David Cameron’s reflections, 10 years after the first same-sex marriages

As Foreign Secretary, I am so proud to represent our country – the most successful multi-ethnic, liberal democracy on earth. I believe so much of our success is derived from the rights we hold and the freedoms we enjoy. In this role, I see how desperately so many people around the world want those things too. 

One such freedom is the ability to marry the person you love, something that has been legal in England and Wales now for ten years. In fact, it is ten years today since the first same-sex weddings took place. As Prime Minister at the time, and Foreign Secretary today, I have many reflections on how we got there, and what it means today. Here are ten.  

  1. It was never inevitable

For a start, I needed persuading. I understood the practical arguments for equal marriage, but I wasn’t convinced about the urgency. It was family, friends and colleagues who helped me see that same-sex marriage was a crucial missing piece in the equality jigsaw. My wife Samantha was particularly vehement. Our marriage had given us so much. Why were we denying same-sex couples that opportunity?  

There was enormous opposition towards the policy, from various quarters. I remember one constituent shouting at me during my weekly surgery. I remember a local meeting, full of successful, modern, liberal-minded professionals, who were point-blank opposed to the idea that gay couples should be allowed to marry. I was disappointed and, at points, despondent. There were times when I really thought we might have to give up. But we kept going.  

  1. Success has many fathers 

I say “we” because equal marriage is a triumph that belongs to many. MPs like Nick Herbert and Nick Boles were instrumental in campaigning. Number 10’s Head of Broadcast, Michael Salter, advised me throughout. As ministers, Maria Miller steered the legislation through Parliament and Lynne Featherstone undertook the largest consultation in history.  

But in many ways, we were following on from those who had been fighting this battle for decades – all those who had struggled for greater rights for gay people – often without recognition. This legislation is their legacy.  

  1. It is about more than marriage 

I came to realise that equal marriage was about more than marriage. It is about the signal that it sends out, to young men and women, across our country, that your love is worth no less than anyone else’s. That was brought home to me when, after the legislation passed, I received an email from a constituent who said he was gay; he felt society didn’t value him; he had at times felt suicidal. “You have changed all that,” he wrote. 

The year after the first weddings took place, Britain was voted the best place to be gay in Europe. Today, same-sex relationships have far more representation across the UK. It is clear to me that the change in the law played a big part in changing attitudes and creating a more accepting, tolerant society.  

  1. Compromise was essential  

To be successful, it was very important not to demonise those who took an opposing view. I understood why people were uneasy about the change, and wanted them to know that their views had been heard and reflected. That is why the bill contained safeguards and protections, for example for places of religious worship. After all, freedom of religion and freedom of expression are core British values too.  

  1. It shows the power of leadership 

There were some who proposed a form of “marriage-lite” that might assuage the opponents and satisfy those campaigning for equality. But I had come to realise that nothing other than full marriage would be truly equal. Samantha was particularly forceful on this point. We had to be bold and take the lead. Pretty soon, we brought people with us. When I first came to office, fewer than half of Britons supported same-sex marriage. Today, 78 per cent do.  

  1. The world was watching 

As one of the first countries to legalise equal marriage – and as the first leader from a centre-right party to do so – we sent out a powerful message to other nations: that if we could do it, they could do.  

I remember attending a gathering with President Obama and some of his supporters shortly after our legislation passed. Some of the supporters were joking with me that I had to persuade the President to go for it too. I said to one, “so you want this Conservative to persuade that Democrat?”, pointing to Barack. In 2015, America passed its own legislation.  

More and more nations are following suit. Last year it was Andorra and Nepal; this year, Estonia and Greece. I was delighted to return from Thailand this month to find that the country’s lower house had passed a bill giving legal recognition to same-sex marriage, the first country in south-east Asia to do so. I discussed equal marriage with the Thai Prime Minister during my visit – shortly after the British ambassador to Thailand, Mark Gooding, had introduced me to his husband (it wasn’t that long ago that gay people were not allowed to serve in our diplomatic service; John Major announced the ban would be lifted in 1991.) 

  1. Progress is not universal  

Not everyone is on the path of progress. In many countries it is still illegal to be gay. In some,  things are going backwards, with rights being removed and persecution rising. We must call out backsliding and remain committed to the cause of equal rights for all. I am so proud as Foreign Secretary of the work the UK does in this area. There are many programmes we undertake to combat violence and discrimination against LGBT+ people, and champion those who defend their rights. More broadly, our commitment to promoting dignity for all people, to leaving no one behind, permeates everything that we do internationally.  

  1. It is remarkable… 

It heartens me to see that, even in difficult and uncertain times, so many people remain committed to the cause of equal marriage. When I set upon the path of making it law, there were many competing priorities and so many reasons to put the policy on the backburner. That is why it felt quite remarkable to actually see those first gay weddings take place on 29th March 2014. I remember feeling particularly moved reading about the first couple to tie the knot, at a ceremony just after midnight. They’d waited so many years for that moment; they didn’t want to wait a second longer.  

A few years later, I was particularly emotional watching a close friend marry his partner. I reflected this had been a long time coming, but also that so much had changed in such a short period of time. When I was born, homosexuality was still illegal. Now I was seeing my friend marry the man he loved.  

  1. …and unremarkable 

After a decade of gay marriages, it has very quickly become the norm. No one really says, “I’m going to a gay wedding this weekend”. They just say they’re going to a wedding. Marriage is marriage. Love is love.  

  1. Young people were right all along 

My children, now in their teens and twenties, don’t bat an eyelid if a woman introduces her wife, or a friend has two dads. As is often the case, young people were ahead of the curve. I remember that fraught local meeting, when hostility was running high, and I thought all might be was lost. One attendee had brought along their son. When it came to my turn to speak, I took a punt and turned to the teenager. I asked what he thought of equal marriage. He replied, nonchalantly, “my generation can’t see what the fuss is all about”. 

I have always believed in the institution of marriage, and I believe that institution has been strengthened since being expanded to same-sex couples. It is one of my proudest achievements in politics to have made it happen. To all those couples who are about to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, I offer my sincerest congratulations.