By Joseph Willits
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Today the Government has announced a public consultation, to look at how they would provide civil marriage to same-sex couples. A Downing Street source has said that David Cameron "personally intervened" and the move has been "consistent with [his] views as expressed in his first speech as party leader".
In February 2011, Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone announced that the government would be looking at ways forward for civil partnerships. However, the move is widely believed to have been prompted by intense lobbying from gay rights groups. Peter Tatchell has been lobbying for full same-sex marriage equality for a significant period of time, even taking the issue to the European Court of Human Rights.
Although the move is a step in the right direction for same-sex marriage equality, issues will be raised over the details, with particular regard to pensions. Times journalist Matthew Parris has said:
"Some pension schemes, for example give surviving spouses from a marriage contracted after retirement full rights – but not from a civil partnership contracted after retirement".
The public sector has led the way in granting the right for same-sex partners to have equal pension schemes, but some private sector schemes are still refusing. It will be interesting to see how this affects the new position.
The government will also have to strike the appropriate balance between LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) equality and religious freedom. Under the proposals, same-sex marriage would be civil in form, despite some religious groups wishing to offer same-sex marriage, to people of the LGBT community of faith.
Lord Tebbit has criticised the idea, saying "there were other priorities at a time like this" and that "there can be no such thing as gay marriage. Marriage is between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others". It is widely believed, however, that there will not be much opposition to the planned consultation from within the Conservative Party. Currently there are around 50,000 registered civil partnerships, with a significant increase in 2011. This figure also includes Tory MPs Alan Duncan, Nick Herbert and Nick Boles.
Let us hope that the government's announcement will bring true equality will civil same-sex marriage, rather than simply being a hollow political manoeuvre to temporarily satisfy the LGBT community and the Liberal Democrats. Over the last decade it has been the Labour government which has made great advances in LGBT equality, with the Tory party dragging its feet. The very fact that this move has been made under a Tory Prime Minister is testament to change, and proof that the march to full equality is irreversible.
The public consultation will begin in March 2012, in order for the Government to make necessary legislative changes.