LGBTQ Magazine

Is the Wedding Industry About to Wake up to Equal Marriage?

By Claire

On Thursday the 15th of March the government began a consultation into equal civil marriage in England and Wales. It intends to change the current law so that same sex civil marriage on non-religious premises will become legal from 2015. David Cameron beamed and announced, "I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative". Oh shut up. (But more on that later...)

Reaction in the media has been variously welcoming, critical and outraged. Religious organisations have lashed out. Equal rights campaigners are asking for more. But the wedding industry has been uncomfortably quiet on the subject. Political discussion doesn't seem to impact on our day-to-day conversation. Why?

The voice of our industry has always been print media: the monthly and bi-monthly wedding magazines. With the huge popularity of wedding blogs, we're no longer restricted by print lead times: we can discuss the politics affecting marriage as they tangle around us - and by having a conversation, we can make a difference.

It's time for the wedding industry to talk about equality

Wedding magazines have always run to print schedules: planned months in advance, editorial finalised with a handful of weeks to go; printing and then distribution over several weeks. It's made topical debate impossible - by the time the mags land on the high street the important discussions have been and gone.

Wedding blogs are instant. They have multiple times the readership of the print magazines. No lead times means no barriers to topical discussion: when something as big as the consultation on equal civil marriage hits the headlines wedding bloggers can join the debate.

The wedding bloggers are now the most influential and respected voices in the industry. If we talk about this, others will follow - and the generation for whom the debate on equal marriage is most important will listen.

So why all the uproar about gay marriage last week?

  1. The government plans to change the law so that same sex couples can legally have a civil marriage. This means gay couples can be married in any English or Welsh wedding venue which holds a license for civil ceremonies. The key difference is the terminology: marriage is an emotionally loaded word. Previously civil partnerships weren't enough for many who simply wanted to be legally recognised as a married couple.
  2. Same sex marriage on religious premises will still be illegal. Current law permits civil partnerships on religious premises but not same sex religious marriage. This won't change. Gay couples won't have the choice to be married in church; churches won't have the option of marrying gay couples on their premises. (And yet the Church of England and Roman Catholic churches have stormed into this debate like raging toddlers.)
  3. Heterosexual couples still won't be allowed civil partnerships. It seems like a lesser issue, but this only highlights the discrimination we're facing. One rule for everyone regardless of sexual orientation would be true equality, would it not? In the Netherlands straight couples can opt for a civil partnership and since the law there was changed, two thirds of couples do. This is all about choice - and our government aren't willing to yield to us the freedom to choose.

Why this proposal won't bring true equality

Marriage is about two people in love. "We're married!" speaks of deep love and commitment, of a wider celebration of a loving relationship within circles of friends and family, and of recognition within the wider community.

The proposals to legalise same sex marriage have been welcomed by equal rights campaigners - but the changes just don't go far enough. We'll still be in a situation where gay couples are allowed to do one thing and straight couples are allowed another. It's not fair, and it's pointlessly confusing as well.

Why not one law for all? Any couple should be allowed to choose between a civil marriage or a civil partnership. The government has complete power over this - the only barrier is the law.

By proclaiming his support of gay marriage David Cameron gives the impression he supports same sex religious marriage, but this is not true. The government is firmly set against religious marriage for gay couples. Perhaps it fails to see the discrimination or homophobia in this stance or perhaps it doesn't have the guts to make this change to the law.

Some religious organisations support gay marriage in church. The Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism [source] would all welcome gay couples who wanted to get married in their churches - if our government would only change the law so this wasn't illegal. Within the major church organisations there are plenty who would support gay marriage in church - but their leaders say no.

If our government was really so forward-thinking and so welcoming to same sex marriage, then they'd have to change the discriminatory law against religious gay marriage.

Why same sex religious marriage isn't even being considered

In a country where religion is rapidly losing its grip on the populace it strikes me as strange  that the government won't address the fact that same sex marriage in church is illegal. No one is suggesting the law should force priests to marry gay couples. But to deny churches and couples alike the option is shortsighted, old fashioned and homophobic.

And yet critics have suggested that the government is cowed by outspoken religious leaders - the likes of Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams and the leaders of the Church of England - whose discriminatory views on same sex religious marriage are embraced by the Daily Mail and peddled to the general public like 1p Butlins holiday offers. It's because of the perceived influence of religious leaders that our government doesn't dare change the law prohibiting same sex marriage in church. So let's look at the church's response over the last few days.

The church on civil marriage for same sex couples

The church shouldn't interfere in this consultation process. The government is proposing legal civil marriage for same sex couples. It doesn't even affect the church! Their 'moral' argument that marriage - whether religious or civil - should not be allowed for gay couples is homophobic. The church is shining its own very unpleasant light onto the discussion about gay marriage.

On Sunday the 11th of March two top bishops issued a letter to be read to congregations in all Catholic churches, telling parishioners that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and "intended for the procreation and education of children". They described the proposals for same sex civil marriage as "radical" - and they didn't even try to make it clear that the government's proposals only cover civil marriage.

In the Huffington Post equal rights campaigner Peter Tatchell explained,

"As a con­se­quence, many Catholics left church last Sun­day believ­ing that the gov­ern­ment was going to com­pel priests to marry les­bian and gay couples.”

“I know this because after Sun­day Mass I inter­viewed peo­ple com­ing out of London’s pre­mier Catholic church, West­min­ster Cathe­dral. Three quar­ters of the peo­ple I spoke to were under the impres­sion that the arch­bish­ops were talk­ing about same-sex mar­riages in churches. They thought the gov­ern­ment was going to force unwill­ing reli­gious insti­tu­tions to marry same-sex couples.”

Equal­i­ties Min­is­ter Lynne Feath­er­stone has crit­i­cised church lead­ers’ reac­tions, saying,

It adds noth­ing to the debate. It inflames. On these issues, we have a respon­si­bil­ity in lead­er­ship posi­tions to make sure we don’t fan the flames of homo­pho­bia. I totally respect all of the reli­gious views and under­stand they are strong and gen­uinely felt. But to use such inflam­ma­tory lan­guage does not help the debate and does not help their cause.”

When the Arch­bishop of York claimed the gov­ern­ment couldn’t change the law on mar­riage with­out the approval of reli­gious lead­ers her reply was sim­ply, “My under­stand­ing is that Par­lia­ment can leg­is­late to do what it wishes.”

I’m not alone in think­ing the church should stop inter­fer­ing so neg­a­tively in an issue which is none of their damn business.

The church on reli­gious mar­riage for same sex couples

The gov­ern­ment messed up by not address­ing reli­gious gay mar­riage in this pro­posal. Church lead­ers are shout­ing at us any­way. “Mar­riage is for a man and a woman!”… “We invented it, for God’s sake!” the priests cry. Well no, you didn’t. You don’t own the con­cept of mar­riage. If you want to start an argu­ment, let’s dis­cuss same sex mar­riage on your premises while we’re here, shall we? (Civil part­ner­ships on reli­gious premises are already legal, after all.)

Church lead­ers have loud voices — but are we really listening?

It’s no secret that the aver­age age of both priests and con­gre­ga­tions is head­ing sky­ward (no pun intended). Sta­tis­tics pre­dict the per­cent­age of UK church­go­ers will be below 5% by the year 2020. Church­go­ers may lis­ten to their priests’ views on gay mar­riage in church — most may agree. But they’re a shrink­ing minor­ity. (Con­sider the ‘offi­cial esti­mate’ from this White­hall source: 6% of the UK pop­u­la­tion are gay.)

The media lis­ten to out­spo­ken church lead­ers because con­tro­versy sells papers. Arch­bish­ops are no strangers to sound­bites and they know how to court media atten­tion. Daily Mail read­ers may not flinch as priests use words like “grotesque” in their retal­i­a­tion against these pro­pos­als — but debate on the Inde­pen­dent, Tele­graph and Guardian web­sites tells a far more enlight­ened story.

Per­haps it’s enter­tain­ing to see the men in funny hats cry out against equal­ity in mar­riage. From a nation beguiled by bad X Fac­tor audi­tions, the fact we’re giv­ing blink­ered bish­ops news­pa­per space doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean we agree with their point of view.

In much the same way as Cab­i­net Office Min­is­ter Fran­cis Maude pointed out the Con­ser­v­a­tive party would be “une­lec­table” if it stuck to “backwards-looking social atti­tudes”, I believe the Church should think care­fully about alien­at­ing a younger con­gre­ga­tion through big­otry and homophobia.

Writ­ing for the Daily Tele­graph, John Bing­ham said, “The Church of Eng­land hinted that the pro­pos­als could under­mine its posi­tion as the estab­lished Church”. This is an impor­tant point which flips neatly around: in my opin­ion if the Church of Eng­land won’t let go of its anti­quated prej­u­dices then its posi­tion as far as our gen­er­a­tion is con­cerned will become pre­car­i­ous indeed.

Whose fault is it that inequal­ity in mar­riage is still rife?

The gov­ern­ment is cer­tainly at fault — it has taken steps towards equal­ity with civil part­ner­ships and now civil mar­riage nar­row­ing the gap between the rights of het­ero– and homo­sex­ual cou­ples. But politi­cians are too scared of anger­ing the major reli­gious groups to lift the ban on same sex mar­riage in church.

It’s our fault too: the wed­ding indus­try, the gen­eral pub­lic: we leave the equal rights cam­paign­ers and the politi­cians to it. This shouldn’t be a debate just for the gay com­mu­nity and the House of Com­mons — it should be a con­ver­sa­tion we all con­tribute to.

Within the wed­ding indus­try we are blink­ered. Despite see­ing almost 43,000 civil part­ner­ships in five years we really don’t talk about same sex mar­riage or civil part­ner­ships, and we don’t tend to wade into polit­i­cal debate. Con­sid­er­ing the audi­ence demo­graphic of wed­ding blogs — thou­sands of young cou­ples who are inter­act­ing with churches, reg­is­trars and wed­ding sup­pli­ers — it’s time wed­ding blog­gers at the very least joined the conversation.

While the gov­ern­ment is mak­ing steps towards change in a pos­i­tive way, and the wed­ding indus­try I’m sure will wel­come gay civil mar­riage, this whole debate is being held back by reli­gious organ­i­sa­tions. Despite being on the fringes of all of this — while we only focus on civil mar­riage and the law — their vocal lead­ers are effec­tively preach­ing homo­pho­bia. The church is try­ing to stop progress, to dis­crim­i­nate and to over­rule the rest of us in what could turn out to be a twisted pop­u­lar­ity contest.

We really need to sup­port equal mar­riage — now

The wed­ding indus­try needs to recog­nise and par­tic­i­pate in impor­tant issues. Equal­ity in mar­riage is some­thing I’m con­fi­dent we’ll sup­port as an indus­try. Our wed­ding press, wed­ding blogs and wed­ding busi­ness blogs are a plat­form we should be using to pro­mote equal­ity and change.

Begin­ning a dis­cus­sion within the wed­ding indus­try could drive sig­nif­i­cant sup­port for the Equal Love Cam­paign, which is press­ing the gov­ern­ment to end the twin bans on same-sex civil mar­riages and opposite-sex civil part­ner­ships, and to allow reli­gious organ­i­sa­tions that sup­port same-sex mar­riages to con­duct them.

This is a dis­cus­sion being held between politi­cians, equal rights cam­paign­ers and the clergy.  The impact of legal changes in 2015 will be felt by the very peo­ple we in the wed­ding indus­try can reach: mil­lions of cou­ples in their twen­ties and thir­ties. So let’s push for equal­ity now, join the debate and let our voices be heard.

What can we do to help

  • Sign the peti­tion for Equal Love at http://equallove.org.uk/petition/
  • Tell your friends (and fol­low­ers) about Equal Love and ask for their sup­port on face­book and twit­ter http://equallove.org.uk/petition/tell-your-friends/
  • Like the Equal Love face­book group https://www.facebook.com/pages/Equal-Love/163531170333628
  • Com­plete the quick online con­sul­ta­tion form on the Home Office web­site http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/equal-civil-marriage/
  • Watch for #equal­civil­mar­riage tweets to fol­low lat­est cam­paign news

Most of all I’d love to see every­one involved with mar­riage and wed­dings in Eng­land and Wales sup­port­ing the move towards true equal­ity: keep­ing this con­ver­sa­tion alive is important.

Fur­ther read­ing on equal mar­riage for same sex couples

Other related infor­ma­tion sources

 Equal Love


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