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Marriage, Civil Partnerships & Gay Rights

Nash Lecture Theatre King's Building Strand Campus
22/10/2014 (18:30-20:00)

Part of the Arts & Humanities Festival 2014: underground.

Presented by History & Policy.


Marriage, civil partnerships & gay rights: contemporary debates in historical perspective

A panel discussion with Lucy Delap, Julia Moses, Robert Wintemute and Kelly Kollman

In the last two decades, significant progress in gay rights has brought public recognition and controversy in relation to previously ‘underground’ relationships and desires. With the 2013 Same-Sex Couples Act, heterosexual marriage in Britain has been extended to homosexual couples. The right to be married has become a powerful symbol of equal citizenship. Equality campaigners are calling for civil partnerships, currently only available to gay couples, to be equally extended to straight couples.

But for some, marriage still seems outdated and not fit for purpose. Marriage as an institution is in flux and under scrutiny - should it reflect individual desires? Or civil obligations? Should it still be a key site of religious faith? Is it a flexible institution that can be reshaped according to contemporary mores? Or does it reflect traditions and values that will resist the new demands of sexual equality?

Debates on modern marriage are nothing new, and marriage has a long history of being reworked according to changing social needs. Already in the sixteenth century, Britain controversially introduced civil marriage as a non-sacramental alternative to marital unions sanctified solely by the Church. Understanding the longer history of the shaping and reshaping of marriage can help shed light on its current controversies. This panel discussion brings historical and legal scholars into dialogue with contemporary controversies over the ‘marriage questions’ of the twenty first century.


Lucy Delap is Reader in Twentieth Century British History at King's College London and works on modern British history, with a particular focus on gender, feminism and masculinities.

Julia Moses is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. With AHRC support, she is writing a book on marriage and the state in Imperial Germany that investigates conflict related to cultural, ethnic and religious difference. The project builds on her forthcoming first book, on social policy, conceptions of risk and national identity, The First Modern Risk: Workplace Accidents and the Making of European Welfare States.

Robert Wintemute is a Professor of Human Rights Law at King's College London, where he also teaches European Union Law and Anti-Discrimination Law. He is the author of Sexual Orientation and Human Rights: The United States Constitution, the European Convention, and the Canadian Charter (OUP, 1997), the editor (with honorary co-editor M. Andenæs) of Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Partnerships: A Study of National, European and International Law (Hart Publishing, 2001), and the co-editor (with L. Trappolin and A. Gasparini) of Confronting Homophobia in Europe: Social and Legal Perspectives (Hart Publishing, 2012). His "impact" work in the European Court of Human Rights has included third-party interventions on behalf of non-governmental organisations and he also represented eight couples in Ferguson & Others v. United Kingdom (, a challenge to the segregation of same-sex couples into civil partnership and different-sex couples into marriage.

Kelly Kollman is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Glasgow. She researches the influence of transnational networks and norms on policy outcomes in western democracies. Dr Kollman is author of The Same-sex Unions Revolution in Western Democracies (MUP Press, 2013).

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