GAY MARRIAGE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

Si le débat sur le mariage pour tous fait rage en France, une loi autorisant le mariage entre des couples homosexuels a été votée au Parlement anglais en seulement six heures, mardi 5 février. Alors que l’opinion publique française semble déchirée sur le sujet, les Anglais, eux, sont nettement plus pragmatiques.

Gay-Marriage-just-married

What are the mains issues in Great Britain?

On December 11th  2012, the Minister for Women and EqualitiesSecretary of State Maria Miller announced that the Government would bring forward same-sex marriage legislation for England and Wales early in 2013. In response to the consultation results, the proposals were extended to allow religious organisations to ‘opt-in’ to perform same-sex weddings if they wished to, and a ‘quadruple-lock’ of additional measures to put the protection of religious freedoms “utterly beyond doubt”.

Whereas it created a huge controversy in France, the subject of gay marriage didn’t prompt any demonstration in Great Britain. In fact, polls show public opinion is on Cameron’s side this time – a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times on Sunday showed 55 percent favoured legalising gay marriage, while 36 percent opposed it. In a recent poll, whose goal was to show the main interest of the British population today, only 7% said gay marriage was their first interest.

With this motion, religious groups are free to refuse to celebrate gay marriage. Prime Minister David Cameron said that he believed same-sex marriages should be allowed – but only if there was a “100%” guarantee that no church, synagogue or mosque would be forced to celebrate one.

Last, one other aspect is the economic one. Indeed, according to the government, gay marriage could bring about 16.8 million euros per year to the British economy (festivities, hotel accomodations…).

What are the main differences between France and Great Britain?

In France, hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Paris over plans to give gay couples in France the right to marry and adopt children. In the Assembly, the debate was in full swing for two whole weeks, day and night. This situation stands in sharp contrast with Great Britain, where the bill was just one among others.

Some could argue that the French are more “prude” and less open-minded than the English people. Another explanation resides in the fact that in France, the Church is more present and has more influence than in Great Britain. More than half of the French consider that their country has “catholic values”.

Finally, it could also be said that the differences between the debate tones are due to the fact that in Great Britain, gay couples already enjoy almost all of the same rights as heterosexual couples.

The bill was finally voted in the House of Commons, but it was largely critized by conservative MPs

In Great Britain, gay marriage was banned until Tuesday 5 February. Indeed, the motion was voted by 400 MPs whereas 175 were against it. The law will authorize same-sex couples to get married legally. However, it would not change anything as regards to their parental rights. Gay couples have had the right, since 2005, to adopt children. Surrogate mothers are also accepted. The bill leaves it to every church to accept to celebrate homosexual unions or not. But the Anglican Church still totally opposes it.

More than half of all conservative MPs have decided not to follow David Cameron, whose government proposed the same-sex marriage bill. But the motion was largely supported by the Lib Dem party. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted that it was a key moment for equality and the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, talked about a “day of pride”. But the motion has to be accepted by the House of Lords before Britain can join the club of countries that have legalized same-sex marriage. And even though many Tory MPs will vote against it, the bill will easily be accepted by the House of Lords because many Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs will line up alongside Cameron to vote for it. (The House of Lords cannot stop the bill from passing: it could only delay it!)

Nevertheless, not every member of the Conservative Party was against this bill. Indeed, in a letter, George OsborneWilliam Hague and Theresa May have asked Conservative MPs not to oppose gay marriage, insisting it “is the right thing to do at the right time”. The letter added “Marriage has evolved over time. We believe that opening it up to same-sex couples will strengthen, not weaken, the institution. As David Cameron said, we should support gay marriage not in spite of our being Conservatives, but because we are Conservatives”.

Nevertheless, the Former Secretary of State for Defense, the Conservative Gerald Howarth, blasted a massive change that profoundly affects the heart of the country. As a result, the consequences for David Cameron could be terrible.

All in all, Even though David Cameron has won a victory with this bill, he was accused of unnecessarily dividing his party and giving priority to a handful of voters. A survey shows that according to 70% of voters, David Cameron’s party is fractured. But other English newspapers do not believe that the rebellion of the most conservative among conservatives will actually undermine the party’s chances. On the contrary, by being more moderate, the party could seduce even more voters. But if it can win the 2015 election is another matter.

Elora BARETTE and Justine GAZUIT

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