The Civil Partnership Act has come into force, but it will take more than gay 'marriages' for homosexuals to be fully accepted by society, says Steve Renshaw in our Readers' Column.. If you'd like to write a column, tell us using the form at the foot of the page.
David and Elton have been together for 12 years
So, the Civil Partnership Act has finally come into force, to the predictable reception of both joy and resentment in equal measures. As a gay man, I'd be lying if I said I was surprised by the reaction.
Having debated this issue to varying degrees over the last year, it was clear there were two very discrete camps: people who support civil partnerships in the interests of progression and tolerance, and people who object on moral and religious grounds.
There was never going to be a compromise, although I was heartened to see the level of support from the general public.
However, one emotion I've certainly been feeling these past few days is frustration. Frustration that we've stopped short of being able to have religious same-sex weddings for those who want it.
Frustration that gays are still viewed by a lot of people as morally corrupt and sexually deviant. Frustration that the Church thinks civil partnerships undermine traditional marriage. Frustration that so many people dislike homosexuality because it's "not natural".
The majority of people reading this will never have experienced prejudice. I "came out" as a gay man about five years ago (I'm now 26). Since then, I have seen two friends assaulted, another couple forced to move out of their own home and my first boyfriend being kicked out by his parents.
Between all of us suffered so many incidences of homophobic verbal abuse that I can't keep count any more. Believe me, you learn to grow a thick skin.
A lot of people seem to have a very superficial and uneducated view of homosexuality. To give you an extreme example, a guy said to me recently that "gay men are statistically far more likely to be child molesters".
His source turned out to be a single study commissioned by an ultra-conservative family association in America, whose founder once stated that he wanted to imprison and brand homosexuals. Several independent studies have shown this statistic not to be true, but trying to educate people out of this way of thinking is incredibly difficult.
The same can be said for some perceptions of the gay lifestyle. A vast proportion of gay men don't wear leather thongs, don't visit sex clubs, don't watch Sex and the City, don't wear designer labels and loathe quiche. A vast proportion of lesbians don't have cropped hair, don't have tattoos and don't wear lumberjack shirts.
But even if they do then so what? Gay people cover a whole spectrum of interests and identities, in exactly the same way that straight people do. Society should celebrate diversity rather than pointing fingers and calling people abnormal. The only way in which homosexuals differ is the gender to which we're attracted, yet that seemingly trivial difference is the cause of so many problems.
The biggest challenge still to overcome is religious objection. Some Church denominations and family groups claim that civil partnerships undermine the sanctity of marriage and corrupt the moral fibre of traditional family values. Please don't forget that a civil partnership isn't a religious marriage.
Many of the gay couples entering into partnerships have been together for many years, demonstrating solid commitment to one another. Is this any less valid or moral than a man and woman who choose to marry in church after a six month fling? How do these organisations reconcile their views with the teachings in the Bible of tolerance and love?
Gay people cover a spectrum of interests and identities
Gay people don't seek to force their lifestyle on anyone, don't want to convert children to homosexuality, and certainly don't want to usurp traditional family values. We simply want to live as fully integrated equal members of society alongside each other, without fear of prejudice.
The Civil Partnership Act is to be commended as a step forward in the eyes of the law, but I hope in 10 year's time we'll have progressed to the point when these issues don't have to be discussed in terms of gay or straight. There should be one rule for everyone. To think that mere sexuality is a factor upon which to create division is ludicrous.
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