The first challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage in the UK (Westminster Register Office, 19 March 1992) © Peter Tatchell

The first challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage in the UK (Westminster Register Office, 19 March 1992) © Peter Tatchell

The renowned human rights campaigner makes a welcome return to the pages of Fyne Times, to talk Harry, Meghan, and same-sex marriage with Sam Bennett.

Equal marriage vigil outside the House of Lords (5 June 2013) © Peter Tatchell

Equal marriage vigil outside the House of Lords (5 June 2013) © Peter Tatchell

In 2004 you told Fyne Times you rarely relax – has that changed all these years on?

Not really. I get between 1,000-2,000 messages most days – it’s a real struggle to keep up with that volume. Plus I have my campaigns, speaking engagements, and articles. It’s a busy life.

You weren’t overly enchanted by this year’s royal wedding.

I wished Harry and Meghan every happiness, but didn’t quite appreciate the saturation media coverage which forced important social and humans rights issues off the news agenda. The day before the wedding, the first 13 pages of the Evening Standard were devoted entirely to the royal wedding – a bit of overkill in my view.

But people do seem to like that coverage. Aren’t the papers in some way torn between giving people what they want to read and paying attention to other more important things?

A YouGov opinion poll showed that 66% of the public said they were not interested in the royal wedding, and were going to have a typical Saturday. So the level of public support was actually not that great.

The first challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage in the UK (Westminster Register Office, 19 March 1992) © Peter Tatchell

The first challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage in the UK (Westminster Register Office, 19 March 1992) © Peter Tatchell

You wrote in The Guardian, “Given its patriarchal, heterosexist history, I’m no fan of wedlock.” But isn’t the history of wedlock indeed history, and hasn’t wedlock changed and could you be a fan of it in its present state?

There’s still quite a bit of patriarchal baggage associated with marriage. Typically the father of the bride gives away his daughter to her husband-to-be, which symbolises the passing of woman from one man to another. Just take the term ‘husband and wife’; an alternative meaning for husband is to manage and control, which is the way many men have traditionally treated women in straight marriages.

Am I right in saying that you are in favour of same-sex couples having marriage because that is equality, but marriage itself needs amending for everyone who enters into it?

Yes. I began the campaign for same-sex marriage in 1992. Even though I’m critical of the sexist patriarchal history of that institution, banning same-sex couples was homophobic discrimination – I was therefore against it. In March 1992 I helped organise the first challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage in the UK. Five same-sex couples from the LGBT+ direct action group OutRage! filed civil marriage applications at Westminster Register Office. They were refused, but that was the opening shot in the battle to win marriage equality. We later set up the Equal Love campaign which among other things mounted a legal challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage in the European Court of Human Rights. And we lobbied the Conservative government of David Cameron to bring in equal marriage, which he did.

However, I have proposed a completely new alternative to both marriage and civil partnerships. I’ve called it a civil commitment pact. Under this system a person would be able to nominate any significant other in their life as their next of kin and beneficiary. So this could be a partner, or it could be – in the case of single people – a lifelong best friend, a favourite niece or nephew, etc. This would end the discrimination against single people in terms of inheritance and inheritance tax breaks. Couples in love-type relationships, under my civil commitment pact, would be able to pick and mix from a menu of rights and responsibilities to create their own tailor-made partnership agreement. The idea behind a bespoke agreement is to acknowledge the reality that there are many different patterns of lifestyle and relationship in modern Britain. Some partners live together, others live apart, some share their finances, others maintain financial independence, some have children, others don’t. So this would allow couples to devise a partnership agreement suited to their particular needs. It would also help concentrate the mind because partners would have to go through each different right and responsibility and sign it off. It would ensure that people understood what they were getting into, in contrast with a marriage or civil partnership where you just sign on the dotted line – all the conditions are set in stone, you can’t negotiate or amend them.

The first challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage in the UK (Westminster Register Office, 19 March 1992) © Peter Tatchell

The first challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage in the UK (Westminster Register Office, 19 March 1992) © Peter Tatchell

I spoke to Sue Sanders fairly recently who said that same-sex marriage can be risky as it can create the illusion that LGBT+ people have complete equality when actually they don’t.

Thanks to probably the most successful social law reform campaign in British history, between 1999 and 2014, every anti-LGBT law was repealed or amended. So we do have formal legal equality. But of course that doesn’t mean to say that LGBT+ people don’t suffer prejudice, discrimination, harassment, ostracism, or violence. We know that even today about a third of all LGBT people have been victims of homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic hate crime at least once. We also know that nearly half of all LGBT+ kids in schools have suffered bullying, which often drives them to anxiety, depression, truancy, academic underperformance, and even self-harm.

Should same-sex marriage legislation be put to a public vote?

Same-sex marriage referendums are good in that they encourage a public debate which usually results in hearts and minds being won to marriage equality. But it’s a very bad principle to put people’s human rights – which include the right to marry the person you love – to a public vote. Human rights trump democracy. No majority has a right to deny people their basic human rights.

petertatchellfoundation.org

@PeterTatchell

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