‘Gay people are just asking for equality’

Antoinette Scholtz and Sanmari Botha

Antoinette Scholtz and Sanmari Botha

First published in News Herald Series: Photograph of the Author by

PRIME Minister David Cameron’s plan to ‘fast-track’ gay marriage is threatening to split his government — with even some ‘homegrown’ MPs protesting.

In 2004, the introduction of civil partnerships gave gay couples the same relationship rights as heterosexual couples.

But Witney MP Mr Cameron now wants same-sex couples to be able to enjoy civil marriage, currently only available to heterosexual couples.

After first promising changes by 2015, he has now decided to ‘fast-track’ the bill before Parliament as early as the New Year.

But 121 Tory MPs, including Tony Baldry and Nicola Blackwood — out of 303 in total — say they are uneasy about the highly controversial move.

Conservative MP for Banbury Sir Tony Baldry said: “Ever since this proposal was raised, I have been making it clear I shall vote against same-sex marriage.

“Throughout history and in every civilisation, marriage has been a union between one man and one woman.”

MP for Oxford West and Abingdon Nicola Blackwood has concerns for the impact on religious groups. She said: “I support equal rights for all couples but, given the nature of our human rights legislation, especially at the European Court of Human Rights level, I am not convinced the proposals for equal marriage as they currently stand will, in practice, protect faith groups from legal action if they refuse to carry out ceremonies when approached.”

But fellow Tory and Henley MP John Howell said: “All that is being proposed is a change to allow same-sex civil marriages. It is no big deal.”

Mr Cameron’s plans for gay marriage will also make him unpopular with the Bishop of Oxford, the Rev John Pritchard, who welcomes civil partnerships as a “positive development,” but is not in favour of equal marriage.

He said: “What we have in this development is a further step on a long road from treating marriage as a social good, to seeing it as a personal choice.

“Equal marriage would mean the loss of all differentiation in permanent relationships.

“The terms husband and wife would disappear, along with many other differentiations between ‘he’ and ‘she’.

“I believe it's much better to have two clear and different identities — marriage and civil partnership, or another name if there’s a better one. Nobody is served by confusing the two.”

Sanmari Botha, 36 and Antoinette Scholtz, 33, from Islip, made their civil partnership in September at The Garth in Bicester and also want equality.

Ms Botha, a dental technician, said: “Both Antoinette and I were brought up in Christian homes in South Africa and so we can maybe appreciate the difficulties some people have with the prospect of gay people being able to ‘marry’.

“But at the end of the day, gay people are not asking for special treatment.

We just want to be regarded and treated as human beings and enjoy the same rights in love as anyone.”

THE FACTS

  • The Civil Partnership Act 2004 received Royal Assent in 2004 and from that point, couples signing the civil register were finally given equality in tax arrangements, child support, employment and pension benefits and were their partner’s legal next of kin.
  • Since December 2005 more than 100,000 people have entered a civil partnership in Britain, far exceeding official estimates of 22,000 couples.
  • In Oxfordshire the Registration Service hosts similar numbers to  Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Kent — 222 in 2006; 91 in 2007, and between 65 and 84 every year since. Any legal change will not affect religious marriages and no religious group will be forced to conduct same-sex religious marriages.

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