Anyone who saw the occupants of Graham Norton’s sofa last Friday night could not have failed to notice that Graham had attracted some of the biggest names from Hollywood. Michael Douglas topped the bill, over in the UK to promote his new film, Behind The Candelabra. Starring alongside Matt Daman, the film looks at the life of Liberace during his six year relationship with Scott Thorson, author of the book that the film is based upon. Directed by Steve Soderbugh – who directed the Ocean’s movies and Traffic – it looks like great fun, and opens on June 7th in the UK. The acceptability of a film about a gay relationship in conservative America is one thing. Soderbugh acknowledges that even five years ago, he wouldn’t have been certain that many people outside the gay community would have come along to watch it. The director is right to hint that the times are a-changin’. Modern society at large, even in the generally right-wing United States, has moved forward a great deal in its tolerance of same sex relationships, even in the last few years. Nevertheless, we’d probably all have to admit that tolerating the existence of such relationships is one thing; but the idea of gay marriages becoming a norm in developed nations still has a way to go, as events this week have shown.
Earlier this week, Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau married in Montpelier, their ceremony attracting a huge amount of media attention as the first of its kind in France. The law in France changed on 19th May amid protest marches, riots in the streets and after 172 hours of heated political debate. Against a backdrop in which a far-right essayist, ‘Dominique Venner, shot himself dead at the altar of Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral on Tuesday after leaving a blog post railing against immigration and the “vile” law legalising same-sex marriage’, Autin and Boileau were invited to be the first gay couple to tie the knot in France. They have changed their surname to Boileau-Autin and hope to adopt a child in the near future.
British society has long accepted the existence of the gay community in certain sectors, notably entertainment and music. That the television schedules on an ordinary Friday night in the UK are dominated by Graham Norton and Alan Carr shouldn’t surprise us, given the popularity of Larry Grayson, John Inman and others, as far back as the 1970s. However, there were limits to society’s – and politician’s – acceptance of those whose sexuality differed from their own. The fight against Clause 28 of the Local Government Act 1986, which in effect prevented schools and other institutions sharing information about or promoting homosexuality, focused the minds of gay rights campaigners a great deal, most notably leading to the founding of Stonewall. The Act was repealed in 2003. And in 2004 the right to enter into civil partnerships was established for all gay couples with such partnerships carrying with them much the same rights and responsibilities as marriage. Alongside widespread support for this legislation, the fact that gay rights campaigners, such as Peter Tatchell, politicians such as Ben Bradshaw and Peter Mandelson, and journalists such as Matthew Paris, now wield considerable influence in public life, and enjoy regular spots on BBC Question Time, is probably as clear an indication yet of how society’s attitudes have shifted.
So why all this fuss over the right to gay marriage? For the unreligious amongst us, the arguments against it are not that easy to grasp. Those who support gay marriage do so believing that civil partnerships still do not offer gay couples equality with heterosexual couples before the law. Those who oppose them state that the marriage is a religious institution intended as a union of one man and one woman. The proposed legislation that Cameron’s coalition government is putting forward allows the Church of England to exclude itself from the list of religious organisations willing to open their doors to gay couples. Overlaying the arguments that have their basis in religious belief are those that fall along somewhat traditional party lines. A YouGov poll finds that while Labour voters are generally supportive of the idea, Conservative party supporters are much more divided. People over 60 are also much more likely to oppose the legislation than those under 40. David Cameron has endured a great deal of criticism, from both within and without his party, as he has pushed this legislation through the Commons. There are those who suspect he is doing it as a vote-winner; on last week’s Channel 4 Ten O’Clock Live show, tory party supporter, columnist and member of the gay community Milo Yiannopoulus accused Cameron of putting the bill forward for this reason and no other. It is a measure of the complexity of the discussions that there are seemingly as many gay people opposed to the legislation as there are those in favour of it.
The bill has been passed by a Commons vote, but has yet to make it through the House of Lords. 80 peers have asked to speak in the debate which is planned for Monday 4th June, which may delay the actual vote until the small hours. This may be worrying for those who wish to see it succeed, and indeed Emily Thornberry MP, Shadow Attorney General, has asked for the debate to be stopped at midnight and resumed the next day in order to allow the more elderly members of the House to rest. Whatever the outcome of the votes in Parliament, the team here at Prince Family Law advocate a considered approach to the formulating of any legally recognised partnership, whatever your sexual orientation, and are here to help guide you through your options in advance of your happy day!