In a victory for the gay rights movement, Britain’s House of Commons has approved a bill to legalize same sex marriage. The bill, which will go through several rounds of parliamentary debate, is supported by Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservative Party in Britain. In the first vote in the House of Commons the bill passed overwhelmingly with a 400–175 vote in favor of same-sex marriage. If the bill passes in the House of Commons it is expected to easily pass in the House of Lords.
The House of Commons vote represents a growing trend towards acceptance of same sex marriage. Despite the opposition of the Catholic Church, the Church of England and other conservative organizations, more and more people are realizing that the time is coming to abolish the discriminatory practice of restrictions against same-sex marriage. By the end of 2013 it is likely that the United States will have joined two of their most powerful allies, Great Britain and France, in recognizing the rights of all couples to legally marry. The three UN Security Council members will be sending a strong signal to the world that they truly stand behind equality of rights when it comes to the family structure.
In the United States, President Obama has come out in support same sex marriage. He announced that the Department of Justice would no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and in his second inaugural speech he explicitly stated his support for gay rights. Nine states allow marriage between gay and lesbian couples and in November 2012 Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the first states to legalize same-sex marriage through popular vote. The Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning the Defense of Marriage Act and gay rights proponents are optimistic that by summer of 2013, the law will be found unconstitutional paving the way for equal rights for gay and lesbian couples. Currently same sex marriage is not recognized in federal courts, but agencies are taking strides to circumvent the discriminatory and unconstitutional law.
In October 2012 the Department of Homeland Security issued guidelines that gay and lesbian couples would be considered a family unit for the purpose of establishing residency. DHS also said that “same-sex partners of American citizens can be included under an Obama administration policy suspending deportations of some immigrants who pose no security risk.”
The Pentagon and Defense Department have become increasingly more supportive of gay and lesbian rights. First, the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” provision was repealed and now the Pentagon has announced that it will begin extending benefits to same sex couples.
France is making progress towards legalizing same sex marriage. French President François Hollande made a promise to pass a law allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt legally in 2013 and despite some heated opposition is following through on his promise. The lower house of France’s parliament, the National Assembly, has been engaged in a week’s long debate on same sex marriage. More than 5,300 amendments to the legislation have been submitted by the opposition and parliament has been meeting straight through including nights and weekends. Over a recent three-day weekend marathon session, the debate generated a transcript of 240,000 words, “about half the text of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables” and that with most of the Socialists in favor of the bill remaining silent in order to expedite the debate. The French legislation has two parts, one dealing with marriage and the other dealing with adoption.
According to the Guardian, 55% to 65% of French people say they are in favor of gay marriage. The “central plank of the new law: that marriage should be an agreement between any two people, not just a man and a woman” has been approved by the MPs in the National Assembly, however further discussion is expected before a final disposition arrives sometime in February 2013. Hollande’s Socialist Party holds majorities in the National Assembly and the Senate and they are expected to pass the bill legalizing marriage and adoption in April.
The British House of Common bill would only apply to England and Wales and would go into effect in 2015. Other parts of the United Kingdom, like Northern Ireland and Scotland are not affected, however Scotland has considered supporting gay and lesbian marriages. A draft bill was introduced to the Scottish parliament in December. The British bill would allow religious organizations to opt out of performing marriage ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples and would allow couples in civil partnerships to convert to a “legal” marriage.
Cameron has said he is adamant about seeing the legislation passed “not only as someone who believes in equality but as someone who believes passionately in marriage.”
When France and Great Britain pass their legislation in 2013 they will join nearly a dozen countries, including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, and Norway that allow marriage between gay and lesbian couples. Cameron explained the importance of the effort to support same sex marriage, saying “I am a strong believer in marriage. It helps people commit to each other and I think it is right that gay people should be able to get married too ... This is, yes, about equality. But it is also about making our society stronger.”
Cameron, Hollande and Obama all seem to agree that gay and lesbian marriage is the civil rights issue of 2013.
They are all squarely behind ending the discriminatory practice of restricting same sex marriage. They are all squarely on the right side of history. For gay and lesbian couples in England, France, and the United States, 2013 is going to be a good year.