Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by the Maranatha Community (MB 114)

This Document

This submission has been prepared in response to the House of Commons, Public Bill Committee’s invitation to those with relevant expertise and experience or a special interest in the Government’s proposed legislation on civil marriage for same-sex couples, to submit their views on The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill.

The Maranatha Community

The Maranatha Community is a Christian movement with many thousands of members throughout the country, active in all the main churches. Its membership includes a substantial number of people involved in teaching, child care, youth services, health and justice professions and many workers concerned with children in the voluntary sector. It has been deeply engaged with work for children and families, especially the abused, disabled and disadvantaged for over 30 years.

The Community has produced a broad range of reports on the subjects of Family & Marriage and children, both in Parliament and at international conferences. It has taken the initiative in a broad range of projects directly contributing to the health of the nation and it also has extensive international experience.

The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill

Committee Stage Submission

We have carefully monitored the deliberations of the Bill Committee to date. In particular, we have observed the difficulties which the Bill Committee has experienced. We now present our principal concerns, which we know are shared by vast numbers of people of every political persuasion throughout the country.

1. Unclear definition

1.1 The Bill contains serious inconsistencies. Purporting to address a perceived inequality, it actually succeeds in introducing new inequalities and creates confusion.

1.2 This incoherence results from the Bill’s failure to define what marriage is. This is encapsulated in the phrase "to live as a married couple". Nowhere in the Bill is this fundamental concept defined. It is not good enough to say that it is self-explanatory, for in the context of same-sex marriage (SSM), it is not. [1] Not only is this a recipe for confusion and litigation, with all the attendant future costs and wastage of resources, it is also an abrogation of the duty of Parliament and a return to the approach that has seen the passage of so many poorly drafted laws in recent years. Parliament, therefore, needs to state now, with great precision, what it means to ‘live as a married couple’. A suitable definition should be included in the Bill, rather than leave it to secondary legislation or the courts.

1.3 To define living as a married couple requires analysis of what marriage is. Few dispute that marriage is qualitatively different from friendship, for husbands and wives are something more than best friends (though they may be that, too) and it is preposterous to think that the State should regulate friendship in the same way that it regulates marriage. It follows that living as a married couple cannot just be a question of feelings (for those who are merely friends can have deep feelings for each other), and neither can it be based simply on sharing domestic arrangements (for flatmates whose relationship is platonic do that). Nor is it a question of sexual relationship alone, since this can exist outside marriage. It cannot even be based on legal recognition of certain rights and duties, for civil partnerships do this.

1.4 Marriage, therefore, must mean something more than any of these things, individually or collectively. It cannot be such unless the established meaning of marriage is retained: that it is a comprehensive, permanent and exclusive consensual union of a man and woman and their activity, aims and commitment. This union is expressed in mind and body, and is fundamentally oriented to procreation, family life and broad domestic sharing. In this it is specifically different from the view that the Bill tries to propose, namely that any two people (opposite or same-sex) who love one another should be allowed to marry, so defining marriage as merely dependent on the depth of emotional connection. This view of marriage entails expectations at odds with marriage as traditionally understood, for logically its parties would be under no compulsion to remain together once they have ceased to find emotional fulfilment, bodily union would be optional (in some cases, impossible), broad domestic sharing and orientation to family life would likewise be optional and commitment would not necessarily be all-encompassing or involve exclusivity.

1.5 Specific inconsistencies and inequalities are:

· There is no definition of what constitutes adultery in the context of SSM. To the contrary, the Bill states there will only be adultery if there is sexual intercourse between people of opposite sex. Thus one group is effectively denied divorce on grounds of adultery whilst another is not. This is absurd.

· There is no definition of what constitutes consummation of SSM, so one group will have consummation defined by law and another will not. Consequently, one group will be able to seek annulment on grounds of non-consummation and another will not. This is absurd.

· There is no definition of which partner will be husband and wife in SSM. This is not an issue of mere semantics, since the terms husband and wife appear in existing Acts of Parliament and legal decisions – how can these be applied to same-sex couples if it is not possible to say which is which? This is confusing.

· Civil partnerships are only an option for same-sex couples.

1.6 The inconsistency, discrimination, introduction of new inequalities and lack of clarity in the Bill point up the mistaken premises on which it is based: same-sex partners simply cannot live as a married couple. It is not possible to make two different things equal. This conclusion is reached by straightforward factual analysis and without recourse to any religious or subjective argument at all. [2] The Bill is, therefore, intrinsically flawed and unsatisfactory.

2. Impact on marriage

2.1 It is logically and rationally wrong to assert that SSM would strengthen the institution of marriage. It would, in fact, change it in ways that diminish and undermine it.

2.2 Because same-sex partners cannot, in any meaningful sense, live as a married couple, the introduction of this Bill would severely damage all marriage, as is already evident through data from countries that have legalised SSM, through the following revisions:

· Adultery would ceases to be grounds for divorce and non-consummation grounds for annulment in any circumstances, whether the couple be same-sex or opposite sex.

· The concepts of husband and wife would be radically changed and probably disposed of.

· Civil partnership and marriage would be interchangeable.

· Exclusivity and permanence would not be requirements of marriage, merely optional extras – in other words, a licence for adultery and increased divorce.

· The link between the marriage-based family and the bearing and rearing of children would be weakened yet further.

· Marriage would become subject to the vagaries of changing emotions, rather than an enduring bond in which a man and a woman commit to support each other for life through thick and thin.

2.3 Why has no proper analysis been carried out on the societal costs, both financial and non-financial, and the trend in marriage rates after SSM has been allowed? [3]

2.4 Why is there such failure to acknowledge honestly what this Bill means and where it will inevitably lead?

3. Children

3.1 It has been said that a civilised society is judged by the way it treats its children. Worldwide, the focus of societies is upon creating and rearing children who will continue the stable reproduction of that society. There is no evidence of any proper consideration of the impact of this Bill upon children, young people and future generations. They are not even mentioned in the ‘consultative document’.

3.2 It is widely recognised that our children and young people face unprecedented pressures, and that these are the source of considerable anxiety, stress and unhappiness for many. One of the first acts of the present Government was to commission a report on the sexualisation of children, [4] yet now it is promoting a Bill which would exacerbate these very concerns:

· The Bill would positively approve the conception of children intentionally conceived and born without one or both of their biological parents. It also removes the presumption of a child being the offspring of the wife’s husband. This would deliberately deprive children of the most basic aspect of their identity and security, namely their parentage. It is universally recognised that children need both paternal and maternal influences and both male and female role models.

· The Bill amends the Gender Recognition Act so that people may choose to remain married even if one of them transitions, meaning that a child may find the person who was their mother one day being their father the next, and vice versa.

· All children would be explicitly taught, from a young age, that relationships and families are formed according to a variety of equivalent sexual identities – straight/gay/transgender/bisexual etc. – rather than around the complementary differences of the two sexes.

· The confused messages given to children will inevitably increase unhappiness, insecurity and confusion among the young.

· The weakening of the institution of marriage inevitably increases the number of children being brought up by single parents and those with unstable relationships.

· The acknowledged health and material benefits that accrue to both spouses and children as a result of traditional marriage would be lost at great cost to their own wellbeing and to society.

3.3 This Bill would give precedence to the rights of a minority of adults to pursue their desire for marriage to be redefined over and above any responsible concern for the effects upon all children of this and future generations.

3.3.1 Why has no proper assessment of the impact of this Bill upon children been carried out?

3.3.2 Why is has there been no attempt to build protections for children into the Bill?

4. Freedom of conscience

4.1 The so-called quadruple ‘lock’ is both discriminatory (it applies only to the Church of England and the Church in Wales) and subject to challenge under Equality Act and Human Rights Act provisions. It is nonsensical to say the Equality Act would be amended to remove the possibility of challenge under its provisions unless Government is at the same time prepared to countenance change to the European Union treaties which compel these provisions to be enacted into the law of the United Kingdom. Changing the law of this land without changing the treaties would simply mean legal challenges would be made in the European Court of Human Rights rather than British courts.

4.1.1 On what basis does the Government expect other parties to the relevant treaties to agree changes to suit the UK?

4.1.2 Is the Government prepared to abrogate the relevant treaties (or the offending parts of them) if changes cannot be made?

4.1.3 Within what time frame would all this take place?

4.1.4 Would the coming into force of the Bill be delayed until after the necessary changes are in place?

4.2 Even assuming all these hurdles could be overcome, the freedom of conscience issue would not be dealt with adequately. The issue concerns not just churches as denominations or institutions but individuals and employees. It is clear that, whatever protection this Bill might afford to the former, it would do nothing to protect the latter. As the recent series of legal cases involving Lillian Ladele shows, those who act according to conscience can lose their jobs if they do not agree to support, promote and take part in unions between same-sex partners. [5] Just last week, Brian Ross, a police chaplain, was reported as being dismissed for expressing a view in support of marriage as currently defined.

4.2.1 What protection is it proposed to give those who act according to conscience in these circumstances?

4.2.2 What changes are proposed to the Public Sector Equality Duty to ensure government departments and local authorities do not override conscience in pursuit of ‘equality’?

4.2.3 What would be done to help those who fall foul of the internal policies and procedures of employers which would otherwise compel them to act contrary to their conscience or penalise them for doing so? [6]

4.2.4 What would be done to protect teachers who are required by a school or Local Authority to use materials which promote same-sex marriage rather than merely teaching about it factually?

4.2.5 Does Government propose to limit the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in these areas and, if so, how and within what time frame?

4.2.6 The Bill requires that new premises licensed to conduct marriages are licensed also for same-sex marriages. How would this apply to new churches? Would they be caught by this provision or protected by exemptions elsewhere in the Bill?

5. Unintended consequences

5.1 Legal and social confusion

Generally, people take their cue from signals given by the world around. One of the strongest of these is provided by law, which expresses not only how things are but also how legislators desire them to be. The inconsistency and lack of clarity that characterise this Bill would cause confusion to the public – as to what type of relationships they should aspire to and why, what the fundamental aspects of such relationships are and what distinguishes marriage from other types of living arrangement. There would be a plethora of court cases, for such are the lacunae in and deficiencies of this Bill that lengthy legal disputes are almost guaranteed.

Why does Parliament consider it right to knowingly risk these serious consequences?

5.2 Health

Numerous studies confirm that marriage (though not other forms of cohabitation) makes people less likely to suffer depression and psychological problems, makes them live longer and makes them healthier. It is widely recognised that the epidemic of fatherlessness contributed greatly to the English riots of 2011. This Bill would ensure that more people fail to gain the health and other benefits that flow from marriage and that more children experience the absence of their biological fathers. How can that be right?

5.3 Disproportionate impact on the poorest

The burdens resulting from the undermining of traditional marriage have fallen and will continue to fall on the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginalised. They cannot afford to forego the financial rewards that come from traditional marriage, nor move out of deprived neighbourhoods, nor buy themselves out of poorly performing schools. It is to the shame of all in Parliament that such consequences have not been raised and the resulting issues properly debated. Who now will speak for the poor?

5.4 Cost and the need for expanded government provision.

The Government’s published Impact Assessments (March 2012 & January 2013) are defective in that they do not address the wider societal costs of the proposed legislation.

This Bill would weaken families. That is not only a tragedy for individuals: it carries a high cost to society – in all manner of social ills and the resulting need for greater state provision.

5.5 Immigration

Government is committed to reducing immigration to manageable levels, but is intent on enacting a Bill which would inevitably create new incentives for immigration either as it stands or in the future as the consequences outlined above come into play:

· The Bill envisages no connection at all with the United Kingdom, whether residency, birth or any other factor, for those seeking to have their union recognised here as SSM. Is it envisaged that people from anywhere in the world, who have no other connection with this country should be able to come here for this purpose?

· What assessment has been carried out in relation to the impact that the Bill would have on the ability of Government to prevent sham marriages being used to gain access to the United Kingdom? What steps will be taken to ensure appropriate protections are included in the legislation?

5.6 Further redefinition

The thinking which considers it right to extend marriage to same-sex couples ought logically to facilitate demands for legal recognition of polygamy. How is it proposed to prevent the Equality Act and Human Rights Act being used to compel such recognition? How would the Bill prevent what has already been seen in other countries that have enacted same-sex marriage, namely a push for fixed-term marriages (Mexico), three-party marriages (the Netherlands and Brazil) and legalised polygamy (Canada and some States of the US)?

5.7 Procedural matters

We protest strongly at the lack of due process in the promulgation and passage of this Bill. There was no mention of it in party manifestos, election addresses, the Coalition Agreement or the Queen’s Speech. The "consultation" before the Bill was published was a sham and a Government department (the Home Office) has distributed material which amounts to propaganda. There has been neither White Paper nor Green Paper. Neither has there been any significant public demand for this. A very highly controversial piece of legislation is being hurriedly imposed on the nation and already this has caused deep divisions. Apparently, the public will have no say in this matter and are even being deprived of expressing their views in a national referendum. The make-up of the present Committee is unrepresentative of Second Reading voting in the House of Commons. Both the electorate and Parliament have been treated with contempt, setting dangerous precedents for the future.

6. Conclusion

6.1 This Bill illustrates a profound disconnection between politicians and the public. The Bill is based on flawed reasoning and is the product of an undemocratic process. It is grossly unfair to the majority, it is totally unnecessary and threatens freedom of speech with destruction of the right of conscience. It would prove deeply damaging to Society.

6.2 The Bill demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of the significance of the institution of marriage as currently defined. It puts the rights of a tiny minority of adults before the rights and future of all the children of the United Kingdom.

March 2013


[1] This is especially the case where non-consummation is not grounds for annulment (since this suggests that the act of coitus is not central to what it means “to live as a married couple”) and where adultery is not grounds for divorce (since this suggests that neither is life-long faithfulness). The fact that, by definition, same-sex couples cannot procreate naturally suggests that having (or potentially having) children that are the product of coitus between them cannot be, either. All this very much begs the question of what it means for same-sex partners “to live as a married couple”.

[2] It is noteworthy that even the highly homoerotic culture of ancient Greece never considered instituting same-sex marriage, recognising that the purpose of marriage was for procreation and the furthering of a stable society.

[3] A fter same-sex marriage was allowed in the Netherlands marriage rates dropped by the fastest in Europe (some 2% a year). Falls were also recorded in Brazil and Canada. For reasons unspecified Canada stopped publishing marriage rates 5 years after same-sex marriage was allowed.

[3]

[4] Letting Children be Children: the report of an independent review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood was published on 6 June 2011.

[5] Lillian Ladele was a registrar who refused to register a civil partnership on grounds of freedom of conscience and was sacked as a result. After hearings before English courts, her case went to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that she had no redress: Eweida and others v the United Kingdom (2013) (Application nos. 48420/10, 59842/10, 51671/10 and 36516/10). This was even though there were presumably other employees who could readily have registered the civil partnership concerned without meaningful disruption to the employer’s business or inconvenience to the couple seeking registration.

[5]

[6] Conscience clauses in relation to equivalent matters are not unknown. For example, NHS employees who object to abortion on grounds of conscience are not compelled to take part in them.

Prepared 13th March 2013