Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Judith Willcox (MB 77)

I have a marriage of 32 years' standing and have raised two children. In the course of a long career as a legal adviser in a Magistrates Court and also since retirement as a volunteer debt adviser I have had many opportunities to observe what might be called ordinary families under stress in this country.

I have many grave concerns about the proposed legislation to redefine marriage so as to make it available to same sex couples. My concerns centre firstly on the disregard for democratic process that has characterised the progress of this Bill and the consultation process leading up to it.

I am also concerned at the lack of evidence to support the contention that this legislation will benefit our society, particularly in the light of the experience of other countries that have followed this route.

I also take issue with the assumptions being made by those who support this Bill, and am concerned at its likely consequences.

1. Undemocratic

This proposal was not in any Manifesto, nor in the Coalition Agreement. It is being rushed through Parliament ahead of manifesto commitments and after a consultation process that can hardly be dignified with the name. The consultation was wide open to abuse, and there is no evidence ( nor as far as I am aware, even any enquiry made ) that abuse did not in fact happen. Any consultation that receives anonymous submissions without limit on the number of submissions each person can make or indeed even a limit on being in the UK cannot in my view claim to be a reliable indicator of feeling in this country. Furthermore no account was taken of the C4M petition of over 600,000 signatures opposing the redefinition of marriage even though an assurance was given that that it would be taken into account.

2. Questionable Benefits

The social benefits that it is claimed will flow from redefining marriage are assumed rather than evidence-based. There is a huge amount of evidence from many sources that a stable marriage tends to be an environment where children can flourish. Children may no doubt also do well in other models of family life but this cannot yet be taken as axiomatic. It is premature to accord equal protection and validity under the law to experimental social family groupings which have not proved their benefit either to any children involved, or to society. The assumption behind these proposals appears to be that marriage can be defined solely in terms of a voluntary commitment between two adults. The validity and value of marriage as an environment

for the raising of children has been left out of the equation altogether.

3.Other Countries’ Experience

In other countries where same-sex marriage has been legalised, (Spain and the Netherlands) the number of marriages has fallen, which suggests to me that the benefits being claimed are not likely to be realised.

There is also evidence from other countries to suggest that redefining marriage in this way will only be a first step: for example in Mexico there is now a legal form of marriage lasting for a set period only (2 years); in Canada there are demands for marriages between more than two parties to be made legal. Are we as a society really prepared for our Parliament to become embroiled in questions of this sort at a time of financial crisis and social hardship?

4.Abolition of Adultery

The proposal that adultery will not apply to same-sex married couples introduces in effect different marriage obligations for different types of marriage partner. This is unsustainable (in view of anti-discrimination legislation) and an illogicality, especially in view of the assumption that marriage is only about commitment between the partners.

5.Consequences for Advocates of Marriage

There are considerable doubts about the position of churches which do not wish to conduct marriages between same-sex couples, also teachers and others especially in the public sector whose conscientious objections on the subject may displease their employers. The government's "quadruple lock" cannot possibly guarantee that such people do not fall foul of the European court. There have already been many situations where it was thought that domestic law would give adequate protection but the European court has decreed otherwise. This legislation will endanger the freedom of conscience of many hard-working and principled people.

February 2013

Prepared 4th March 2013