Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Roger Harris (MB 106)


1. I am very grateful for this opportunity to submit views to the Public Bill Committee. In essence I want to demonstrate that this Bill is inherently divisive. Furthermore, it represents a major assault on world religions in far more subtle ways than whether ministers will be forced to carry out same sex weddings, which is where the religious freedom aspects of the debate seem to have focused so far.

2. At a time when we desperately need to pull together, uniting round our common humanity and accommodating our differences, the legislation goes down an alternative route, seeking to trump the rights of one group over those of others. The grave danger this creates is that the new regime will become more oppressive than that which it sought to replace.

3. Paragraphs 6-10, outline the perspective from which I am writing, as well as some personal information largely to counter the unhelpful stereo-types already thrown up by this debate.

4. Paragraphs 11 – 16 outline some dangers to be addressed.

5. Paragraphs 17-22 propose some possible ways forward, including actions to be taken by churches and religious groups, as well as the Government

Introduction and background

6. I am writing as a private individual, a husband, father and grandfather. I have been happily married for 36 years. Whilst the latter admission may cause some to discount my contribution, I do not conform to the stereo-type of the over 60s, referred to so dismissively by some commentators.

7. Whilst I can be broadly described as an Evangelical Christian, I recognise the term has become somewhat toxic thanks to the heretical dogma of our American cousins on the Religious Right. Suffice it to say that the British evangelical tradition is more socially compassionate (and authentically Christian.)

8. Since retiring from my professional career in social housing, I have served as a trustee on two large charities, developing a measure of expertise in charity governance. I currently serve as a trustee on the board of a large Christian charity, seeking to help homeless young people.

9. Whilst raised in the Church of England, for the past 32 years I have attended one of the so-called "new" churches, serving as a member, and at different times as a pastoral care group leader and trustee. It is a large multi-racial church in South East London. In addition to a vibrant programme of overtly spiritual activities, we currently run a wide variety of community services from our church building, from "Exercise in retirement" to a Baby Cafe. All these services are supported at our members’ expense and are freely available to those of all beliefs and none, irrespective of their gender, nationality, ethnicity or sexuality as an expression of God’s unconditional love for all mankind.

10. I therefore consider I am able to make an informed contribution to this debate.

Dangers to be addressed

11. High-jacking the language of matrimony deprives Christians, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs of orthodox beliefs of the one word in the English Language that translates directly, the meaning of the union between a man and a woman described in our Holy Books.

12. This corruption of language and the definition of terms will make it infinitely more difficult to convey what the Bible, Torah, Koran and Sikh Holy Book mean by marriage to future generations. Whilst some may rejoice at this, it must be seen for what it is: government interference with the practice of religion. It is not for Government to demand the "development" of religious doctrine in a free society.

13. The political process is inherently divisive, polarising opinion and often encouraging unhelpful stereo-types of people with whom we disagree, forcing us apart: urbanites from the "turnip Taliban", under sixties from over sixties, orthodox believers of the major religions from their secularist neighbours and "progressive" cousins.

14. Leading advocates for the policy have claimed everyone will forget it in a few years, gay people will marry, schools will teach the new definition and the world will move on as it has always done. Again, one cannot help but see a hidden agenda here, to purge the world of those with whom they disagree, using the (non-violent!) levers of Government over an extended period.

15. The unintended consequence of the legislation could be to create a regime more oppressive than the one it seeks to replace. Not all change is progress, the "infallibility of the Zeitgeist" is not a Christian doctrine, and secularists should equally be wary of it. As an example of oppression, I would like to cite is the case of Andrew Smith and Trafford Housing Trust before Mr Justice Briggs on 16 November 2012. (Case number 1IR54453.) In this case a Christian lay preacher was disciplined, and demoted for an innocuous remark about Gay marriage on his personal pages of Facebook. The remark did not incite violence or intolerance. Peter Tatchell, (a man of considerable integrity), spoke up for his right to free speech so long as it was non-violent even if he was wrong! The fact remains that despite winning his case for breach of contract, Andrew was unable to raise the funds to go to an Industrial tribunal within the statutory time scale. He has suffered a considerable loss and justice has been denied. How many more Andrew Smiths will the new legislation create?

16. Lastly, the legislation will not strengthen marriage, it will weaken it. I am sure other respondents will have shown how the removal of adultery as a ground for divorce for same sex marriage will eventually carry across to heterosexual marriage. Some may shrug their shoulders at this, but the need of the hour is for individuals to model the beauty of fidelity within marriage and to offer help to those who struggle. However, the legislation could result in churches such as my own, being unable to offer help in the form of marriage courses, as we do at present, without a fundamental crisis of conscience or legal challenge.

Possible ways forward

Actions by Government

17. It will be obvious to those who have read thus far, that my preferred approach would be for the Government to abandon this disastrous course upon which it has embarked and to vigorously campaign for the international acceptance of Civil Partnerships, securing the legitimate aspiration of same sex couples to commitment with respectability. It would also leave the definition of marriage unchanged, avoiding some of the dangers outlined above, in particular, the challenge to the freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

18. However, my opening premise concerned the need for us to unite as a nation and accommodate our differences. There must therefore be scope for more creative solutions than "I win, you lose" scenarios.

19. If Parliament insists on redefining marriage, then there should be a robust duty on the Secretary of State for Education to ensure schools teach respect for the broad range of definitions of marriage current in our society.

20. Better brains than mine need to consider some of the legal threats posed by organisations which, in their enthusiasm for acclaim by the Gay community, put the rights of others at risk. Likewise the informal surveillance of colleagues for perceived equality slips by staff who may have an "agenda," brings back all the oppressive horrors of Eastern Europe in the Soviet era and must be addressed.

21. All groups should have a right to promote and live by their definition of marriage.

Actions by the Church, Christian organisations and other religious groups

22. The degree of homophobic attacks in this country highlighted by the debate, is truly horrendous and an affront to the love of God. Whatever we believe about same sex marriage and gay life-styles, the Church must mobilise all its campaigning might in defence of the most vulnerable in our society, including those in the gay community.

23. Just as the Church has actively supported married couples, so it must get much better at supporting all who are single, reflecting the God who "sets the lonely in families."

24. The Church must always remember that it has been at its most magnificent when operating counter culturally e.g. John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s progress whilst languishing in Bedford jail; John Wesley scandalised the upper classes and defied Canon law to preach to the poor miners of Bristol outside the confines of a consecrated building; and the Underground Church grew exponentially in the former Soviet Union and in China during the latter part of the last century.

25. Thank you for the opportunity to comment, I hope the Committee will be able to bring forward amendments to address the dangers I have identified.

March 2013

Prepared 13th March 2013