Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by the Mothers’ Union’s (MB 43)

1. Mothers’ Union is a grassroots Christian organisation with 4 million members living in 83 countries. Our members work to support family life through fellowship, practical support and campaigning. Mothers’ Union has responded to previous Government consultations on marriage and civil partnerships.

2. Mothers’ Union is concerned that this Bill will not be given the due consideration needed, during Parliamentary time. To make such a fundamental change to the orthodoxy of marriage as an exclusive, lifelong commitment between one man and one woman deserves rigorous deliberation, especially to consider potential unintended consequences and we believe the standard Parliamentary timeframe will not allow for this.

3. Mothers’ Union welcomes the ‘opt in’ approach, which allows organisations and religious celebrants to solomnise same sex marriages if they so choose, whilst creating no obligation or legal requirement on anyone to do so. We believe this is an important position to maintain and would not advocate the Government moving to a system that allowed no opt out – as much as marriage does not ‘belong’ to the church, neither does it ‘belong’ to the state. The praxes by which faith groups choose to solemnise and support committed couple relationships should subsist within the jurisdiction of those particular groups. Each religious body should be allowed to determine their own doctrinal and ethical beliefs and practices as otherwise religious freedom is not maintained.

4. We are not wholly assured that the protections for those not wishing to solomnise same sex marriage will be robust enough to withstand legal challenges. The need for so many ‘locks’, particularly for the Church of England, suggests that there will be significant attempts to unpick them; and as the Second Church Estates Commissioner asserted during the Bill’s second reading, "there is no way in which any of us can know just how robust these protections will be until they are tested in the courts." [1]

5. We are also concerned that these protections fail to take into account the wider marriage-related services and activities offered by religious organisations, for example marriage preparation and support. According to their doctrine, such bodies may maintain the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman; but it is not clear whether such an action would risk being subject to any form of legal action.

6. Whilst Church of England clergy are exempt from these proposals, we wonder how the wider Church of England might be impacted. For example, could a local authority rightfully refuse to fund a CofE run youth project on the basis that the church it was connected to would not solomnise same sex marriages and that this conflicted with the local authority’s own equalities or contracts and tenders policies?

7. Mothers’ Union has concerns about inconsistencies within the Bill relating to equality. Whilst the discourse framing this Bill is that extending marriage to same sex couples is a matter of furthering equality, the proposals do not confer the same marriage and divorce rites on same sex couples as they do on opposite sex couples. It is seemingly inconsistent that the Government wishes to redefine the meaning of marriage, yet is not proposing to redefine the meaning of adultery in order to permit divorce for same sex couples on such grounds. We wonder why the Government is prepared to change the definition of some words but not others. We would also question why same sex couples are not to be afforded the same right to, and expectation of, fidelity within their married union. As the Minister for Women and Equalities commented, marriage contains the promises of responsibility and commitment, and this is why the Government believes same sex couples should be able to call their lifelong commitment marriage. [2]

8. A further inconsistency is that civil partnerships will remain open only to same sex couples. Whilst Mothers’ Union would not necessarily advocate making civil partnerships available to opposite sex couples, this ‘exclusion’ of opposite sex couples from civil partnerships is surely, if we are to use the rationale put forward by the Government, a form of inequality and discrimination.

9. We also have concerns about the long term consequences of deconstructing the orthodoxy of marriage. If Parliament is prepared to deconstruct the definition of marriage, for the want of allowing people who love each other to have their relationship recognised as marriage, then it needs to be prepared to decide what other tenets of marriage should or should not be deconstructed; for example how many people may enter the same marriage or at what age. Parliament needs to have a solid argument to defend its position if it does not wish to change further tenets of marriage, and to justify why, for example, those who wish to marry more than one person, or a close relative, should not have that same right to formalise such a relationship in marriage.

10. Our final concern is for the freedom for those who believe marriage is – and will forever be -intrinsically between a man and a woman, to express such a view. Already, this belief is being labelled as homophobic and even likened to Nazism – whether or not the belief is expressed with any hatred, derogatory or discriminatory intent. We do not believe this view of marriage is inherently homophobic, no more than we believe the current view and definition of civil partnership is heterophobic. We urge Parliament to give this issue serious consideration. Experience from Canada, where same sex marriage has been lawful for ten years, has demonstrated that those adhering to the traditional definition of marriage have been subject to investigations by human rights commissions and received penalties. [3]

February 2013

[1] Sir Tony Baldry MP, Hansard 5 Feb 2013 : Column 145



[2] Maria Miller MP, Hansard 5 Feb 2013 : Column 127


[3] Bradley Miller, Same-Sex Marriage Ten Years On: Lessons from Canada

Prepared 27th February 2013