UK Gay Marriage (2): My Submission

The British government consultation on gay marriage ends tomorrow, and with it, there has been a flurry of related news reports. To judge from the most prominent headlines, you might think that the proposal is in serious trouble, but in fact the more important reports, not getting the same prominence, show that equality has strong support, from the public, in parliament, and in the cabinet. I’ll get to reporting on much of this as soon as I can, but for now I’m struggling to keep up – today is the first free day I’ve had in weeks.

Part of what I’ve done with this unaccustomed free time has been the preparation of my own personal submission to the consultation, in which I pull together the arguments I’ve made at different times and different posts on this site, before.

For the record, here follows my submission to the UK government.

Consultation on gay marriage: A Personal Submission.

 I make this submission as an openly gay man currently in a civil partnership, as a formerly married father and grandfather, and as a committed Catholic who has made an extensive (amateur) exploration of faith, sexuality and marriage history for my blog, “Queering the Church”.

 The Nature of Marriage.

 Marriage is an institution that has taken, and continues to take, numerous forms throughout history and across geographic regions, of which its expression in the nuclear family, based on one man and one woman, marrying for love, and raising children only thereafter, is only one example, specific to a particular culture and period Western Europe and North America in the mid- twentieth century.

At other times and in other regions, marriage has been based on patriarchal polygamy, been arranged by parents not the couple themselves, been entered into by the rich and powerful for dynastic reasons and to protect property and inheritance rights, and contracted often only after the onset of pregnancy. The institution is constantly evolving, and will continue to do so.

In the United Kingdom today, there is no longer a direct link between marriage and procreation. Government statistics show that close to half of all births and a clear majority of conceptions now occur outside of marriage. Conversely, a great number of marriages now are between couples who for one reason or another have no intention of procreation. The idea that marriage exists for the sake of procreation, which cannot occur without it, is a myth that takes no account of the reality of modern British lives. For most couples today, decisions about marriage and making a family are independent. Making a family may be one reason for marrying, for some couples, but for many others, the purpose and nature of marriage is as a public declaration of a loving commitment to each other. That public declaration is as important to same – sex couples as it is to any other.

The Welfare of Children.

 A second popular myth about modern marriage is that is a lifelong union. Again, the facts tell a different story, with a high proportion of marriages and less formal relationships breaking down, by death, divorce or simple separation. Often, these ruptured relationships leave children who are no longer able to live with both biological parents, and some of these find themselves being raised by one biological parent, and a same – sex partner. For other reasons again, some children end up in care and in need of foster or adoptive parents, some of whom will be same – sex couples. These children with two mothers or two fathers need legal protection for their families just as much as those with opposite sex parents.

 If we accept that children benefit from being raised by parents who are legally married, and I think it is, then for the sake of the children, those being raised by same – sex parents deserve the same benefits and protections.

The Weaknesses of Civil Partnerships

 When civil partnerships were introduced, they were widely hailed as offering something which in law, is virtually identical to marriage, in everything except the words. That is largely true – and is the heart of the problem. Words matter.

There is no equivalent in the language for the simple words “marry”, or “wedding”. “Civil partnership” is a counterpart only to the legal condition of “marriage”, but with none of its symbolism or magic. In the popular imagination, people know this, and so common speech routinely used the words “wedding”, “marry”, “husband” and “wife” when speaking about civil partnerships and partners, even though they are not legally precise.

Where language has already moved on, the law should catch up.

Continuing discrimination in the proposals.

The Catholic bishops have made the point in their submission that notwithstanding government assurances that religious groups could not be compelled to officiate at gay weddings, and indeed that the proposals prohibit same – sex weddings in church, these proposed safeguards potentially face credible challenges under human rights and equality law, and could be overturned by the courts. This is because they extend the option of both civil partnerships and full marriage to same – sex couples, but do not offer opposite – sex couples the same choice, denying them the option of civil partnerships rather than marriage.

 A second problem is that the prohibition on same – sex weddings in religious premises, although presented in the name of religious freedom, in fact contravenes the religious freedom of the denominations that want to offer marriage to all members of their congregations on a basis of equality, without discrimination.

I agree with the Catholic bishops that these provisions are discriminatory, and open to challenge in the courts. Where I disagree with them, is in their proposed remedy. Where they suggest that we can eliminate this anomalous lingering discrimination simply by persevering with the present more extensive legal discrimination against gay couples, I submit the only way to move to create true, full equality is by moving beyond the existing, published proposals to include also provision for civil partnerships for all couples who want them, and for same -sex weddings on religious premises, for those religious groups that wish to offer them.


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