I have loved the Australian commentary on the debate in the House of Commons yesterday (Tuesday 5th February 2013) preceding the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. It has been described as “very British” for its “lively but mainly polite” manner. Watching the debate live I expected to be disgusted and angered at speeches from opponents of the Bill, however I found myself respecting their humble tones and indeed their respect for the Bill,. its proponents, and the LGBT community in their choice of tactics. I suppose being on the wrong side of history is a big risk to take, better to take it cautiously.
The UK though has taken a step in a very decisive direction, and it is a direction many states with whom it already has difficult relations will view as a step further from mutual understanding. As a historic power, a member of the UNSC veto five, a member of NATO, the EU and an economic power particularly in the finance industry, the UK must now continue on its merry diplomatic way with this new badge. It won’t be as easy as before. Of course, this was not part of the debate’s considerations. No state’s parliament, particularly the UK’s, would acknowledge global issues in a debate centred on domestic society and culture. There can be no doubting though that states such in the Arab world and Africa will see this as a further point of difference, even a reflection of the western immorality and hedonism. This has the potential not only to weaken the UK’s bargaining power as more moderate than the US, but also to damage relations with states with difficult human rights records who may feel this as a particular point of pressure. it remains to be seen whether this may even give rise to claims of diplomatic interference if British diplomats now feel obliged to object to the more severe LGBT discrimination perpetrated in their receiving states.
Finally, two of the UK’s key allies, the US and Australia, are both yet to introduce any federal measures for the equal recognition of LGBT relationships. Will the UK be able to take it’s new inclusive identity to the table with similar nations to encourage this in other states? Will civil society utilise this development to create enough pressure, supported by UK policy, to push other liberal democracies to take the leap? Mr Cameron, I congratulate you on what may have seemed domestic when you proposed it. I congratulate you on daring to court the votes of the socially liberal. Further, I most congratulate you on your underestimation of the potential impact of this Bill’s passage. In the short term, your new spouse in LGBT rights may have the nightmare honeymoon, but in the long term you and your international family will see the benefits of stronger families, societies and relationships. After all, if domestic bliss is the peak of happiness, then you are giving your neighbours a great neighbourhood to live in.