Same-sex marriage ten years on and the woman who made it happen

Against vehement opposition, same-sex marriage was legalised in England ten years ago and this is the woman who made it happen.

Rare has it been that I get to cover a story that moves people and makes them smile, until I spoke to Baroness Lynne Featherstone.

Being stuck in a state of convalescence due to injury must be excruciating for a former MP, Home Office minister and now peer, used to working 12-18 hour days.

Yet despite her injury the 71 year-old agreed to chat with me all the same. 

Featherstone is seen by many as the architect of the Same Sex Couples Act 2013 and yet, she says with a wry smile, the former Prime Minister David Cameron is the one who clings to the legacy of the bill ‘like a lifeboat.’

And Featherstone herself is often left out of the frame of the legacy of the bill despite writing a whole book about her effort to get the bill through. 

If it were not for her book, she says, she could have been “edited out of history.”

Along with 20 or so other Liberal Democrat ministers, Featherstone was given a ministerial crash course.

Rather desperately she was told her diary would forever be full and by the end of the five years you may well have achieved absolutely nothing at all and she should focus on one or two issues.

It was on the walk back to the office that same-sex marriage ”popped into my head.” 

That was what she was going to do (unaware that normally you cannot table a bill that was neither part of the coalition nor in your own manifesto.

Impressed but not satisfied with the civil partnership act brought in by Labour in 2004, Featherstone wanted to go further. 

“It created a two tier system” she says, and by implication same sex marriages were a second class relationship.

With the help of a civil servant she drafted her intentions in two or three paragraphs that would change the course of thousands of people’s lives.

“When I look back I think it is a miracle,” says the Baroness. 

Miracle is right: compared with 78% support in 2023, a mere 42% people supported the act in 2011 according to YouGov.

But in spite of the “sea change” the Baroness has seen in the last ten years, same-sex marriages are still not allowed in the Church of England.

In recent months the church has considered offering “blessings” to same sex couples, but “blessings are feeble,” says Featherstone.

Her innate and “overdeveloped sense of justice and right and wrong in terms of equality” has left Featherstone unimpressed by the Church’s refusal.

“It’s a hard fact of a life: some people horrible,” she says soberly.

Though now focused on new challenges and new issues, Featherstone is incredibly proud of the over 40,000 same-sex marriages that would not have been possible without her.

To this day Featherstone has couples approach her out and about and thank her for making their marriage possible.

“They cry and I cry” she says warmly and with that, I am moved by the desire Featherstone has to help people show their love for each other.

Feature image credit: Ian Taylor

Related Articles