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How good are the government's gay marriage proposals?

2nd January 2013

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In 1921 the Earl of Malmesbury opened a parliamentary discussion on gay rights by apologising for raising "a most disgusting and polluting subject." 

Thankfully today, in our substantially more liberal society, such comments would disgust both the population and political class alike.

However, before we pat ourselves on the back too much it must be remembered that its is only in the last decade that equality for homosexuals has been gathering positive momentum. It wasn't untill 2007 for example, that it was illegal for a shop keeper to refuse to serve somebody because of their sexual orientation. 

In this light the government's recent proposals for legalising equal marriage, without forcing any churches to marry gay couples, should be viewed as a serious missed opportunity.

The core idea of the bill, that gay marriage should be legalised, is of course highly commendable and certainly refreshing coming from a Conservative Prime Minister. 

Yet David Cameron's insistence on maintaining religious freedom of choice on the matter will mean many churches regardless of creed will refuse to marry same sex couples. The coalition's golden opportunity to leave a lasting liberal legacy has passed them by.

Of course having the freedom to hold any faith you want is crucial for a modern, liberal, just and above all civilised society. It is of fundamental importance that the government protects such freedom. Yet sometimes certain religious practices are just backward and have a detrimental effect on the equality of the population. Excluding homosexual couples from getting married, for example, is simply ludicrous. Gay people are citizens of this country like everybody else and they contribute to society in the same way as everybody else. That fact that somebody could still be refused a religious wedding ceremony just because of who they love should be simply unthinkable. I don't see how it can be wrong for the government to intervene in such circumstances. 

Yet the new law means that this will continue to be the harsh reality. Religious organisations won't be in a hurry to changes things and the people don't have the power to change the law. The government on the other hand can, especially as there is general cross party support for gay marriage.   

The archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said David Cameron would be acting like a dictator if he forced churches to marry gay couples. Yet, dictators are normally associated with oppression, corruption, mystery, terror and discrimination. By forcing churches to marry gay couples Cameron would be bringing justice and equality.

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