This morning the Lib Dems voted to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples and open the institution of marriage to gay couples.
Conference was addressed by a broad spectrum of those directly affected by the issue and many supporters from the sideline.
Amongst the speakers was former mayoral candidate Brian Paddick who spoke of his own experience of marriage. He was married in the UK to a woman in the early 1980s before his growing realisation of his own sexuality. Since falling in love with a Norwegian man in the 2000s he took advantage of the change of law in Norway in January 2009, and married in front of a Norwegian judge in a courthouse in Oslo.
For several speakers the issue of recognition between nations was an important dimension to the debate. As the world increasingly accepts lasting partnerships between gay men and lesbians, the legal contracts between different countries have got more complicated. A gay American couple I know, one of whom got a job in Scotland, were initially unable to get a spousal visa in the UK because they had chosen to have their union recognised in a state that was not, at the time, included in the UK Civil Partnership Act.
One surprising feature of the debate in the hall was the revelation made by Stonewall at DELGA’s fringe last night. For some months, gay media outlet Pink News has tried to get them to speak on the issue of equal marriage. Stonewall finally nailed their colours to the mast saying that gay marriage was not something they could campaign for, on the grounds that it was too expensive, distracted from campaigns against anti-gay violence around the world and that civil partnerships offered enough parity with heterosexual marriage for us to be getting one with.
A fuller account of last night’s meeting is available on Zoe O’Connell’s blog.
Their world view was strongly rebutted by Stephen Gilbert MP as he summated at the end of the debate:
“This policy underlines, once again, that equality is in the DNA of our party. Today, Liberal Democrat members showed that the Party remains in the vanguard of the progressive movement and won’t settle until everyone enjoys equal status.
“Current legislation degrades same-sex couples to a second-tier partnership and leads to unnecessary pain and trouble for anyone wishing to change their legally recognised gender, forcing them to divorce or dissolve their civil partnership and enter into a different commitment.
“It is time that Britain ends the current unfair legal situation and regains its position as a country leading the fight for full LGBT equality.”
A full recording of the debate will be available on the Voice shortly.