I’m not one to get hugely excited by weddings. They generally involve excess alcohol, expense and emotion. And about one hundred little traditions of varying degrees of uncertainty. However, I’m unusually happy for several thousand couples who will be able to marry as of midnight. In the small hours of tommorow morning, same-sex marriage will be legal in England and Wales for the first time. Scotland is set to follow with its own legislation coming into effect in due course. The last great legal inequality based on sexual orientation will become a historical matter- almost. Northern Ireland, a notoriously conservative society, will not follow suit for the immediate future. One task for equality campaigners will be to fight for legal equality in the United Kingdom, or we will suffer from an arkward clash of regional and nationwide legal classifications as in the United States.
But in Great Britain at least, gay rights supporters can claim victory in a campaign for legal equality that began with the decriminalisation of homosexuality nearly half a century ago; fought homophobic measures like Section 28, which effectively banned schools and teachers from so much as alluding to the existence of homosexuality; and eventually secured anti-discrimination legalisation. As of now, British statute books pose no barrier to equality.
Which is not to say that the LGBT community enjoys absolute equality in the real world. Cultural discrimination, though a shadow of the intimidating hatred that once existed, still pervades many groups and most of our schools. Homophobic terms are still traded as insults, while same-sex couples continue to be subject to crude stereotyping in the minds of the public and in the media.
So as the rainbow flag flies over Whitehall and politicians of all affiliations, progressive religious leaders and the majority of British people rush to welcome the new, inclusive definition of marriage, we should remember that we have still more work to do before true equality is achieved. A survey for BBC Radio 5, published today, showed that 22% of the public would refuse to attend a same-sex wedding- lower than the proportion who were opposed to the introduction of the equality legislation, but still disappointingly high. How sad that so many people don’t feel able to back this wonderful social change. Let’s change that.