- include reference to different families in everyday conversations with children
- work with parents/carers to raise awareness of diversity, while being sensitive to the beliefs of families from cultural and religious backgrounds that do not support gay marriage
- celebrate lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) month in February
- answer children's questions honestly.
Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole is a research fellow in Disability Studies and Psychology, Research Institute for Health and Social Change, Manchester Metropolitan University.