‘Historic moment’: Manchester LGBT groups delighted with Commons ‘yes’ vote on same-sex marriage bill

By Robbie Gill

Groundbreaking same-sex marriage legislation can be a vehicle for social change, according to Manchester LGBT groups.

A 225 majority passed the bill in the Commons, despite rebellion within the Conservative Party and opposition from the Catholic Church.

Sarah McNally, a spokesperson for Manchester’s Lesbian & Gay Foundation, was delighted with the decision.

She said: “The issue of marriage is arguably one of the last inequalities in the law and this is a huge step forward to rectify this.

“It really is a historic moment, especially as we go into LGBT History Month.

“We want to thank those who have taken action as part of our Love Equal Marriage campaign — their support is invaluable.

John Stewart of Manchester Pride was also elated with the news and praised the change that society has undergone.

“It’s an overwhelming result,” he said.

“To see half the Conservative Parliamentary Party support equal marriage is astonishing for someone who grew up in the eighties.”

The bill also needs House of Lords backing before being ascended to law and – after the Catholic Church reiterated their opposition – will only pave the way for civil ceremonies.

Joined in this stance by almost half of the Conservative party, the Catholic Church claimed that it is not about equality, but instead fundamentally redefining marriage.

Speaking to the BBC, The Most Reverend Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, said they continued to support society’s centuries-old definition of marriage.

He said: “It is the significant and unique lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, based on their mutual wellbeing and open to the procreation and education of children.

“Marriage is rooted in the complementarity of man and woman.

“For these reasons, the Church opposes the government’s Bill to redefine marriage.

“Despite claims by supporters of the Bill that the central issue is one of equality, the Bill actually seeks to redefine marriage and will have consequences for society at large.”

Ms McNally is in favour of the independence of the church, but believes that marriage is not solely a religious institution.

She said: “We know many religions want to offer their congregations the opportunity to marry, like the Unitarians and Quakers, and we fully welcome giving them the freedom to.

“However, we believe this should not be forced and that will not be the case as outlined in the Bill’s quadruple lock.

“It’s important to remember that this Bill enables same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies and offers protection to religions who do not wish to opt in.

“Marriage is not a religious institution alone.”

However, the Catholic Church’s stance has been met with more hostility from some sections of the LGBT movement.

Mr Stewart — while admitting that the views expressed do not represent the church as a whole — was disappointed with some of their comments.

He said: “Those comments were very predictable but don’t reflect the views of a majority of their members.

“However, the tone of the wider debate, often led by senior church figures scaremongering over polygamy and bestiality, was often aggressive and highly offensive.

“I think it’s largely fear of change and good old fashioned prejudice that is behind the opposition.”

Ms McNally shared this view of opposition to the bill, claiming that the definition of marriage has always been fluid.

“Marriage is a hugely important institution in this country and often people are scared of change that perhaps they do not fully understand,” she said.

“However marriage is not static – it has always been an evolving institution.”

Manchester has a thriving LGBT scene which has campaigned hard to raise awareness of the issue, but they have warned the hard work will not stop.

“Manchester is a fantastic place to live for many people and incredibly diverse, not just because of its LGBT scene,” Ms McNally added.

“However it’s important to remember that homophobia still exists right here in Manchester, and across the UK and beyond.

“We need to keep fighting to tackle this and issues like marriage equality help to break down barriers in society.”

The last 50 years has seen a huge change in the perception of homosexuality and Manchester has been one of the leading cities in this regard.

However the LGBT movement has warned that complacency could stunt this progress and it will take the continued work of the community to maintain this momentum.

“The relaxed attitude of the most of the city towards its LGBT community goes beyond tolerance, it is acceptance,” Mr Stewart claimed.

“This is another marker on the journey, but shouldn’t lead to complacency.

“Intolerance and bigotry can always find places to take seed and grow if people allow.  

“In a few years this won’t seem remarkable and we’ll wonder what the fuss was about.  

“It’s about breaking down barriers and removing ignorance and fear – that’s the only way to build a tolerant and accepting society.”

These sentiments were reiterated by Ms McNally who also praised the support given to the Love Equal Marriage campaign.

She said: “In December we launched our Love Equal Marriage campaign urging people to take action in support of this important issue.

“We have had thousands of people visiting, contacting their MP and leaving message of support.

“For Valentine’s Day we will be touring the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester talking to people in the local community and we will continue to be outspoken on this issue.

“However, it was less than 50 years ago that homosexuality was decriminalised – there is still much prejudice and discrimination to overcome.  

“It’s important as a community we come together and help fight for equality in all aspects of our lives.”

Picture courtesy of Guillaume Paumier, with thanks.

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