Marriage Equality?

How equal is equal marriage?  England and Wales saw the first same-sex marriages take place over the weekend.  This is the result of a hard fought campaign and is to be celebrated.  However, it is not the end of the story, nor the end of the campaign for those of us who support equal marriage. 
 
We are either all equal or none of us are.  
 
Issues of gender and sexuality are separate but related and there has traditionally been an overlap in campaigns including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.  Many of us talk of an LGBT community, but we often see our transgender brothers, sisters and gender non-binary siblings forgotten.  Couples can now, under current legislation, change their legal gender without having to end their marriage.  This was not possible until same-sex marriage became legal, so a win all round, you might think.
 
Well, almost, but not quite:  Legally we are all assigned a gender at birth, based on our physical characteristics.  But, a person’s physical body may not match their true gender.  The legal process currently is binary, recognising only male or female.  If an individual has been assigned at birth the gender ‘male’ and wishes to correct this to ‘female’ the process involves the issuing of a Gender Recognition Certificate.  This is a very important document that restores that persons rights.  
 
The same-sex marriage bill for England and Wales contains a clause that requires the partner of a married transgender person to give written permission for the marriage to continue before a Gender Recognition Certificate can be issued.  Campaigners know this as the ‘spousal veto’
 
According to the ‘Spouse Reactions to Transsexuality' report by Zoë Kirk-Robinson for T-Vox, there is no evidence to support the need for a spousal veto. There is however, evidence that the spousal veto is likely to be misused by those who do not want their transsexual spouse to transition.  43.75% of partners and spouses have actively attempted to prevent their transsexual partner from transitioning.
 
Scotland & North of Ireland
 
Interestingly the Scottish version of the legislation has no spousal veto.  But what of the North of Ireland?  An energetic campaign included demonstrations outside Belfast City Hall on 29th March calling for same-sex marriage to be recognised.  However, the legislation is being blocked by the Democratic Unionist Party. 
 
Heterosexual marriage in the North of Ireland also contains some inequality:  Irish Gaelic is a recognised regional language, however the North of Ireland is the only part of the UK that doesn't have an act of parliament to protect and promote the rights of indigenous language speakers.  Irish language activist Caoimhe ní Chathail described to me how this has impacted her wedding plans:  Despite being born in the North of Ireland, the absence of an Irish language act has forced Caoimhe to marry in the Republic of Ireland.  Her marriage is now classed as international, which has meant additional expenses and administration including sending documents to London to be verified.
 
There are further issues relating to pension entitlement and converting civil partnerships into marriages.  So, we have cause to celebrate the first legal same-sex marriages in England and Wales, however we still have some way to go before we can truly claim marriage equality.


What can you do?
 
Send a message to Baroness Stowell, the government spokesperson in the Lords, asking her to reconsider her position on “spousal veto”. 
 
Support the call for for a comprehensive, rights-based Irish Language Act for the North of Ireland.
 
 
Note:  In researching this post I read the ‘frequently asked questions’ page of the Ministry of Justice UK.  Looks like the guidance needs an update, here’s their quote: “This is because under the laws of the UK, a marriage may only be contracted by two people of opposite genders in law.”
 
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