Britain’s leading equalities minister, Theresa May, has urged LGBT people to take part in the government’s consultation on same-sex marriage.
Speaking at the Workplace Equality Conference run by Stonewall – Britain’s leading lesbian, gay and bisexual campaign organization – today (20 April) she hinted there had been a big response to the plans to equalize civil marriage.
A group lead by a vocal minority of Christians has been vigorously campaigning against same-sex civil marriage equality.
May told delegates from some of Britain’s top gay-friendly employers: ‘The [equality] step which has made the most headlines is our consultation on allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil marriage.
‘I firmly believe that marriage should be for everyone. Society is stronger when people enter into a stable relationship, commit to each other and make binding vows to love, honor and cherish each other.
‘Marriage brings us together and makes us stronger. So I don’t believe the state should stop people getting married unless there are very good reasons. And being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender is not a good enough reason. If we believe commitment and fidelity are positive things then we should not restrict them but let them flourish.
‘Our consultation on extending the right to civil marriage to all closes on 14 June and a government response will be published in the autumn. I think it is fair to say we have had quite a few responses already but if you have not already done so I would encourage all to take the time to complete the on-line response form which is on the Home Office website.’
She pledged that, having already implemented 90% of the UK’s Equality Act, the government would be taking action soon to introduce more of its measures.
May also emphasized the need to ‘mainstream’ equality in the workplace: ‘I have been clear I believe the equalities agenda should be about fairness. That means equal treatment and equal opportunity. And perhaps nowhere is the fundamental right to be treated fairly and to be given the same opportunities more important than in the workplace.
‘We know that workplaces that are more inclusive are also more productive. That’s because the draw on the talents of all their members.
‘Most large businesses will have LGBT staff, LGBT clients or LGBT customers. The LGBT market is worth £70 billion a year and nearly half of straight consumers and two-thirds of LGBT consumers say they will be less likely to buy products from firms that are judged to hold negative views from LGB and T people and that is a pretty strong business case.’
And she discussed that it was important in Britain’s police, which she has responsibility for as Home Secretary.
‘Diversity in British policing is an essential part of any force, not just a “nice to have”,’ she said.
‘The police need to secure the trust and confidence of communities to gain valuable intelligence and help bring criminals to justice. So this isn’t about political correctness, it’s about the fundamental business of policing.’
She also put the emphasis on tackling anti-gay and trans hate in sport.
May said: ‘Last year we launched our charter for action to tackle homophobia and transphobia in sport on or off the field. Since then we have seen the initiative go from strength to strength. One year on the charter has over 3,500 signatories including all professional football clubs, rugby teams and the vast majority of sports governing bodies.
‘With the Olympic and Paralympic Games here, I want 2012 to be the year when the tide was finally turned on homophobia and transphobia in sport.’
May added that Britain was also fighting for LGBT people around the world.
She told delegates: ‘Other countries have praised the steps we have taken and are using our action plan [on LGBT equality] as a model for their own actions. I am also pleased to see the UK is now recognized as the leader in Europe on LGB and T equality and rights by the International Lesbian and Gay Association.
‘But equality is no longer just about government action. We now have some of the longest standing, most comprehensive and broadest-based equality laws in the world but outdated attitudes and prejudices still exist. To tackle today’s problems we need a new set of solutions. That can mean government leading the way, encouraging, arguing and bringing groups together but fundamentally we need individuals, companies, charities, communities and employers to act.’
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said he was pleased to see over 500 delegates representing the employers of more than six million people at the event.
He also emphasized the importance of the Equality Act.
‘The reason we are so pleased with it is the new so-called “public duty to promote equality for service users” means lesbian, gay and bisexual people no longer have to wait until something goes wrong to seek a remedy,’ he said.
‘If you understand that every person who uses your service is different the service will not only be more efficient but it will be more cost-effective too.
‘We are launching a new guide today to the public sector duty and it will tell you how to do it in one page. Because we believe equality doesn’t have to be complicated. Good practice does not have to be some sort of alchemy that is draped in mumbo-jumbo.’
Summerskill also used his introductory speech to the one-day conference – which is likely to focus heavily on leadership – to talk about the importance of role models.
He said: ‘We have a new guide that celebrates the presence of some very senior role models. We know young people benefit hugely at school age from seeing role models in the public domain.
‘We know from all our work that young people who are gay are not just saying “do you have the right policies” they are saying “if I come and work for you will I see the career trajectory I want” and the key way you can prove this is by saying “yes we have senior people who are just like you”.
‘And of course, role models can exist at junior level too. We have a couple of very senior army personnel here today and should not forget that it is the armed services who have successfully celebrated the presence in their rank of more junior people who have served with distinction.’
And he told the LGBT friendly employers that Stonewall considered measuring progress to be vital.
‘The reason is we simply don’t believe you deliver equality outcomes by sitting around a table holding hands,’ Summerskill said. ‘Things that are measured are things that are taken seriously and if we do not measure we do not have a way of unpicking or analyzing either failure or success.’