Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Rev Dr Donald M MacDonald (MB 128)


I oppose this Bill, because, without evidence of overwhelming public demand and without adequate research on potential benefits and problems following such legislation, it radically redefines marriage. This is unjust for the vast majority of the population who are already married and now will find their marriage redefined. Civil partnership is already available for same sex couples and this gives essentially the same civil rights as marriage. I fear that the civil right to conscientious objection for public employees will be trampled upon. Once marriage is redefined in this way, there may well be demand for further changes, such as to introduce polygamy.

1. Personal I worked as a medical practitioner and surgeon for 21 years and then as a minister of religion for a further 20 years. I have also lectured in Practical Theology, including Christian Ethics for 15 years.

2. I am opposed to the redefinition of marriage to include same sex unions. I have already commented in detail on the equivalent Bill in Scotland, the innocuous sounding Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. At least the Westminster Bill openly states its purpose in the title and is clearer to follow, but I still find similar defects both in the procedure leading up to it and in the provisions of the Bill itself.

3. Poor procedure This legislation was not contained in the manifestos of the major parties. There is an astonishing lack of evidence brought forward to support the need for such a radical change in the marriage law – no evidence of a huge public demand, no evidence of any benefit to society. There has not been adequate research done on the possible harmful effects of such legislation on marriage, the family and society. It gives the impression of a hastily prepared Bill in response to a small, but vociferous lobby, without adequate preparation and little thought to the consequences.

4. Equality and human rights This legislation has been portrayed as being about equality and human rights. This is misleading. Human rights declarations about marriage have always assumed that marriage is heterosexual in nature. Civil Partnership is already available for same sex couples and gives equivalent rights to marriage. If there a few matters, such as pension rights, that are different, this can easily be put right by amending other legislation. That would not be controversial. Opposition to same sex ‘marriage’ is not due to homophobia, but due to a concern to protect the importance and stability of marriage for the vast majority of the population and therefore for society as a whole.

5.1 Redefinition of marriage This legislation involves a radical redefinition of marriage, the results of which have not been properly thought out by the framers of the Bill. Marriage has, for centuries, been the voluntary, life-long, exclusive union of a man and a woman, with the intention of reproducing and bringing up children in a family. Family, both nuclear and extended, based on ties of kinship, has been the bedrock of human society. Research consistently shows that stable heterosexual marriage, with both father and mother present, is the best environment to bring up children. Of course, everything must be done to support one parent, and other, families, but support for the institution of opposite sex marriage should be the priority. Successive Governments have pledged support for the family. This legislation will do nothing in this direction.

5.2 There appears to be no definition of marriage in any of the documents. The nearest thing to it appears to be:

11 Effect of extension of marriage

(1) In the law of England and Wales , marriage has the same effect in relation to same sex couples as it has in relation to opposite sex couples.

(2) The law of England and Wales (including all England and Wales legislation whenever passed or made) has effect in accordance with subsection (1) .

This appears to mean that marriage is being redefined retrospectively, so that all marriages previously contracted will be arbitrarily redefined to make them equivalent to same sex unions. This is unjust and undemocratic. However the statement in 11 (1) is nonsensical and easily refuted from some of the provisions in the Bill itself. Same sex union is not the exact equivalent of heterosexual marriage. There is no possibility of reproduction without the intervention of a third party. As is clear from the Bill, differences exist in the matters of consummation, adultery and impotency. These are not minor matters.

5.3 Redefining marriage will have a knock on effect on such time-honoured terms as husband and wife, father and mother and on the nature of family relationships and thus on society.

6.1 Other effects of the legislation In some legislatures where same sex marriage has been introduced, already there has been a deleterious effect on the marriage rate.

6.2 Human rights I am extremely concerned about the effect of this legislation on the human rights of public employees who have conscientious objections to promoting or participating in same sex ‘marriage’. For instance, public registrars are having their conditions of employment changed without consultation by the redefinition of marriage. Glib assurances on this are meaningless, as has been shown by some recent ECHR decisions. There should be legal protection of individual rights of conscientious objection. Teachers in state schools who have conscientious objections to promoting same sex ‘marriage’ as equal to opposite sex marriage also should have legal protection.

6.3 Possibility of further change Once marriage has been radically redefined for the benefit of a tiny minority, what is to prevent it from being redefined further to include polygamous or polyamorous unions?

6.4 Effect on churches and religious groups Despite the opt-in system, I fear that pressure may be brought to bear on those churches and religious groups who oppose same sex ‘marriage’. Freedom of belief and of speech must be protected.

March 2013

Prepared 13th March 2013