It has been a long time coming – or at least it has seemed that way! After passing its final reading in the House of Lords earlier this week, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was granted royal assent earlier today, in the process becoming the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. We are unlikely to see the first ceremonies before next summer but gay marriage is now officially legal in England and Wales.
According to an AFP report, MPs cheered when the announcement was made, Commons Speaker John Bercow telling them:
“I have to notify the House in accordance with the Royal Assent 1967 that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following acts… Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.”
Culture Minister Maria Miller, chief sponsor of the bill as it made its way to the statute books, hailed the development as “an historic moment that will resonate in many people’s lives”.
“I am proud that we have made it happen, and I look forward to the first same sex wedding by next summer.”
As we’ve seen, the bill’s passage through parliament was marked – predictably – by controversies and fiery declarations of doom from its opponents. But we see such outbreaks every time there is a significant social change. I think most people fundamentally realised that the bill was right for 21st Century Britain. It was a change with the wind of history behind it.
I have been a supporter of gay marriage throughout. Yes, civil partnerships grant pretty much the same rights to the participating couples as marriage will, but civil partnerships are not marriage in the full social and historical sense of the term. Everyone has a right to be happy and gay couples deserve equality.
Our society has grown up. Being gay was once illegal, a secret to be whispered behind closed doors, if at all. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in the 1960s, within the lifetimes of many of us. That Britain seems an increasingly distant one.
Controversies remain. Will civil partnerships serve any function in the age of gay marriage? Should they be now abolished – or extended to heterosexual couples? It has been interesting to see firebrand gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell championing the extension of civil partnerships to heterosexual couples, saying they will now have fewer rights than gay ones.
It will be fascinating to see how events play out.
Photo by Archie McPhee via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence