50 years ago, homosexuality was illegal. In an amazing turnaround, by the middle of next year, gay relationships will be on an (almost) equal footing to heterosexual ones, as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 is now the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, after Royal Assent was received on Wednesday afternoon.
I’ll be honest – there were times when I didn’t think it would happen. From the minute the plans were announced back in 2011, a formidable campaign against same-sex marriage was launched, unleashing old-school attitudes and opinions that I naively thought had disappeared from public discourse. Certain sections of society are not nearly as tolerant and accepting as we thought they were.
The leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland (or, as he is now known, the disgraced former leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland), Cardinal Keith O’Brien, launched an astonishing diatribe, describing same-sex marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. The Telegraph and the Daily Mail were vociferous in their opposition.
The Coalition for Marriage – which described itself as a “grass roots” campaign despite being launched by luminaries such as the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, and reality TV star Anne Widdecombe – set up a petition which, at the time of writing, has a rather pleasing 666,493 signatures. The Government’s own consultation ignored the organised petitions and form letter campaigns, but still revealed widespread opposition.
The cynical view was that this bill was David Cameron’s attempt to “modernise” the Tory party image. If that was his goal, it failed – more Conservative MPs voted against the bill than for it, and Tory MPs have been the most vociferous in their criticism of the bill. Political commentators talked of divisions in the Tory party and rumours swirled of leadership challenges to the Prime Minister. The very real lives and loves of LGBT people were rather lost amongst all the punditry.