The Labour Party has been criticised by equality campaigners after launching an LGBT Manifesto which fails to commit the party to legal equality for same-sex marriages. But Labour are keen to emphasise how far they have advanced the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people while in government.
Launching the LGBT Manifesto in Soho, Labour's Deputy Leader Harriet Harman said that the party would tackle homophobic bullying in schools, include same-sex relationships in education and “root out” discrimination in public services.
She pointed out that Labour had introduced same-sex civil partnerships and repealed Section 28, the Tory law which banned schools and local authorities from presenting same-sex relationships as legitimate.
Harman told the lesbian magazine Diva, “We did a whole load of things when everyone was telling us they were unpopular. It shows that we did it out of principal not political opportunity”.
Simon Wright, co-chair of LGBT Labour, contrasted his party's commitment with the recent comments of the Tories' Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, who was secretly recorded saying that the thought that guest house owners should be allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples.
“We don't want to wake up and find a Homophobic Secretary," said Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is a gay Christian. He said a Tory government would be like a "new partner that promises the world but doesn't actually deliver".
But Harman was challenged about marriage equality by the Pink Paper, whose polling showed that it was a key issue for gay voters.
She said, “I think we’ve still got a long way to go with what we’ve done here. I think that this is a developing area where the boundaries are constantly being pushed forward”.
The Conservatives' George Osborne recently said that the Tory Party would “consider” allowing the use of the word “marriage” in legally recognised same-sex relationships, although this appeared to be an attempt to win back LGBT support after Grayling's comments on guest houses.
The Liberal Democrats are committed to allowing same-sex marriage, while the Green Party would go further, permitting both same-sex and mixed-sex couples to enter into either a civil marriage or a civil partnership, depending on their preferred term. The Greens would also require police forces to introduce LGBT liaison officers to tackle hate crime.
The Green Party Leader, Caroline Lucas, last week challenged the other parties to “match our LGBT pledges”.
She said, “Much remains to be done to end homophobia and transphobia and the Greens are proposing further far-reaching reforms, most of which will cost little or nothing”.
The last year has seen several major controversies over marriage law. Parliament recently voted for an amendment to the Equality Bill that will allow the use of religious premises and religious language in same-sex civil partnerships. Meanwhile, a mixed-sex couple are pursuing legal action over the law's refusal to allow them a civil partnership.
The thinktank Ekklesia has called for a thorough overhaul of marriage laws to reflect the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society. This would allow people to enter into marriages or partnerships as a public, communal and/or religious commitment, with legal registration being a separate process.