Last night, in a packed Committee Room in the House of Commons, I watched alongside LGBT campaigners from all parties and none as the result of the vote on the Second Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was announced – 400 Ayes to 175 Noes.
Immediately there was an eruption of applause and cheers – people hugged each other, and I even turned to see a lady in tears behind me: she wept as she told her friend how amazing it was.
For me the moment was sublime. I remained silent studying the screen as others jumped with joy around me. I, like so many others, had waited a long time for this. Having grown up knowing how different I was perceived to be, the unequivocal statement from Parliament that the law should recognise all love equally and without prejudice was truly awe-inspiring.
As the room quieted we were privileged to hear the immediate reaction and wise words from veteran LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. This was a collective victory, he said, one that we all, in our own small way, had helped bring about. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride, but also a sense of humility – realising in that moment what extraordinary lengths so many before me had gone to so as to allow for this moment; seeing my own meagre contribution wither in comparison.
Nonetheless, though history weighed heavy on my shoulders it was an empowering experience. Though an important victory, the fight is far from over. The Committee Stage of the Bill, followed by its Third Reading in the Commons still beckons. And more ominous still, passage through the House of Lords. I thus feel more determined than ever to build on the fantastic work of the myriad campaigners who have taken us this far and make sure this battle is won.
I am not just fighting for me however, but for the very principles of liberal democracy itself. Either people are equal or they are not, and having one’s relationship being recognised as equal is fundamental to settling that matter. Moreover, as was made painfully evident to me when talking to a trans person who would, under current law, be forced to divorce the spouse who has stood beside them in difficult circumstances in order to secure their true gender identity; the proposals in this new law deliver fairness and decency to people adversely affected by society’s historical tendency to exclude or neglect anything not quite within the remit of the so-called ‘normal’ way of life.
Consequently, I consider this Bill as one of the most fundamentally important pieces of legislation the Liberal Democrats have secured in Government. And on that note I must thank one person who is without a doubt almost entirely responsible for this issue being voted on (despite it not even being in the Coalition Agreement) once Lib Dem Conference adopted the policy of equal marriage: former minister for equalities and Liberal Democrat extraordinare Lynne Featherstone. Lynne, on behalf of all liberal minded people, I thank you for this extraordinary opportunity to help bring an end to legal prejudice.
Of course my thanks also go to all MPs, no matter what their party affiliation, who supported the Bill. I did, however, feel particularly sorry for a Tory MP who spoke to us shortly before the vote last night and sounded truly disappointed with the reaction of so many of his colleagues to these proposals. Nonetheless, there are enough liberal minded people in Parliament and in the country to have a reasonable expectation of ultimate victory – now is the time to go make it happen!