Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by A P Jones (MB 12)

Dear sir or madam,

As a lay person in the Church of England who happens also to be gay I am disappointed with the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2012-13. I write as a committed Christian who sees accepting all people as made in the image of God as central to that faith and believe that as a gay person I am still made in that image. Adopting this bill gives us another anachronistic law in that it allows same sex couples to marry but the laws around the consummation and dissolution of those marriages remains strictly heterosexual. It feels to me a bit like the Deed of Union in 1536 when Welsh people were 'accepted' as English citizens as long as they gave up their Welshness! However I my primary concern is that in excluding the Church of England from marrying same sex couples the bill enshrines an inequality in law.

  Equality is vitally important but it is more than people being treated the same, true equality is about acceptance and engagement of all. The difference here is that marriage has not been equally offered to same sex couples. Same sex couples have been asked to conform, change, squeeze into the mould of a heterosexual union. A shape that has changed through the ages and could be argued not even heterosexuals really fit into!

Marriage is not a fixed concept and has and can change. The idea of two people being in love and  deciding  to spend the rest of their lives together is new. The earliest recorded legal marriage is dated around 4000 years ago and for the majority of that time it has been about shaping and controlling societies: sealing treaties, maintaining and developing alliances, maintaining tribal or religious identity by marrying within the grouping. This romantic ideal of a marriage based on love and two equal partners is not even a hundred years old!

  And here lies the disappointment for me in the gay marriage bill. The affirmation of marriage as the ultimate thing for all peoples, as a static timeless norm, being the must have for all couples. Same sex couples are invited to join in this tradition – but not as equal partners in that tradition. This is a hetronormative ideal that doesn't invite the experience and traditions of committed, long term same sex relationships into a conversation about loving partnerships it says join us, be like us, and be acceptable.

  What the equal marriage bill doesn't say to LGBT people "you are accepted as who you are" it says "you are acceptable because you conform".

  Marriage is older than the Church, but the Church maintains that " marriage is important, " that it is something more than a contract and a legal agreement. Much more than that though, the Church holds marriage up as something that God and the community sees as important enough to bless. So enshrined in this bill is an inequality. It says that marriage is about two individuals that has very little to do with the rest of society.

  I believe that marriage is about something more than a word or flowers and a party, it is about the recognition of the value of commitment by two people before a community of people (and God). Section 26A part (5) (page 5) states " Nothing in this section is to be taken to relate or have any reference to marriages solemnized according to the rites of the Church of England. " This statement enshrines in law the exclusion of same sex couples from the benefits extended to heterosexual couples by the state church.

I recognise too the great importance of religious freedom too and to compel anyone, Church of England of otherwise, to do something which is counter to their convictions infringes on their equality. I urge therefore that the bill be amended so that Church of England priests might in the future have the option to marry same sex couples in the same way it is at their discretion to marry divorced people.  

February 2013

Prepared 15th February 2013