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First legally-married UK gay couple: UK law unequal for low-income couples

First legally-married UK gay couple: UK law unequal for low-income couples

Peter McGraith (right) and family

I have a complicated relationship with marriage.

I had lived a lot of my adult life before the point when direct personal interactions gave way to online hook-ups.

There was my work in mobilising our community against HIV, the gut-wrenching loss of my ex boyfriend, the joys of becoming politicized and sexually emancipated and, amazingly, parenthood — a new experience of home and family. I was also a founder of the first UK-wide network of LGBTI adopters.

However, looking at my internet profile, one might conclude that marriage is all that I am about.

My partner and I met in a club in Brixton, one hot night in 1997. The attraction was instant. I returned home to Glasgow the following day and wrote him letter after letter, until I won him.

We had been together for over 17 years when we tied the knot as the first legally-married gay couple in the UK exactly five years ago today. We had two children and intended to stay together.

Theresa May in toast
Theresa May. | Photo: Copyright Peter McGraith

I was no fan of ‘traditional’ marriage, but felt that marriage equality would be a powerful tool in promoting LGBTI rights globally. I also knew that whoever married first, whether or not they had anything to say, would receive the arbitrary privilege of access to the media on LGBTI issues.

I had edited gay magazines, written columns on the culture and politics of gay sex and done a bit of campaigning, lecturing and training on LGBTI issues, including sexual health and adoption.

This was my métier.

Inaccessibility of marriage

In the early 80s, I recall joking with a lesbian friend about staging a sham marriage in order to rake in the presents. There was a heterosexist assumption that we would celebrate other people’s marriages and shower them in presents, while our relationships went almost unmentioned and our partners were not invited to weddings for fear of causing offence.

Wedding registries are still distasteful to me.

David and I gave our guests a list of causes to support – Peter Tatchell Foundation, Gay Men Fighting AIDS, Albert Kennedy Trust and Afri-Kids – but few did, interestingly.

Peter, Ben, kids and activist Peter Tatchell
Peter, David, kids and activist Peter Tatchell. | Photo: Supplied

In 2012, the coalition government quietly introduced huge changes to immigration regulations. Anyone wanting to live here with a partner from outside the EU required an income of £18,600 ($24,225) per year.

If you fall in love with a non-EU foreigner, and don’t have a steady income well above the minimum wage, you may be unable to live in the UK with your partner.

When I was a teenager, the small ads in the gay press revealed that lesbians and gay men were making mutually beneficial arrangements to circumvent immigration laws to be with their foreign lovers. The current immigration rules make that kind of creative law-breaking very difficult.

When Scotland introduced same-sex marriage at Hogmanay 2014, I wrote an op-ed predicting Conservative DUP deal-making and warning that this could scupper progress on equal marriage legislation for Northern Ireland. Given that Theresa May has spoken of same-sex marriage as a great achievement, it is to her shame that she chose not to intervene in the legal impasse at Stormont.

It is reprehensible that the UK discriminates between people on low incomes and more well-off workers when it comes to our basic human right to family life.

The UK Home Office still discriminates against loving couples

When I met my partner, he had US citizenship only, but, fortunately, he was working in London legally. Had our chances of a life together in the UK been based on my income, my dreams of a beautiful relationship with him would have been thwarted and, conceivably, our lovely children might never have found adoptive parents.

The Home Office’s rules make second class citizens of NHS staff and teaching assistants who earn under £18,600. They are key workers, yet unable to bring their partners to settle here. Likewise, the growing precariat who cannot give proof of a steady income over a 12-month period.

If you have a significant other from a country that does not recognise LGBT rights, what are your options? You may be unable to settle in their homeland, so they may be forced to return home alone.

You may be left in the UK with caring responsibilities, studying or working in two jobs, worrying about your partner’s safety. Or you may feel forced to move to a third country.

No one in the UK should have to make such choices.

Peter, Ben and kids
Family. | Photo: Supplied

It is morally-corrupt that the Home Office should tell any British citizen that, on account of what they earn, they don’t have the right to live here with their partner.

The hopes of many LGBTI asylum seekers were dashed on May’s hostile environment policy. Despite her desire to rid the Conservatives of their ‘nasty party’ label, or because of it, she has allowed this stealth migration control measure to separate couples and families, without creating the PR backlash that drove her ‘GO HOME OR FACE ARREST’ vans off the roads.

On this fifth anniversary of marriage equality in England and Wales, it is time our government reassessed the rules that treat some relationships with greater respect than others.

In sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, we all should be equal before the law.

See also:

Alabama lawmakers vote to stop issuing marriage licenses to prevent same-sex weddings

Gay man wins right to stay with partner of 25 years after deportation threat

Costa Rica president vows to legalize same-sex marriage before court deadline