Why our new same-sex marriage is not yet equal marriage

The six discriminatory aspects of the same-sex marriage legislation that was passed this week mean that this is not yet true equality.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act passed through both houses of parliament this week and received royal assent. It is now the law of England and Wales. The first same-sex marriages are expected to take place in the summer of 2014.

It has been a long, hard struggle, spanning 21 years. Way back in 1992, the LGBT rights group OutRage! made the first challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage. We didn’t succeed but it was the opening shot in the battle for marriage equality.  

The enactment of same-sex marriage removes the last major legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. It is a reason for great celebration. But amid the jubilation, we should remember that, despite all our efforts, we failed to persuade the government and parliament to legislate equal marriage.

Same-sex marriages are legalised under a new law, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. It is separate and different from the Marriage Act 1949 - the legislation governing opposite-sex marriages. Separate and different are not equal.

Aside from the fact that this law does not apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland, there are in total six discriminatory aspects of the new legislation.

Pension inheritance rights are fewer on death of a same-sex marriage spouse. The surviving partner is not entitled to receive the full value of the deceased partner’s pension. Employers are required by law to pay same-sex survivor’s pensions based on only contributions made since 2005. Although many employers are likely to pay out from 1988 onwards, this is discretionary and may not be the full value of the lifetime pension contributions by a same-sex spouse. This means that pension contributions made in the years before 2005/1988 are in many instances discounted and will not be received by the surviving same-sex marriage partner. 

Although David Cameron argued that same-sex marriage is an issue of equality, the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships remains. Straight couples continue to be prohibited from having a civil partnership, even though the government’s own public consultation on equal marriage found that 61 per cent of respondents supported the right of heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership if they want one. Only 24 per cent disagreed. In the Netherlands, two-thirds of civil partnerships are between male-female couples. A similar take up is likely in the UK if civil partnerships were available to heterosexuals.

The existing grounds for the annulment of a marriage - non-consummation and adultery - do not apply in the case of same-sex marriages. To many people, these are antiquated aspects of marriage law that should be repealed. Nevertheless, this differential in the law governing same-sex and opposite-sex married couples is not equality.

There is no restoration of the marriages of transgender people that were forcibly annulled as a precondition for them securing a gender recognition certificate. Moreover, the spouse of a transgender person must consent to the marriage continuing after the issue of a certificate.

Under the so-called "quadruple lock" legislation, the Church of England and the Church in Wales are explicitly banned from performing religious same-sex marriages. While other faiths can "opt in" to marry LGBT people, these two denominations are prohibited. This is not only homophobic discrimination; it is also an attack on religious freedom.

The special requirements for registering premises for the conduct of religious same-sex marriages are more restrictive than for opposite-sex marriages in religious premises. In the case of premises shared for faith services by several small denominations - which is often the case with evangelical, African and pro-LGBT churches - all the sharing faith organisations have to give their permission for the premises to be used for same-sex marriages. In effect, anti-gay churches will have a veto over pro-gay churches.

Despite these flaws, the new same-sex marriage law is a milestone. It is of huge symbolic importance; signalling that LGBT love and commitment have social recognition and public acceptance.

However, because of these flaws, the campaign for equal civil marriages and equal civil partnerships continues. My own organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, working with the Equal Love campaign, will seek to rectify the shortcomings in a subsequent bill; probably when the government next year holds its promised review on the issue of civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples.  We are ever hopeful.

As a back up, our case in the European Court of Human Rights - Ferguson & Others v the UK (pdf) - remains on course.

It already challenges the ongoing ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships and we will now make a new submission to the court to strike down pension inequality in marriage law.

Just as the embarrassing prospect of losing this ECHR case helped pressure the government to end the ban on same-sex marriage, I’m optimistic that it will also help persuade David Cameron and Nick Clegg to remedy these remaining shortfalls in civil marriage and civil partnership law. 

The first challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage at Westminster Registry Office on 19 March 1992. Photograph: Stephen Mayes

Peter Tatchell is Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which campaigns for human rights the UK and worldwide: www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org His personal biography can be viewed here: www.petertatchell.net/biography.htm

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear