OPINION: How inclusion and people power drive LGBTQ+ marriage equality

by Matt Beard | All Out
Wednesday, 24 January 2024 10:38 GMT

Paris celebrates during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the enactment of same-sex marriage in France at Paris City Hall, France, May 17, 2023. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Thirty-four nations around the world now allow same-sex weddings, but the fight continues for marriage equality

By Matt Beard, executive director of international LGBTQ+ rights group, All Out.

In a world where headlines sometimes seem only to spotlight the current violent backlash against LGBTQ+ rights, it's easy to overlook a quiet revolution of love unfolding across the globe.

Just two decades ago, the notion of same-sex marriage was more of a dream than a realistic campaign objective. Today, it's a legal right in 34 countries, home to 1.3 billion people. This seismic shift is more than just a change in law – it is a profound liberation for LGBTQ+ people. It's a story of transformation, where equality is triumphing over past injustices, and our love is finally being celebrated rather than concealed.

How did it happen and what lessons can we learn as we work around the world to continue the journey towards equality and liberation for LGBTQ+ people everywhere?

At the time the Netherlands became the first country to legalise gay marriage in 2001, public support in the United States for same-sex marriage was relatively low. But within a decade, the situation had radically shifted.

By 2012, Barack Obama had changed his position and had become the first US sitting president to call for full marriage equality. In 2015, his administration filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, effectively legalising same-sex marriage across the United States of America.

The LGBTQ+ movement achieved this rapid change by leveraging people power.

We built coalitions with other civil rights groups, religious organisations and businesses and kept well away from narrow, ideological or exclusionary narratives.

We articulated an honest and convincing case that we had a lot to gain, and that others had nothing to lose.

We listened to the concerns that people had about marriage equality, and instead of calling them out for their lack of ideological purity, we called them in, with a focus on love, family, equality and fairness.

We didn’t cancel anyone, but instead talked to people in a language that made sense to them, changing hearts and minds, changing the conversation and, ultimately, changing lived experience for LGBTQ+ people. As the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg said: “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

The journey for same-sex marriage continues around the world.

The fight for same-sex civil partnerships in Ukraine, amidst the ongoing war with Russia, has become critical. In this challenging context, All Out, in collaboration with local partners, has launched an international petition advocating for the recognition of same-sex partnerships. The urgency is heightened by the war, which has starkly exposed the lack of legal rights for LGBTQ+ couples, particularly in areas like medical and property rights.

After disappointment that the recent Supreme Court judgment in India did not immediately and unconditionally grant marriage equality, the battle for equal rights there is gaining momentum, driven by the Court's directive to the government to ensure equal rights and dignity for LGBTQ+ people.

As we continue to advocate for equality and rights in what feels like a serious moment of backlash, it's crucial to remember that our future as an activist movement should be based on conversations with the wider world that invite, unite, and inspire–the path to lasting change is built on bridges, not barriers.

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