A Second Look at Equal Marriage

How worthwhile is equal marriage really when there are still LGBT+ people both in the UK and abroad suffering from homelessness, poverty and abuse?

Caitlin Saunders examines the worth of equal marriage in the light of homelessness, poverty and abuse faced by members of the LGBT+ community in the UK and elsewhere. Credits: κύριαsity via CreativeCommons

The BBC has reported that since equal marriage passed into law in March, Britain has seen approximately 1,400 same-sex weddings. The passing of that bill was a triumph that warranted full recognition. It made headlines at every news outlet and provoked the full force of Stonewall’s lobbying expertise.

And for people like me, with accepting friends and family and a world of opportunities at my feet, it was pretty important. I even wrote a letter to my local MP imploring him to vote in favour in the Commons; I told him my academic successes would mean nothing if my relationship with my girlfriend was deemed of less importance because it involved two women.

But is equal marriage’ really what’s most important for us LGBT+ people right now?

After all, there are very real problems with homelessness among LGBT+ youth and poverty in the trans* community. Resolving homelessness and poverty has a significant effect in improving the quality of life for the LGBT+ community as a whole – more so than equal marriage. Unfortunately, these things don’t fire up as vigorous or entertaining a debate (neither do they buy as many votes) as equal marriage; it’s easy to see why they’re much more likely to be ignored.

And if we take the time to look around us, we’ll see that around the same time as the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill was passed in the UK, male homosexuality was recriminalised in India, anti-gay propaganda laws were institutionalised in Russia, and life sentences were enforced in Uganda.

It’s not difficult to conclude that the possibility of reciting wedding vows is one of the least pressing issues facing LGBT+ people worldwide.

Of course it’s difficult for British MPs to strive to change the laws in other countries, let alone social and cultural attitudes. And of course same-sex marriage means a great deal to a great many people – it gives a long-awaited legal standing to the love of LGB people, protecting them in some of the ways civil partnerships do not. But even so, I for one find it hard to celebrate the facilitation of my own conformist middle class aspiration of marriages, mortgages and children when it ignores the needs of the trans* community, and when I know that were I to be born into a different family or onto another continent, my aspiration could be finding a safe place to sleep or just staying out of prison for long as I could.

Then I remember that we too have troubles here in the UK. Homelessness, poverty, bodily autonomy and personal safety are real problems still faced by LGBT+ people in the UK. Meanwhile, corrective rape, prison and death sentences are real threats to LGBT+ people elsewhere.

And marriage equality may be a real triumph, but it certainly isn’t the whole picture. We have every right to celebrate, but we cannot lose sight of that.

Caitlin Saunders

Caitlin Saunders studies Linguistics at the University of Cambridge and is our Comment Co-Editor at, “Get Real.” She is also the Cambridge University Student Union’s LGBT+ Welfare Officer and is Sidney Sussex College LGBT+ representative

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