Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by The Rt. Revd. Frank White (MB 60)

Summary: The proposed legislation being scrutinised by the Committee is regressive and will compromise the foundational institution of British society. This submission identifies how the three key building blocks of marriage are being redefined to mean the opposite of their universal understanding. Such a radical change requires much careful consultation and informed societal consent.

From: The Rt. Revd. Frank White; Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Newcastle.

1. I am writing to the Committee in my public capacity and responsibility as a bishop in the Diocese of Newcastle; I am not an "official spokesperson" for the Church of England. The diocese in which I serve covers the county of Northumberland, and the unitary authorities of North Tyneside and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and has a population of 805,000 people in nine parliamentary constituencies.

2. I am writing to ask the Committee to reconsider the proposed legislation. My concern is not primarily ‘religious’ but practical reflecting the nature of marriage as a social institution, whether contracted in a religious or civil ceremony. This is not a commentary on the validity of same sex relationships, which have brought stability and confidence to many, but on the nature of marriage as a foundational institution for the flourishing of human society. The essential nature of this institution is captured in the text of Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that "Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right." While I am not disputing the capacity of Parliament to enact the proposed legislation I am advocating that the Convention and human societies from time immemorial have understood marriage to be between people of the opposite sex. This is the plain reading of Article 12.

3. There is no separate category of "religious marriage" as is sometimes expressed in popular writing or media commentary, but marriage reveals its essential character in whatever cultural context it is solemnised. I do not believe that Parliament is intending to create a separate category of "religious marriage", though the way the legislation is being framed may unintentionally be leading to this conclusion.

4. There are at least three foundational principles which identify the essential character of marriage. First, it is a covenant for life between members of the opposite sex; second, it is undertaken in the mutual society of its partners for the procreation and proper care of children, and thirdly, it is an exclusive covenant which is compromised by the sexual participation of any third party to the relationship. These foundational principles are connected and mutually reinforcing of the institution of marriage itself and each are explained more fully in the following three paragraphs.

5. There is no substantial precedent in British or any other society to suggest that marriage can be effected between people of the same sex; indeed even contemporary dictionary definitions use the term ‘same sex marriage’ as the descriptor of the institution which some societies have created only in the last dozen years. There is no equivalent definition of ‘heterosexual marriage’ because marriage has the established understanding of being between people of the opposite sex. Indeed a marriage conducted between people who turned out to be of the same sex would be regarded as null and void.

6. The procreation of children is a fundamental instinct for the human race as it is for all animals as defined in evolutionary science. Sexual reproduction through the intercourse of opposite sexes is a central building block for the development of species. In same sex relationships intercourse cannot naturally have this outcome; and because marriage is the principal institutional way of legitimating sexual relationships it follows that a basic purpose of such an institution is vitiated. In any part of the animal world the failure to reproduce naturally will lead, eventually, to extinction.

7. The intervention of a third party into the sexual exclusivity of a marriage has in this and every civilised society been sufficient grounds for the aggrieved party to take steps to terminate the marriage. For same sex marriage the intervention of a third party is biologically and physically required and necessary if the couple are to have children. Furthermore, the children of such a union will not have the genetic material of both parties, importing into the basic evolutionary process an uncertainty which marriage as hitherto understood has attempted to avoid (hence the rules on consanguinity and affinity).

8. The intention of Parliament cannot be to destabilise the most basic building block on which flourishing societies are founded nor can it be to create the possibility of humans moving into an evolutionary cul-de-sac. The deeper consequences of the legislation that the Committee are examining, I submit, need to be more fully examined. The preliminary consultation, to which I responded, was flawed in that it presumed the outcome before it posed the questions.

9. The effects of the proposed legislation the Committee are scrutinising will be regressive rather than progressive; the more effective way of achieving the latter would be for Parliament to commission a careful research programme and establish a broad based enquiry into the purpose and practice of marriage. For the institution of marriage which affects, one way or another, every person and community in this society nothing less serious is worth contemplating.

February 2013

Summary:

The proposed legislation being scrutinised by the Committee is regressive and will compromise the foundational institution of British society. This submission identifies how the three key building blocks of marriage are being redefined to mean the opposite of their universal understanding. Such a radical change requires much careful consultation and informed societal consent.

Prepared 27th February 2013