Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Adrian Tippetts (MB 110)

Equal marriage is the mark of a civilised society

1. In this submission to the Parliamentary Commission charged with deliberating on the Same Sex Marriage Bill, I wish to explain why extending the right of marriage to same-sex couples is the fair and just thing to do, fitting with the tradition of British democracy and the principle of 'one law for all'. I also appeal to the Commission

2. I also want to explain why opposition to this is illogical, does not reflect the reality of relationships, is selectively discriminatory and thus morally wrong.

3. You may ask, why all the fuss about marriage? Don't gay people have civil partnerships that offer almost all the same rights? In fact civil partnerships do not enjoy the same protections as marriages. They do not have international recognition and there are still restrictions on pensions entitlements for partners. But it would still be demeaning for the law to discriminate, even if civil partnerships were legally on a par with marriages . Enforcing a different legal name for the arrangements of gay and straight people is segregation which has harmful consequences.

Segregation hurts

4. Legal segregation tells society that it's alright to treat LGBT people differently simply because of who they are. A large proportion of gay people learn to be treated as outsiders and outcasts, rejected and abused by families, bullied at school and in the workplace, vilified by church leaders, and all too regularly, subject to violent assault. We should be breaking these prejudices, not shoring them up.

5. Segregation harms in a most personal way, too, by making LGBT people feel different. When schools teach about marriage and civil partnership they are reinforcing a feeling of difference among LGBT children. Marriage, off limits to gay people, is seen as a 'gold standard' relationship, elevating heterosexuality and thus straight people as 'ideal'. It encourages LGBT people to feel inferior and ashamed for not meeting the ideal. The testimonies of people like rugby player Gareth Thomas show how feeling set apart from the rest has ruinous psychological consequences that last well into adulthood.

6. Heterosexuality is not an ideal because our sexual orientation is part of our nature, and cannot be aspired to. A just law, however, would recognise that there is something we can all aspire to, whether gay or straight. Loving relationships are one of life's great aspirations and lie at the heart of what makes a good life. We show how much loved ones and friends mean to us by celebrating and encouraging their relationships. That encouragement, in turn, strengthens bonds further.

Love is all you need

7. We marry the person of our own choosing, on equal terms, for love alone, and society is far better for that reason. We should be thankful marriage has changed in definition, from the days when all the wife's possessions were legally transferred to the husband, or when services could be solemnised by the Church of England. Marriage is neither the preserve of the church nor the religious. Commentators who claim there is more to marriage than love owe some explanation to their spouses, as to why they proposed in the first place. Would you still have loved and married your spouse if that person had turned out to be infertile?

8. Daily Telegraph's Charles Moore (1) says that because same-sex couples can never produce children, their domestic arrangements make no difference to the human future and therefore they should be excluded from the institution of marriage. Don't children 'exist because of men and women'?

9. This is arbitrary discrimination because we don't deny this grand institution to the infertile or to parents of adopted children. But in any case, civilisation's success is not just due to the ability of people to produce new generations. Society flourishes because of the way we connect and cooperate with each other. We depend on our neighbours, colleagues, team-mates, customers, suppliers, for help and support on all kinds of levels. Sometimes we are called to help strangers in emergencies. One extreme example was the case of the young children rescued from a house fire in Birmingham (2). Would they exist today, were it not for the bravery of the gay couple next door? Don't read this as a plea to make an exception for courage: the point is, we would probably all do our best to help our neighbour if we were in those shoes. Gay couples, with or without children, too contribute to the education system and welfare state through their taxes and dote on, support, teach, inspire and care for their cousins, nieces and nephews like anyone else.

10. And gay people do have children anyway. There are thousands of stable families headed by same-sex couples where well-adjusted children are being nurtured in loving supportive environments ( here is just one example). Some of these children would never have existed were it not for the stable relationship in the first place. If you then say that such a family unit is not ideal because same-sex couples can never both be their biological parents, then you do a grave injustice to the integrity of all families with adopted children. The fact that the children see this couple as loving parents and their own family as equal to any other family unit is all that matters.

Who is harmed by the love of others?

11. Many opponents excuse banning gay people from marrying because they want to 'protect the definition of marriage as a man and a woman'. But this begs the question: from what, or from whom, is marriage being protected? The mere extension of existing marriage rights to a small minority will have no effect on the status of millions of marriages of straight couples across the nation. As noted by the Dean of Worcester (3), we aren't entering an institution; we are making a commitment to one person, we hope, for life. It is thus inaccurate for straight couples to describe the change in law as a 'redefinition' of their marriage.

12. Some say that same-sex marriage will cause a major upheaval and even a wave of persecution. This is hysterical conjecture. Same-sex marriage has been legal in several countries without any evidence of any such 'persecution'. In Belgium or the Netherlands, 12 years on, life goes on as before, whether in the tranquility of e.g the Achel Trappist monastery, or the villages of the Veluwe, or Amsterdam city centre. Nothing has changed, apart from the fact that a small minority of people are given their due recognition. Churches still continue to teach and conduct marriages according to their beliefs, just as before.

13. Some MPs feel uneasy about allowing marriage to gay people because of the 'offence' it will cause to religious people. But the majority of religious people in this country find that allowing equal rights to LGBT people is the moral, just thing to do. Legally enforcing one religious interpretation would only deny religious freedom and attacking conscience of liberal faiths. Who has the right to say who is more in tune with the mind of God on this issue?

14. Opponents to equality at least have satisfaction of knowing that no gay people are being married in the eyes of their god. Churches except our established one have the right to make their own rules, to opt in and opt out. The simple challenge to anyone who might sue, to determine God's mind on whom we might sleep with. Equally, it is only fair that the people have freedom from the beliefs of others too. I, personally, am not religious; in fact two-thirds of marriages in the UK are non-religious.

15. A member of the Committee, Mr. David Burrowes, proposes opt-outs for civil marriage registrars who do not believe same-sex couples should be able to marry. This is a highly selective and inconsistent form of discrimination and I urge the Committee to reject this proposal.

16. It would mean that lesbian, gay and bisexual people would be the only social group of people who could be legally refused a service by secular and state service providers. This is humiliating for LGBT people, who learn to expect rejection. It would also entrench the perception that LGBT people are less worthy citizens, fuelling existing homophobic prejudice.

17. It is fatuous to claim that if other registrars are able and willing to officiate for gay couples, no harm is done. But allowing a marriage registrar to refuse to fulfil his or her obligations arguably causes harm within her workplace and in society at large. It costs the employer and colleagues extra time and money, the bill for which is passed ultimately to the taxpayer and customer. It means inconvenience in scheduling and holiday arrangements. Suppose there were not just one registrar wishing to object, but all? In the Netherlands until recently, that has been exactly the scenario. In the country's Calvinist bible belt, some local municipalities had to go to great efforts to ensure a single registrar willing to marry gay couples, years after the enactment of equal marriage legislation.

 

18. A secular employee has the right to his or her views, which he or she may express to full satisfaction outside of work. However, when one works in the secular sphere, one must put aside personal convictions and abide by the law of the land. A state employee is able to choose another position if the terms are not to his or her liking. It is highly selective plead sympathy for the 'sincerely held beliefs' of marriage registrars, who work for the state and disagree with same-sex marriage. Why would a civil marriage registrar single out homosexuality on religious grounds, when there are a whole galaxy of biblical transgressions of which virtually every married or engaged couple, will have committed at least a handful? Where is the call for marriage registrars to opt out of marrying couples who have divorced or had sexual intercourse before their marriage?

19. Some MPs call for teachers who believe marriage can only be between a man and a woman to be excused from teaching children that same-sex couples can marry also. This is grossly unfair on children. In the captive environment of the classroom, where children are instructed under the authority of the teacher, one expects the children to be given the facts and objective, informed views about the human condition. We do not allow children to be indoctrinated with personal prejudices of the teacher. We teach about evolution and ban creationism, for example. Many faith schools do excellent work in teaching about inclusivity of minorities, sex and relationships, but a minority of faith schools, thanks to loopholes in equality legislation, cause a great deal of harm. To tell an LGBT child that a relationship outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful, and thus, that the only salvation is a loveless life of chastity is a cruel, inexcusable, perverse abuse of authority. Every child should know that he or she can fall in love, and that the joy, affection and commitment that comes with it is equally worthy and authentic, regardless of who you love.

20. Being told that gay relationships are less valuable than straight relationships is especially damaging to adolescents coming to terms with their sexuality. An ongoing survey by LGBT support service The Metro Centre (4) suggests that people become aware of being LGB from the age of 14, and that it takes on average another two years to come out. Nearly three quarters of respondents said they needed emotional support during this period. Young people in vulnerable positions who are made to feel deviant, or different are more likely to be subject to bullying a d less likely to report it.

 

One law for all is always a priority

21. You may think that extending marriage to gay couples shouldn't have gone ahead because 'we have other priorities' and because 'we should be focusing on the economy'. This is curious, because the very people making this argument have spent thousands on media campaigns, leafleting campaigns, briefings and conferences to get this very message across. But the principle at stake here is is a big priority: that of equality under the law, and of there being one law for all.

22. Opponents say allowing gay people to marry is 'untraditional'. Quite the contrary: ensuring that minority groups receive equal protection and rights under the law is a fine example of strengthening our democratic tradition. Britain is rightly regarded as the cradle of modern democracy. Ever since Magna Carta, through the struggle for freedom of conscience, fair representation, women's suffrage and equal civil rights, brave thinkers and campaigners have paid dearly to make this country the beacon of democracy that other nations look up to. John Stuart Mill reminds us that the highest measure of civilised society is how we treat minorities and enable the pursuit of personal interests. LGBT people are such a minority.

23. If the overwhelming evidence shows that same-sex couples are just as capable of love and commitment, and just as capable of providing stable parental homes as straight couples, then opinions of others cannot count. However this Bill proceeds in parliament, one can no more vote on the authenticity and value of LGBT relationships than vote on the age of the Earth.

24. It is sad that some wish to put marriage equality to a referendum. They point to the large numbers of signatories opposing marriage as a reason to deny equality. But this far removed from democracy in a civilised society. I suspect you, like I, are rightly appalled at the treatment of Christians, whose freedom to assemble and worship is severely restricted by some Middle Eastern dictatorships. We are appalled when their protections will be erased from the new constitution, validated by a simple majority vote. Here in Britain, we have an opportunity to send a message that voting against the rights of minorities, whether racial, religious or sexual, is not democracy but the rule of the mob.

25. Supporting the right of gay people to have full equality under the law, including equal recognition of relationships, then, is very much the traditional thing to do: it is in the tradition of decency, fair play and democracy in its truest sense.

26. When you deliberate on this, you will be stating whether LGBT people should be treated differently and separately because of who they are and whom they love. You and your colleagues will be choosing between inclusion, acceptance and integration on one hand, and exclusion, separation and segregation on the other. The law as it stands effectively states that no gay relationship, no matter how loving, supportive, stable, faithful or committed can match the standard of a heterosexual relationship, however abusive, adulterous, deceitful, dysfunctional or short-lived. Did we even need a consultation to debate this?

March 2013

REFERENCES

References to opinion and research cited in the article above:

(1) Charles Moore, 'When Conservatives forget how to be conservative, they lose', Daily Telegraph, 14 December 2012; Link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9745592/When-Conservatives-forget-how-to-be-conservative-they-lose.html

(2) 'Birmingham gay couple saved life of man who abused them', Birmingham Mail, 2 August 2010; Link: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/birmingham-gay-couple-save-life-248732

(3) 'Dean of Worcester: I agree with allowing equal marriage because marriage is not an institution', 10 January 2013; Link: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/01/10/dean-of-worcester-i-agree-with-allowing-equal-marriage-because-marriage-is-not-an-institution/

(4) 'Survey: gay teens come out at 16 with a little help from their friends', Pink News, 15 February 2013; Link: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/02/15/survey-gay-teens-come-out-at-16-with-a-little-help-from-their-friends/

Prepared 13th March 2013