Introduction to rectify the long-standing social stigma

Introduction

   Before
2013, marriage within the United Kingdom was only available to heterosexual
couples – the closest same-sex couples had for their relationship to be legally
recognised was through a civil partnership. Within this essay I will be exploring
the several different influences which led to change within same sex marriage, considering
whether such change in legislation was the result of a disruption or planned
reform mechanism. More specifically, I shall focus on whether this change in
legislation helped to rectify the long-standing social stigma associated with homosexual
couples.

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History: The Stigma

  The eventual decriminalisation of same-sex relationships
within the United Kingdom is a clear indication that social attitudes regarding
this have gradually softened over time. Despite this, discrimination is
something that LGBT individuals have always been subject to and in a lot of
cases unfortunately still are. For instance, homosexuality was classified as a
mental disorder up until 19731
and many practitioners believed that it was possible to “cure the gay” out of
individuals by using ‘conversion therapy.’2
Some of the brutal techniques used for such therapies included electric shock
and ice pick lobotomies3.
Negative attitudes such as this within communities can lead to LGBT individuals
being rejected and isolated by family and friends, subject to violence and other
hateful acts – it is even punishable by death in some countries such as Sudan
and Saudi Arabia4. Hateful
views such as this can have severely damaging effects on individuals – according
to the ‘Youth Chances’ survey completed by an LGBT charity named ‘Metro’ it was
suggested that rates of self-harm were higher in young LGBT people and they
were ‘more likely to need help with depression and anxiety than heterosexual
people of the same age’5
Whilst the gradual process of decriminalisation, development of civil
partnerships and ultimately the legalisation of same-sex marriage all suggests
acceptance amongst the UK whether or not this has fully removed the stigma towards
homosexuality is up for debate.

 Legal influences which led to change: what is
the law currently?

   The law regarding same-sex marriage has
changed significantly within the UK over the last 50 years. The current law on
the matter is illustrated in the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act which was
legislated in 2013. This gives same sex couples the right to: marry in civil
ceremonies6,
allows religious organisations to perform same-sex marriages if they wish to do
so by ‘opting in’. It also gives religious organisations the opportunity to ‘opt-out’
from conducting such ceremonies and safeguards them from legal challenge7. This
was a major step forward for the LGBT community as it was giving them the legislative
rights they had pleaded for for so long; however, it took some time to achieve
this status. The criminalisation of same sex relationships dates back as far as
the 16th century as the Buggery Act was the first ever law to specifically
outlaw homosexual sex which was enacted in 1533. The text of the act even described “buggery” as a “detestable
and abominable Vice” (even punishable by death).8
In addition to that, under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, all
homosexual relationships were illegal and consent could not be used as a
defence