Liberal Hero of the Week #64: Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

by Stephen Tall on March 31, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

same sex marriage act 2013

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

An Act of the Parliament legalising same-sex marriage in England and Wales.
Reason: for ending the state’s discrimination against same-sex couples

Can an Act of Parliament be heroic? I’m not sure. But there are too many campaigners who deserve praise for same-sex marriage being recognised in law to single out any individual†, or any one group. They span all parties and none, united by a common cause: to enable two people of the same sex who love each other to have the same rights in law as a man and a woman who choose to marry.

A nation awoke on Saturday morning to photos of beaming gay couples as the first same-sex marriages were celebrated. Die-hard opponents like Ukip’s Nigel Farage and the Conservatives’ Philip Hammond are retreating for fear of looking churlish in the face of such evident happiness.

Three is, in fact, a liberal argument against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. It was made, rather splendidly, by CentreForum’s own Tom Papworth, writing to a constituent who’d asked his view on the legislation.

Tom’s point was simple: that there is no reason why the state should be involved at all in marriage, either its legal or ceremonial functions. After all, we manage to make our own wills without the state needing to officiate; and who wants the government to organise their party? Tom concluded:

The government seeks to create a fair system for everybody who wishes to get married, while at the same time retaining the monopoly on defining and licensing marriage. I believe that it is the government’s ongoing wish to be the final arbiter of what is, what is not, and who can engage in, marriage that is the source of the conflict over this issue today. I hope that we can one day move to a system whereby individuals are free to define their union, celebrate it and – where appropriate – have it blessed in whatever manner they chose. In the meantime, I welcome the current proposals as a small step forward in creating a free and fair system.

He’s right. For as long as marriage is legislated for by the state it should not discriminate against couples wishing to have their relationship recognised by it. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 has removed a source of discrimination. That’s heroic in my book.

† Though I stand by my decision to recognise David Cameron’s support for same-sex marriage by making him my 24th Liberal Hero. He had lots to lose, little to gain, but bravely never flinched.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.