Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Ian Michael LaRivière (MB 124)

1. Submitted by:

Ian Michael LaRivière

Capacity: Private individual.

Status: UK citizen by birth. Retired senior software engineer. Active in various capacities within the local community, including work connected with children and young people. Married with two adult offspring and four young grandchildren.

2. Summary

The Marriage Bill seeks to remove unnecessary discrimination towards same-sex partnerships, but its proposed solution creates far more problems and discord than it solves. Its approach is therefore fundamentally flawed. Even at this fairly mature stage the Bill in its present form should be scrapped and a far simpler and less problematic solution adopted, as is proposed in section 8 below.

3. Flaws of the Proposed Bill

3.1 ‘Equality’ by sameness. The push for this change to the legal definition of Marriage appears to be motivated by the somewhat confused thinking that ‘equality’ can be achieved only by ‘sameness’, and so committed partnerships between homosexual couples can be seen as having ‘equal’ standing with those of heterosexual couples only if they are posed as being fundamentally the same thing. This is false thinking. Equality does not rely on sameness; they are independent entities.

3.2 Mere re-naming. One need not doubt that many aspects of heterosexual and homosexual partnerships are the same or very similar, including that of genuine affection, commitment and stability. But biologically and psychologically they are not identical, and to try to force them to be viewed as being so by literary and legal categorization is neither accurate nor honest to the facts. In the House of Commons Library Research Paper 13/08, section 3.4 ‘Response to Consultation’, p.32, Stonewall lament that the institution of Civil Partnership has not removed "prejudice and discrimination that gay people face", but then go on to argue as if another mere name change to ‘marriage’ will accomplish such a change in attitude. That is just wishful thinking, having no logical or evidential support. All that such a re-categorization will do is to confuse the long established and stable understanding of marriage as it now is. It will result in destruction with no genuine benefit to anyone.

3.3 Divisiveness and Litigation. There is zero probability that if the proposed redefinition of marriage arrives on the statute books it will be universally accepted and operated. This will act as a sharply divisive instrument in society and, despite Government assurance (section 4.1 of the Research Paper) of protection within the Bill of freedom of conscience, any unwillingness to ‘marry’ homosexual partners, in a religious or any other setting, would attract a legal attack from gay activists who are committed in their own thinking to seeing any view differing from their own as bigotry and prejudice. It is bad governance and irresponsible law-making to build divisive instruments into our legislation.

3.4 Removal of Choice. There will be many people who wish to enter into the specifically man-woman marital relationship and who will no longer have that choice if the Bill becomes law. As pointed out in paragraph 20 of the Church of England response to the consultation (Research Paper, 3.4, p.30):

‘A man and a woman who wished to enter into the traditional institution of marriage would no longer have the opportunity to do so. Only the new, statutory institution, which defined a "marriage" as the voluntary union of any two persons, would be available.’

The Conservative Government has often posed itself as a Government creating choices for the electorate; this Bill is, in part, pursuing an opposite direction.

4. False Arguments used to Promote the Bill

4.1 Half-truths. An argument posing only part of the facts is always subtly misleading. The current Prime Minister’s speech at Party Conference in October 2011 contained the core statement on gay marriage:

"To anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it's about equality, but it's also about something else: commitment." (Quoted in Research Paper section 3.1, p.21)

This displays two excellent sentiments – equality, and personal commitment. However, the equality argument is a red herring, as argued above; and although the commitment argument is fully valid in itself, to stress it in this way strongly implies that it is all there is in the issue, which is a serious shortfall. No doubt such emotional rhetoric earned Mr Cameron an ovation, but intellectually it amounts to little more than an empty smoke-screen. Commitment is essential in all human partnerships, but this common element does not make all types of partnership the same, as argued above, and this fact was expressed succinctly by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference statement of January 2012, quoted in the Research Paper section 8.2, p.54:

‘Marriage has an identity distinct from any other relationship, no matter how much love or commitment may be involved. Marriage is and always has been the union of one man and one woman, for love and mutual support, open to procreation.’

Mr Cameron’s contribution to the debate is fundamentally flawed, at least in this instance.

4.2 Belittling the Issues. As reported in the Research Paper, Summary, p.1,

‘Supporters of the proposals have spoken of extending the right to marry, rather than of redefining marriage.’

An often effective way of circumventing an inconvenient fact is to creatively re-express the issues in order to divert attention from the real problems. The ‘extension’ of eligibility for marriage would be achieved only by a literary and legal redefinition; so the radical nature of the proposed Bill cannot be dismissed by this circular argument.

4.3 Belittling the Opponents of Change. A time-honoured technique of closing people’s minds to a debate is by ‘name-calling’ and emotional belittlement, directed at people of different persuasions to ones-self and at their arguments. Such dismissive comments from Stonewall are quoted in the Research Paper section 8.5, p.56:

‘Sadly the minority of people who oppose equal marriage consistently use mistruths and smears to argue against it. Supporters of this modest measure mustn’t let a vocal minority block equality.’

Although, unfortunately, one can sometimes identify an individual case of bad argument, to apply this accusation to the majority of supporters of the current law is totally unjust and pernicious, as is the assertion that such supporters are merely a vocal minority when the true situation is rather the reverse. Such activity is just psychological picture-painting – i.e. trickery, but unfortunately is sometimes very effective. People with genuinely good arguments do not need to resort to such dubious tactics.

4.4 Statistics. The Opinion Poll commissioned by Stonewall declared a 71% support for gay marriage, but this high figure was arrived at only by excluding the "don’t know" responses, with the number of these not being declared; if there was, say, a 9% "don’t know" response, then the true support figure would be 65%. By contrast, the Poll commissioned by Catholic Voices yielded a 22% support, with 9% "don’t know". (Quoted in Research Paper section 2.1, p.17) As stated in the Paper, ‘The variation in the results may be explained by differences in the questions.’ I suggest that if an entirely neutral, non-suggestive, question had been posed, then the number of people calling for change would have yielded a much lower percentage. If you hold something in front of people, they want it even if they had no previous desire for it.

A further point arising from Opinion Polls and some newspaper articles (for example, Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail of June 13th 2012, page 14) is that by no means all homosexual and trans-sexual people support the current move to change the marriage definition. This rather reveals the main promoters of the change to be a fairly small vocal section of society.

5. Reasonable Arguments for a Change to the Current Laws

5.1 Privacy of Sexual Orientation. Although virtually all of the arguments of the pressure groups pushing for the changes proposed in the Bill can be rationally countered, the current definition of Civil Partnership does create a human rights problem that needs addressing. This problem is identified in the Research Paper section 1.6, pp.8-9:

‘For legal purposes, civil partners cannot call themselves married, and married couples cannot call themselves civil partners, and that this means that, when making a declaration of marital status to an employer, public authority or other organisation, an individual who is either married or in a civil partnership will often effectively be declaring their sexual orientation at the same time.’

Although there is no evidence of this being a problem for people in heterosexual relationships it can be for others, and so this is clearly unsatisfactory, as one’s sexual orientation should be a personal, private matter if one so wishes. However, to disrupt the time-honoured and universally accepted institution of man-woman marriage in order to deal with this problem would be a massively disproportionate response. A far simpler, less contentious and less expensive solution will be proposed in section 8 of this submission.

5.2 Loss of Rights. As stated in Research Paper section 3.2, ‘Gender recognition’, to officially register a gender change, transsexual people currently have to end their marriage or civil partnership, which may interrupt their contribution records for pensions and benefits and possibly taxation status. Fairness demands that this issue be addressed.

5.3 Emotional Need. A reason for redefining marriage that was put forward by the Equalities Minister and treated sympathetically in the Church of England response (Research Paper section 3.4, p.29) is that such a change would meet an emotional need among some people within the LGBT community. This perceived emotional need is a desire for a particular legal status, and cannot be put on a par with such basic in-built human needs as the need for love, recognition and stable relationships. Whilst it is desirable to satisfy this desire, it does not justify the disruption of the existing marriage institution, and the solution alluded-to in the previous paragraph would afford people in the LGBT community a legally structured status within society.

6. Arguments for Retaining the Current Definition of Marriage

6.1 The ‘Ownership’ of Marriage. The current understanding of marriage as being between a man and a woman predates not only all of today’s societies but even the ancient civilisations known in history. No government or Parliament defined marriage; they merely enshrined it in national law. It is therefore highly dubious for any Governmental authority to assume the moral right to re-define it; its ‘copyright’ does not belong to any such authority. If other, similar, forms of human partnership are desired to be enshrined in law then so be it, but that desire does not confer on the legislature the right to alter what it never created in the first place.

6.2 The Uniqueness of Marriage. Following on from the previous paragraph, the essence of marriage is well expressed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference statement:

‘The social and procreative understanding of the institution of marriage predates all the cultures and societies of today. The institution of marriage has never prevented the development of other forms of friendship or human relationship within those cultures and societies but they have never been given the name of ‘marriage’. Marriage is therefore unique and distinct from all other human relationships.’ ‘Marriage is essentially conjugal and social, and derives its meaning from its function as the foundation of the family. Marriage joins husband and wife in a life-long bond that is ordered essentially, if not in every instance, to their roles as father and mother and recognises their responsibilities related to procreation and generational care-giving. If the institution of marriage is significantly diminished, so will be the well-being of children, the family and of society.’

(Quoted in Research Paper section 3.4, p.31, paras. 13 & 11.)

A same-gender partnership can never have quite this essence, however loving, committed and stable, and so should not be passed off as being exactly the same entity. It therefore should not be defined as ‘marriage’.

6.3 Negative Effects of a Redefinition. In addition to the positive reasons above for retaining the current definitions of marriage, one can identify several negative effects of such a change. These are listed below as dangers involved in the proposed redefinition.

7. Dangers of the Bill

7.1 Freedom of Speech and Conscience. The Government have stated that various safeguards have been built into the Bill to protect peaceful expression of belief. The actual effectiveness of such provisions can be doubted in the light of punitive actions taken against various individuals who have expressed misgivings of sex orientation-related legislation already passed, and also of the forcing out of existence by such legislation of some erstwhile socially beneficial services such as adoption charities. Section 1.10 of the Research Paper lists some such personal cases, under the heading ‘Recent Cases’. If the Marriage Bill is passed, such social and legal pressures to conform to the opinions of others will be considerably increased. The legal opinion of Aiden O’Neill QC on the consequent vulnerability of NHS, Armed Forces or University chaplains, school teachers, foster parents, and churches is reported in section 3.3 of the Research Paper, under ‘Legal Opinions’. Also quoted there is the view of Neil Addison, specialist in discrimination law, concerning the likely trumping of religious freedoms by same-sex marriage legislation whatever intentions are expressed now by the Government:

‘Once same-sex marriage has been legalised then the partners to such a marriage are entitled to exactly the same rights as partners in a heterosexual marriage. This means that if same-sex marriage is legalised in the UK it will be illegal for the Government to prevent such marriages happening in religious premises.’

In the light of such educated opinions, Government assurance such as those expressed in their document Myths about Equal Marriages – Setting Out the Truth (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) can be seriously doubted.

7.2 Impact on Future Legislation. Once the time-honoured definition of marriage has been tampered with to accommodate one pressure group’s demands, the door will have been unlocked for other such demands to be made and met. The experience of other nations that have gone down this path is instructive: in Canada, legalising same-sex marriage has led to supporters of polygamy demanding that their unions be legally recognised; and in Mexico same-sex marriage was followed by the introduction of two year fixed-term marriages. If modifications are made to satisfy one perceived need, similar satisfaction of all other perceived needs can be argued-for on the basis of fairness and diversity. The most stable social building block is the nuclear family based on man-woman marriage; once that institution is broken open a social jungle is free to develop.

7.3 Enormous Cost for Little or No Return. The word ‘marriage’ appears around 3,000 times in UK legislation (-the figure of 3,258 has been quoted). Each reference and dependent text will have to be amended, and other legal terms such ‘husband and wife’, ‘consummation’, ‘adultery’, etc. will have to be removed or expanded. Hundreds of pieces of legislation will have to be changed and re-published at enormous cost, inevitably running to many millions of pounds, and all for no appreciable benefit to society; indeed, as expressed above, to its probable detriment. And all this at a time when valuable service providers are having their funding cut back as part of national austerity measures.

7.4 Imposition of Minority Views. Despite the wide variety of public opinions elicited, if not blatantly manipulated, by Opinion Polls, the driving force for the proposed redefinition of marriage is a minority pressure group. I am not calling into question the good intention of this group – the establishment of fairness for all, nor do I fail to support the principle that all minorities be sensitively and fairly accommodated within our society. But to tamper with a long-established and tried-and-tested foundational societal structure such as marriage puts the cohesiveness and stability of our society at even more risk than is already the case, and amounts to the imposition upon the whole of society of a minority interest.

8. A Better Solution

8.1 A less disruptive way of meeting the problems identified in section 5 above is readily available. Since 2004 there have in law been two forms of personal partnership: Marriage, dating back to pre-history and not created by Government legislation, and Civil Partnership currently dating back just over eight years and created by Parliament (and which the Government of the day assured us was not an intermediate step towards changing the legal definition of marriage). Civil Partnership was, perhaps rather narrowly, defined for only same-gender couples, presumably as a mirror image of the existing opposite-gender Marriage.

8.2 For some rather obscure reason, the pressure groups and Government have chosen to apply the proposed changes to Marriage rather than to their own creation, Civil Partnership. To apply the proposed changes to the latter would attract virtually no opposition and involve relatively little work and disruption, and would lay the basis for dealing with the problems discussed in section 5, with the widening of Civil Partnership to include heterosexual as well as homosexual partnerships, and with the same economic rights (e.g. pension, benefits, etc.) and legal rights (e.g. inheritance, etc.) conferred on them as exist for Marriage partnerships. Peter Tatchell is right in his criticism of David Cameron’s irrational determination to deny Civil Partnership to opposite-sex couples (quoted in section 8.6 of the Research Paper). Indeed, under the proposed Bill it is difficult to see any purpose in retaining the category of Civil Partnership.

8.3 The current restriction against converting from Marriage to Civil Partnership (upon, for instance, legal gender change) has no obvious justification, and should be removed. This, along with an equal status in economic and legal rights for Marriage and Civil Partnership, would mean that anyone changing their legal gender-status would not lose their partnership-union or other rights.

8.4 The current problem of forced identification of homosexual orientation by being in a Civil Partnership would be removed, as Civil Partnership would no longer have that inevitability. And with Civil Partnership being a broadened institution with economic and legal rights, there would be no justification for anyone claiming that their emotional needs were not being met by being in such a partnership.

8.5 This arrangement would, in fact, provide a choice for heterosexual couples between traditional Marriage and Civil Partnership. It is quite reasonably conceivable that many who currently opt for a Civil Marriage ceremony rather than a Church ceremony would opt for Civil Partnership rather than Marriage with its historical religious associations.

8.6 The legislative disruption and financial cost of this solution is a small fraction of that involved in changing the definition of Marriage.

9. Conclusion

For the Government to commit vast amounts of time, energy and financial expense in pursuing the divisive ideas presented in the current Marriage Bill seems worse than irresponsible in a time of severe economic constraints, and when there are other genuine social problems that urgently require attention, such as the pollution of children and young people by internet pornography, and the public danger posed by irresponsible keeping of vicious dogs, etc. That the issues raised in this debate be dealt with in legislation is perfectly reasonable, but let them be dealt with in the least divisive and disruptive manner, as suggested above, and not by following irrational dogma or employing uncritical acceptance of minority pressure group demands.

March 2013

Prepared 13th March 2013