Down South on the other side of the border, around a fortnight ago, Westminster decided that same-sex marriage was something it wanted to put its weight behind. Well, most of Westminster. Here in St. Andrews I’m sure we like to think of ourselves as an open-minded bunch of people (hey, the Lizard’s still in business), though in 175 constituencies marriage between people of the same sex was not considered a step forward. So how far have we actually come as a nation on the issue of gay marriage?
All of this is indeed a far cry from that period in the 1980s when gay bashing was hardly considered a crime and to ‘come out’ would be considered something very scandalous indeed. As a result of how far we as a country have moved on sex, gender, and sexual orientation, this period of history has become so alien to us that forces unbeknownst to us seem to have conspired to wipe it from the history books altogether.
Having grown up under probably the most sexually and socially liberal Government in British history, the Labour Government of 1997-2010, I never really had any problem with any of this (granted, my parents are both fairly liberal in this respect – cheers Mom and Dad). There was, in the late nineties and early noughties, one might argue, a sort of second sexual revolution. Britain had become completely cool with homosexuality and other contiguous forms of sexual freedom. Section 28 had been obliterated by the time of the millennium. Gay people were all over television and the media, gay was, in a not altogether progressive way, ‘cool’. I still remember girls in my class at school saying that they would love a gay best friend. But hey,progress was progress.
To this day I opine that if two people of the same sex want to consecrate their relationship in this way, and it is not hurting anyone (I’m not buying the ‘it hurts the sanctity of marriage’ argument), then I don’t see what the problem is. Furthermore, if a priest or an imam does not feel comfortable carrying out this ceremony, then I believe no one is going to force them, a statement echoed by Scottish National Party MSP Humza Yousaf on Question Time the other week.
MPs who declared they had had so many letters from their constituents protesting a withdrawal of support if they backed this law that a ‘yes’ vote would amount to a resignation draw little sympathy from me. As an MP you are there to represent your constituents, true enough, but you are also there to enact the political change in which you believe.
So where does this leave Scotland?
Marriage being neither reserved or excepted by the UK Parliament, Scotland has control over its own destiny in this area. The Scottish Government has plans to make same-sex marriage legal very soon, apparently, and has always backed it. In a 2012 poll by the Equality Network 87 MSPs would be expected to vote for same-sex marriage, with 10 against and 32 undeclared – a pretty sizable victory then. All of those declaring to vote against were either Conservative or SNP, and one independent.
Quite simply it may be fairest to use the old adage: where you sit is where you stand. The secluded parishes of England were likely to vote no, as were some of the more entrenched northern towns. Not one party got a full set of MPs voting for the Bill. In Scotland, it looks as if same-sex marriage will be a reality very soon, whilst across the channel France have followed Britain’s lead, and will also be introducing same-sex marriage.
So to return to my original question: how far have we actually come as a nation on the issue of gay marriage? It is something which the majority believe in and which – always the best barometer for any issue – the general public have no intention of kicking up a fuss about. To say that there’s nowhere else to go on this is wrong, especially considering the Bill could well get slashed and torn at the Lords.
But looking at where the country was at the time of my birth and looking at where it is now, we can safely say that this is one area where we are moving irrepressibly forward. Needless to say, our boy Menzies was on the side of progress. Off to the Lizard, then!