Politicians set to legalise same-sex marriage

Members of the British Parliament have been debating whether to allow same-sex marriages in England and Wales.

Politicians set to legalise same-sex marriage

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 5 February

By Darren Evans

Members of the British Parliament have been debating whether to allow same-sex marriages in England and Wales.

Although many Conservative MPs, and some from other political parties, are against the change, it is likely to pass into law at some stage this year.

Gay couples in the UK have been allowed to enter into legal relationships known as civil partnerships since 2004. This status gives them many of the same rights as married heterosexual couples.

But campaigners feel that these arrangements are not the same as marriage, and that their relationships are therefore not perceived to be as valid as those of heterosexual couples.

Since the turn of the century, a number of countries across the world have introduced laws on the grounds of equality to allow gay people to marry each other.

Campaigners in favour of the reform say that people who love each other and want to make a formal commitment should be allowed to do so, no matter what their gender.

The first country to legalise gay marriage was the Netherlands in 2001, although some European countries had already allowed same-sex unions for a number of years.

Same-sex marriage has since become legal in 11 countries, as well as nine US states. A number of other countries around the world are likely to follow suit.

In the US there has been a long-running debate on the subject since a 1996 law, the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), allowed individual states to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages. A number of states have actively banned same-sex marriages and civil unions. However, last year President Barack Obama said he supports same-sex marriage and wants to abolish DOMA.

Although Australia gives same-sex couples who live together the same rights as heterosexual couples, the country has banned gay marriage. Two law changes similar to the one being voted on in London today were defeated in the Australian parliament last September.

Some religious organisations in Britain are also opposed, including the Church of England, the official Christian church, which defines marriage as a union of "one man and one woman".

Questions for your class

  • What does the word 'marriage' mean to you? Why do you think different people might define it in different ways?
  • How could we raise awareness about equal rights within our school?
  • Do you feel that same-sex couples and heterosexual couples are treated equally by the media? Explain your answer.
  • Do you believe the church still has a part to play in the running of our country? Why/why not?

Factfile: gay marriage across the world

  • In these countries, the federal government has legalised and recognises same-sex marriages: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden.

  • The first country to legalise same-sex marriage was the Netherlands, in 2001.

  • 25 countries or territories specifically disallow same-sex marriage in their constitution. They include Kenya, Poland and Paraguay.

  • Nine states in the US have legalised gay marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington. The district of Washington DC has also legalised gay marriage.

  • Many states in Brazil have legalised gay marriage, while gay marriage is also legal in Mexican capital Mexico City. Israel does not allow gay marriages to be performed in the country but recognises such marriages that have taken place elsewhere. Despite these steps, same-sex marriage is not legal at the federal level in any of these countries.

  • Homosexuality is still illegal in many areas of the world, particularly in parts of Africa and Western Asia. It carries a maximum sentence of the death penalty in Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somaliland, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Related resources

Equality and Human Rights Commission

  • These resources from TES partner the Equality and Human Rights Commission encourage equal legal rights for all.

All relationships? All equal?

  • This lesson from TES partner The Classroom examines different types of relationships and society's attitude towards them, including those between people of the same sex.

International Human Rights

  • Help pupils to consider the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people around the world.

How laws are made

  • Find out how new laws are made and introduce your class to some key legislation from history with this interactive whiteboard resource from TES partner Parliament Education Service.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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