Understanding same-sex marriage as equality, but with exceptions

MacBride-Stewart, Sara; Johns, Nicholas and Green, Alison (2016). Understanding same-sex marriage as equality, but with exceptions. Families, Relationships and Societies, 5(2) pp. 229–245.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1332/204674315X14303090852878


Same-sex marriage arguably promotes marriage equality. This article questions public discourses on equality by analysing the exemptions for religious organisations from non-discrimination that have been granted by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. The Equality Act 2010 already included exemptions for religious groups, but these have now been extended (NeJaime, 2012). Equality with exemptions has been presented as a reasonable approach that makes same-sex marriage acceptable to both detractors and supporters. In this article, we consider the implications of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 for equality policy, in the context of changing meanings of marriage equality. The article borrows from Agamben’s (2005) work on exception as a governance paradigm, to propose that equality exemptions are more than a pragmatic measure for managing equality; rather, same-sex marriage has created a crisis for marriage equality, by introducing legislative ambiguity that fragments equality policy.

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