10 February 2014

Scotland's gay rights journey

It's old news for those keeping a weather eye on Holyrood, but I've a wee post over at the Oxford Human Rights Hub this morning on last week's decisive vote in favour of equal marriage in the Scottish Parliament.  For those who've been following my developing attitudes on this blog, and my emotional radicalising behind the policy last summer, it'll come as no surprise that I was pleased by the final 105 to 18 vote in favour. 

It is one of the legislation's quieter victories, but I'm particularly content that we're finally going to banish the iniquity of making gender recognition contingent on divorce or dissolution of civil partnerships.  That's to put it abstractly. Too abstractly. Before this legislation, where a transgender party to a marriage or a civil partnership wished to be recognised in law in their new gender, the state required them to divorce, whether or not the parties involved in the relationship had any interest in doing so. Edinburgh MSP Marco Biagi quoted this observation from a constituent, reflecting just how unjust  and unnecessary this provision was:

“My other role model for a successful loving relationship is that of my best friend’s parents. His father had a sex change about 30 years ago, and my friend grew up knowing her as his aunt. They are still married, and have been for almost as long as my own parents. I count them as close friends   today, but growing up they were my second set of parents. Because of the current unequal laws on   marriage she’s never been formally recognised as a woman. They couldn’t face the divorce which would be required under the current laws. Forced to choose between state recognition of gender, or their marriage, they chose the latter. She has lived for 30 years with a physical identity at odds with her legal one.”

The headline equal marriage provisions may affect more folk, but it strikes me that this is a greater injustice righted by this legislation. 

I'm also encouraged by Alex Neil's observations that the question about what to do with civil partnerships remains an open and active consideration. The Cabinet Secretary identified two main avenues open to Holyrood. The first would be to discontinue the institution of civil partnership. While those who have entered into them would be preserved in this status, after some arbitrary agreed point, no further partnerships could be formed.  In the alternative, the institution of civil partnership could be preserved, but its gender qualifications - currently, heterosexual couples cannot transact one - eliminated.  For my tastes, the second option has its attractions.

Although last week's decision has a taken-for-granted quality for many of the  folk I've talked to about it since, as I try to flag up in the Human Rights Hub piece, and as David Torrance has engagingly discussed before, it represents a quiet revolution in official Scottish attitudes towards gay rights, and a stark departure from a more conservative tradition in this field.  My father - a crusty, but not ancient character - recalls witnessing police raids on Rose Street pubs in Edinburgh as recently as the 1970s, the suspect sexualities of the crowd blotted by illegality and subjected to public humiliations by officers of the law. As we glance east to Sochi, it is important not to forget our own recent history.  Better the sinner repenteth, but a late conversion does not efface past sins. 

1 comment :

  1. Yes a great day - we can all be proud of Holyrood at such moments.