As the euphoria over the gains made by U.S. gays and lesbians over the issue of same sex marriage (now legal in Washington, Maryland, and Maine, in addition to other six states) slowly dissipates, Britain is said to be within weeks of approving same-sex civil marriage. The proposed change in the law, to be voted on in Parliament, is predicted to take place before New Year’s Day.
The proposed approval would exclude the Church of England, creating a separation of religious and civil marriage that the Church has strongly opposed. The Church’s opposition to the change comes just days after the General Synod, which is the governing body of the Church of England, rejected draft legislation that would allow women to become bishops.
These two decisions are signs of an intensifying culture war in Britain, in which the Church increasingly dominates the role of preserving tradition. Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing for the proposed change. His support for the change may be seen as an attempt to mitigate his growing unpopularity among students, workers, the disabled, and the elderly, who have been hardest hit by Cameron’s austerity measures.
65% of respondents in a poll published by an anti-same sex marriage group, Coalition for Marriage, agreed with the statement “David Cameron’s plan to legalize gay marriage has more to do with trying to make the Conservative Party more trendy and modern than because of his convictions.” This makes sense given the results of a national poll in the United Kingdom that found that 80% of voters under the age 50 would support same sex marriage.
The conflation between gay rights and modernization by Cameron hides the drastic and continuous cuts to the National Health System, public housing, local government, and social care sectors in Britain. Cameron's limitation of gay rights to marriage clearly disenfranchises a significant portion of LGBT communities who disproportionately face discrimination when it comes to finding affordable housing or care.
In fact, when one considers that the Church already supports “equal rights and responsibilities” between same sex couples and heterosexual couples, but is uneasy about further separating religious marriage from civil marriage, Cameron’s support for same sex marriage comes across as suspect. Same sex marriage brings huge political mileage but comes at no additional cost (since same sex and heterosexual couples already have the same benefits), unlike ensuring public health care, education, and housing.
Whatever the outcome in December, Cameron is in a tough position. Couples denied the right to marry could also potentially take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 1999 that the discharge of personnel from the British Royal Navy on the basis of their sexual orientation was a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Court’s decision soon led the U.K. to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military in 2000. But legalizing gay marriage could also alienate the Conservative Party's core support and cost Cameron the next general elections.