Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Groundlevel Churches UK (MB 108)

1.        Introduction

This submission is made on behalf of Groundlevel Churches UK.  Groundlevel is a network of over 100 churches from as far north as Morpeth in Northumberland to as far south as Penzance in Cornwall.  There are around 12,000 members within the Groundlevel network and that constituency is predominantly white European but by no means exclusively so.  The views expressed in this submission represent the majority of the constituency and were determined by discussion with the leaders of the network and the churches. 

The first point we would make is that we positively promote the current definition of marriage, which is between one man and one woman for life.  This reflects our belief in the Biblical principles, that marriage is more than a simple contract, and is a covenant made before God.  Marriage predates the state and any organised religion.  It has existed from time immemorial.  It is not the role of the state to redefine it, but rather to recognise it and protect it as a unique institution.  Throughout history, heterosexual marriage has been the norm, with proven social benefits, especially to children brought up by their mother and father.

2.        Present Position

Through recent legislation, currently gay couples can enter civil partnerships.  Within such partnerships the legal rights of those couples are protected.  They will not gain any substantive new rights through marriage that are not already available to them in civil partnerships.  So there is no need to make any change to the definition of marriage.

3.        Process.

When major constitutional matters are placed before Parliament there is normally a commitment made in the manifesto of the ruling party outlining the intention and seeking a mandate.  No such mandate has been received by the Coalition Government, nor was it part of the Coalition Agreement.  Convention would suggest that the processes usually followed are that a Green Paper, or a White Paper, would be published, followed by meaningful consultation.  Then there would be a proposal in the Queen’s Speech.  None of these seem to have been followed in this case.  The "so called" consultation was really a meaningless exercise.  The statements made by the Minister, that this was going through no matter what, gave the lie to any meaningful consultation.  The consultation process itself was flawed.  It was an anonymous process and it seems anyone could have responded any number of times simply by using a different e-mail address.  In addition, the views of the more than half a million people who signed the petition against redefinition were apparently not taken into account.  So much for the democratic process! 

This process has ignored the usual conventions on introducing major constitutional changes, and those changes should therefore be voted against. 

4.        Protection

The Bill purports to protect the Anglican Church and the Church in Wales from being required to perform same sex marriages.  This protection would seem to be worthless in the light of the European Court of Human Rights and its approach.  The Anglican Church has a responsibility to marry couples.  If marriage is redefined it will not be able to refuse to marry same sex couples. 

Other churches may fall foul of the approach that many local authorities are taking at the moment if they refuse to marry same sex couples, and will eventually simply lose their licence to marry.  Indeed even to express a private view supporting the traditional view of marriage has resulted in people being demoted and being removed from their positions because their views do not conform to the diversity policies of local authorities. 

This is clearly shown by the case of Adrian Smith, an employee of the Trafford Housing Trust.  On his Facebook page he expressed some concern about the redefinition of marriage and was demoted for expressing his views.  Although he won his case, in fact he was the loser, because he only got £100 compensation.  The law has not been changed as yet and still the man was demoted for expressing his view.  If the law is changed will that make it impossible to express a view disagreeing with the change in the law? 

There is no employment protection for teachers or for chaplains in the NHS, the armed forces or the police within the Bill.  Rev. Brian Ross, Christian chaplain for Strathclyde Police, was forced to step down after being told that he would need to comply with the "equality and diversity policy" to continue in his role.  He had expressed the view on his personal website that marriage was a "God-ordained institution between a man and a woman".  The Strathclyde Police spokeswoman said "Whilst the force wholly respects the Rev. Ross’s and, indeed, any employees’ personally held political and religious beliefs, such views cannot be expressed publically if representing the force, as it is by law an apolitical organisation with firmly embedded policies which embrace diversity and equality".  How much more likely is this type of case if marriage is redefined?  Will any chaplain who is employed by a public authority be sacked because they express a view supporting the traditional view of marriage, and refusing to promote same sex marriage? 

A report in the Daily Telegraph stated that a senior person in the Department of Education said that the Government of the UK may not be able to prevent teachers, and other staff, who hold traditional views on marriage, from being dismissed from their employment for refusing to promote same sex marriage.  The ultimate decision might be taken by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  It was put this way, "These are all under the control of nine guys in Strasbourg.  It is fundamentally uncertain because Britain isn’t in control of this." 

So the protection promised by the Government in this Bill will prove to be worthless, and there is no protection for those who hold traditional views on marriage.

5.        Summary

The present position gives gay couples in civil partnerships the same legal rights as married couples, so there is no need for a redefinition of marriage.

The process by which the Bill has come about is flawed and undemocratic, and thus should not become law.

The protection which the Bill purports to give will be seen to be worthless, and the Bill does not protect those who wish to express traditional views.

March 2013

Prepared 13th March 2013