On Monday 5th March, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled newspaper The Times published a strong editorial calling for the introduction of gay marriage. It comes in a week when religions, politicians and others have laid out their cards on the issue.
Despite their declining readership, newspapers still matter. They still deliver much of the analysis that people access to help them assess the significance and meaning of a news story. The leader columns of a newspaper are their official voice.
I welcome the decision of The Times to become the first daily newspaper to outline its vocal support to reforming marriage by allowing same sex couples to enjoy the same rights as opposite sex couples. On Monday it wrote: “It would enrich the institution of marriage, enhance social stability and expand the sum of human happiness. It is a cause that has the firm support of The Times.”
It continued: “Reforming the law would enrich the lives of same-sex couples who wish to marry in order to affirm by rite that they love and are loved in return. By that commitment, they will enrich the society and culture that their fellow citizens share.”
Other newspapers are expected to follow, we understand with The Guardian to publish a similar leader editorial within the next week.
Way back in 1996, The Economist backed gay marriage, before the prospect of civil partnerships in the UK ever seemed likely. It argued: “there is no compelling reason to exclude homosexual couples from marriage, and several compelling reasons to include them.”
But while The Times, The Economist and soon The Guardian are the voices of equality, others show a nastier voice.
The Telegraph wrote that gay marriage “raises profound questions about our society more broadly: how we raise our children, which family units and values we prize, whether it can ever be government’s role to dictate the nature of such an elemental relationship.“
It argues that “the existing system is a classic but effective British compromise, managing to offer the substance of marriage, in the shape of civil partnerships, without offending the many who believe that the ceremony itself must be reserved for men and women only.”
The Daily Mail and the Daily Express continues to allow columnists to regularly oppose gay marriage. While others such as The Sun and the Daily Mirror are more silent.
As the public consultation for reforming marriage is about to open, we believe that all national newspapers should publish leader editorials either reflecting their support or their opposition. By understanding their stance on this issue, it allows us in the LGBT community to understand the agenda that the publication has when it comes to all LGBT issues and perhaps whether they are broadly ‘for us’ or against.
The brave support for marriage equality from the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg, Labour leader Ed Miliband, SNP deputy first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and the Green party leader Caroline Lucas shows that they are prepared to support the right course of action, regardless of the negative headlines that ensue. It shows that our political representatives can sometimes still lead public opinion rather than follow the perceived agenda of a populist press, even if some of their own supporters are deeply opposed to a cause.
As time goes on, more politicians will show their hand. There are some that will vote against legislation in Parliament, but we’d prefer to know exactly who they are now. Those who support reform must pledge their commitment by supporting either or both of the Equal Love campaign and the Coalition for Equal Marriage.
The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have made clear their opposition to marriage equality. Britain’s only Catholic cardinal, Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien called it a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”.
But Quakers, Unitarians, Liberal Judaism and just yesterday, Reform Judaism backed equality and wish to conduct religious same sex marriages. But there has been no official word from the Chief Rabbi, who heads the larger Orthodox Jewish movement. We urge him to be clear if he supports or opposes equality. Equally, we urge the leaders of other faiths to be clear on their support or opposition, giving reasons so that we, the LGBT community, can understand and rationalise their position.
Our hand is clear. This publication has long called for the introduction of full marriage equality, long before most politicians and even gay rights charities such as Stonewall, who are now strongly behind introducing marriage. We are proud that it is on our pages that both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband first called for gay marriage. We are equally proud that on PinkNews.co.uk, David Cameron announced that he was “open to changing things further to guarantee equality”. Something he told the Conservative Party conference last year means same sex marriage.
I trust that given the party political consensus, same sex marriage will become legal before the next general election. If it does, then we as a nation enter a new stage in our history. One of the final legal discriminations against lesbian and gay people will be lifted.
There will still be much to fight for, not least in education and transgender rights, but Britain will be a better place.
Furthermore, it is our hope and desire that the political process can be sped up, so that there is the prospect of legislation being introduced, perhaps even passed, during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year. It would be a fitting juncture in our collective history to mark a new age of equality in our great country.