Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Steve Bow (MB 61)

Introduction and Summary

 

1. I am a Christian in my late twenties, with experience of traditional (Catholic and Anglican) and non-traditional (charismatic – New Frontiers, Equippers, Soul Survivor) churches. I hope to clarify some of the issues related to this Bill and give some context to the figures involved in considering these issues. The three sections I will cover are the democratic basis (or lack thereof) for the Bill, the uniform views of religious groups on marriage, and the application of the principle of equality with regards to marriage, which in fact supports maintaining the current law. I hope the evidence I put forward will enable you to make a fully informed decision on the progression of this Bill.

The (Un)Democratic Process

 

2. First of all, please recall the Consultation of March 2012, which, incredibly, did not ask whether the law should be changed, but how to change it, on the implicit assumption the decision to redefine marriage had already been made. This presumption has rightly been criticised, on the charge that the Government has no mandate to make this change. In fact, the argument expressed by the Government’s "Equal Marriage Mythbuster [1] " released to accompany the first reading of the Bill, supposedly demonstrating this objection is a myth, clearly shows that there is no mandate:

a. "The Conservative Party’s Contract for Equalities, published alongside its General Election Manifesto in 2010, set out clearly that we would consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage" (emphasis mine)

3. The Consultation document expressly was not intended to consider the case for changing the law, as its working basis was a presumption that the law would be changed. The Government has a mandate to consider, or consult on whether a change should be made, not to make a change without public approval.

4. Even given that the Consultation was not a consultation on the salient issue, 228,000 people responded, which according to the Government, is the largest ever response to a consultation. Of this number, 46% disagreed with Question 1, ("Do you agree or disagree with enabling all couples, regardless of their gender to have a civil marriage ceremony?"). The 513,000 additional petition signatures were ignored in the weighting:

a. "…the majority of responses to the Consultation (not including petitions) supported opening up marriage to same-sex couples." Equal marriage: The Government’s response, 2012, p6)

5. Had the petition signatures been included (reasonably assuming that they correspond to a "No" answer to question 1 of the Consultation), the results could have been as great as 84% opposed to the redefinition of marriage (617,000 opposed, 121,000 for). Even if we assume that all the "No" Consultation responses were accompanied by a corresponding petition signature and so ignore them all, this would still give us 69% in opposition to the change (513,000 opposed, 121,000 for). So the, at best, equivocal response of the public can be seen, upon closer examination, to reveal the majority of people (69-84%) were opposed to the Consultation’s fundamental tenet of same-sex marriage.

Religious Groups

 

6. It is clear the tensions around this issue arise from the severe conflict between the Government’s proposals and the teaching of the majority of religious groups. In the Government’s communication, much has been made of the support of the Unitarian Church, in a clear attempt to sell the illusion that the idea of same-sex marriage is only ambivalently opposed by religious groups. However, the Unitarian Church amounts to a membership of fewer than 4,000 people which is only 0.007% of population of England and Wales (source: Unitarian and free Christian Churches Annual Report 2011). The clear fact is that the majority of religious groups, representing the majority of religious members, stand side by side in opposition to same-sex marriage. The Catholic Church, the Church of England and the Muslim Council of Britain (2.7 million Muslims in Eng. & Wales, 35,700 in Hounslow, 2011 Census, ONS) all formally repudiated the redefinition suggested in the 2012 Consultation, affirming instead that marriage is between one man and one woman.

7. In my discussions with traditional (Catholic and Anglican) and non-traditional (Charismatic/Evangelical) Christians, the same themes and feelings are repeated:

a. that the moral teaching of the church down through the ages is being disregarded as bigoted,

b. that many MPs and members of public who conscientiously disagree with this Bill are scared to profess their honest objections in fear of being labelled bigots or even losing their employment,

c. that the Government does not take seriously any moral argument on the matter of marriage from the Church or any other religious group,

d. and that the Government are pushing through a law undemocratically. 

Equality

 

8. Finally, I would like to discuss the principle underlying the issue of same-sex marriage, which is probably well-summarised by the now-humorously cliché saying, "Political-Correctness gone mad". The principle is, of course, equality.

9. Supporters of the same-sex marriage Bill rally under the noble banner of equality, and it was from under this banner the proposals for same-sex marriage arose:

a. "During a listening exercise … in 2010… we heard representations from many who sought equal access to marriage for same-sex couples." - Equal civil marriage: a consultation (2012, p3)

10. However, let us look at how equality is defined, or rather, how it is refined:

a. "Equality is not about treating everyone the same" – Stonewall

11. So the well-known Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender lobby and support group Stonewall make clear that equality does not demand that everyone has the same treatment.

12. In light of this, the demand that same-sex couples be given admission to an institution that, by definition, excludes them, begins to look rather inconsistent with this principle of equality. Let us look at a further definition of equality:

13. "Equality… [is] about treating everyone as individuals with respect and consideration" – Stonewall

14. Does this Bill treat everyone with respect and consideration? Let us be clear, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill, seeks to radically redefine the meaning of marriage, in order to allow same-sex couples to partake in it. There are 21.2 million married in England & Wales and 104,000 in same-sex civil partnership (2011 Census, ONS). It is not expected or suggested that the numbers of same-sex marriages will significantly differ from civil partnerships. I have used a lot of figures so far, but in this instance, just as a picture paints a thousand words, a chart reveals the true scale of the comparison. In case the chart is not visible, people in same-sex civil partnerships make up a tiny 0.49% of those in marriages or civil partnerships. To redefine marriage in order to meet the philosophical needs of a group that makes up less than half a per cent of formalised relationships is grossly disproportionate:

15. Again, let us be clear, this Bill seeks to fundamentally redefine the meaning of the institution of marriage, an institution of over 20 million people, without their agreement and despite majority opposition to the Consultation document. A conservative interpretation of the 2012 Consultation suggests that at least 69% (14.6 million people) could be strongly opposed to such a move. Is the proposed Bill, redefining this age-old institution without the overwhelming consent, or even the majority approval of those who are already members, consistent with the principle of treating all with respect? This radical redefinition threatens to be foisted upon many millions, without consent, without mandate, and without a legitimate claim to equality.

February 2013


[1] I do suggest you read a copy of the “Mythbuster” document, which was provided to reassure the public about these proposals, and examine the “myths” yourself. The arguments “debunking” the “myths” are dubious at best, and blatant whitewashes at worst.

Prepared 27th February 2013