Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Dr Clare Greed (MB 82

Throwing the Laity to the Lions

SUMMARY: Whilst the quadruple lock protects the conscience and beliefs of the clergy it disregards the rights of the laity that is those ordinary working people who cannot subscribe to the principle of same sex marriage. The Bill needs to include ‘adequate accommodation’ and ‘opt out’ provisions to cover the general population not just the religious elite.

1. I have watched all the BBC Parliament transmissions covering the committees held to discuss the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, read all the relevant legislation and proposed legislation, and wish to offer some feedback. I am commenting on these matters from a personal perspective, not that of the organisations to which I belong. I am Emerita Professor of Inclusive Urban Planning, Bristol, having recently taken retirement. I have for many years researched, campaigned and published on how to mainstream equality issues into urban policy making, with particular reference to gender (Greed, 2005). I am a member of the Construction Industry Council, diversity panel and RTPI UK gender representative with the Commonwealth Association of Planners, and have been involved in many equality and diversity projects and committees over the years. Diversity issues intersect and cross cut each other in an individual’s life and within society; as we are not mono-dimensional beings, and cannot be reduced just to our gender, sexuality or class, without reference to our beliefs and culture. My main research has been on ‘planning for the city of everyday life’. I am concerned with how the planning system deals with the components of everyday life such as local amenities, public transport and church buildings Whilst my main interest is in urban strategic policy making, I have been better known because of my campaign for public toilet provision, a very practical topic which manifests so many of the paradoxes and debates within the diversity agenda (Greed,2003). I have given evidence to Parliamentary committees, been a member of various DCLG committees, and a member of the code-setting British Standards committee 6465 on Sanitary Installations.

2. In this submission, I want to raise equality concerns, rather than citing legal detail which have been stated by others and recorded in the committee minutes. I will make comparisons between the gay toilets and gay marriage debates so we can see the issues from a wider perspective. Both are heavily contested spaces. People of all sorts of people share the same facilities within toilets, and ‘all human life is there’ with gender and sexuality being key dimensions (Molotch and Noren, 2010). Increasingly I have got involved in the ‘gay toilets debate’ and the questions of whether toilet provision should be mixed or separated on the basis of gender, sexuality, age, disability and so forth (Cavanagh,2010; Greed et al,2012). There are clear parallels with accommodating everyone within the institution of marriage, yet respecting the differences particularly in relation to gender, sexuality and religion. I do not represent any particular church, but I am concerned about the way the Bill is going, as a free thinker, a feminist, and a Christian. I realise this is a heady mixture but the secret of true diversity individually and in society, is to be aware of the contradictions and potential conflicts and still keep all the balls in the air. As to political affiliation I have voted for a range of different parties over the years, and have explored all the ideologies across the spectrum from Left to Right, from Red to Blue, from Green to Pink, and wish we could take the good bits of each and make a new party.

3. Regarding the Bill, I have had a lengthy and encouraging correspondence with my local MP Dr Liam Fox and met with him a week ago to discuss our shared concerns. Whilst the Bill promotes the rights of the clergy to be guided by their conscience and beliefs, even allowing them to opt out of undertaking gay marriage services, there is no commensurate provision for the laity, or for that matter for the general public, or the workforce, most of whom are not churchgoers but may still hold strong beliefs. Thus the provisions of the Bill seem to be deeply unequal, classist, elitist and discriminatory towards non-clergy, that is the rest of the population. In spite of the all the reassurances given by the committee, many public sector employees do not have a senior QC on hand if their poorly-informed bosses exceed the law in their enthusiasm for the PSED and condemn them for being guided by their religious beliefs.

4. I am also concerned about the unrepresentative nature of the statistics given, the opinion polls undertaken and the composition of the committee and the witnesses called. The Government statistics on those in favour were based upon surveys of very low numbers, which would be considered statistically insignificant if this were Research-Council funded research. The internet-based polls were alarmingly ‘open’ with little supervision or recording of ‘who’ was voting, with no requirement for participants to state whether they were UK voters, and no control on how many times respondents voted. Many ordinary people did not think to vote on the internet and they were unaware this plebiscite was taking place. The recent shambles regarding the Police Commissioners elections shows that unless people get a proper leaflet through their letter box they do not realise anything ‘important’ is happening.

5. Another worrying issue is the nature of the questions asked that resulted in the government imagining that a majority of the population are in favour. The 600,000 strong petition against gay marriage organised by one Christian organisation was dismissed as being loaded with leading questions. But the Government’s methodology is even more suspect in terms of the nature of the questions asked. The postbag of many MPs has been overwhelming against but such results have often been dismissed as being provincial, suburban and unrepresentative.

6. I was concerned to find that the witnesses called were not representative of the main religious groups in society. Where were the Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Moslems, and the mainstream Jewish organisations? Liberal Jews and Quakers together comprise around 30,000 people, far less than the 40,000 state school teachers who have expressed concern about the Bill. The Church of England was predictably conciliatory (Anglicans being masters of the arts of compromise) and their spokesmen were not representative of either the Evangelical or Anglo-Catholic majorities therein. The Roman Catholics came over more forcefully. The committee composition itself appeared heavily loaded towards pro-gay marriage, in spite of the majority of the Conservatives voting against the Bill. Dr Fox would have been an ideal committee member but he is caught up in dealing with Defence issues.

7. My main concern is the lack of protection of ‘belief’ and ‘freedom of conscience’ amongst people who are Christian, Moslem and of other faiths, or who hold personal views or doctrinal beliefs that would not enable them, in good conscience, to condone same sex marriage. Thus employee rights, and indeed self-employed rights are poorly served by this Bill. Being used to balancing a range of rights and laws, in my own policy research work, it seems to me that is assumed to ‘gay marriage’ rights trump or trounce, all other equality rights and considerations. Contrary to the Equality Act, and other UK, EU and UN Directives, (Article 9 and so forth) which make religion a human right, and belief a protected category, there is a clear political pecking order as to which rights count more than others and a disturbingly illiberal, totalitarian attitude towards the beliefs of people of faith.

8. Let me digress, by way of illustration, into the parallel world of public toilets in relation to gender and gay issues as we may learn something on how to deal with gay marriage in a way that inconveniences no-one. Public toilets are one of the last bastions of extreme gender inequality; women still have less than half the provision of men. But this is not considered a major human rights violation but just a joke. Inadequate toilet provision has major racial and religious implications too. Few people have ever heard of Gwendolyn Jenkins, who was arrested in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi for daring to try to use the white women’s toilet in the days of segregation, but she is not recognised to be as important as Rosa Parkes (whose example is often mentioned to support gay rights, forgetting she was actually a conservative Christian). In my travels, I still see such inequality at the global scale, as women are strongly discriminated against in relation to toilet provision and for example in Sub-Sahara Africa 50% of girls give up school because of lack of toilet provision when they are menstruating. But these issues are not seen as serious human rights issues but as a rather eccentric amusing anecdote.

9. Over 52% of the world’s and the UK’s population is female and yet ‘gender’ is not sexy enough for anyone to bring in serious legislation to reduce such practical, daily inequalities, even though both gender equality and sanitation are key issues in the Millennium Development Goals requirements to which all UN member states are subject. In contrast, statistically, around 5 % of the UK population identifying themselves as gay (Doan,2011, a reference from my own field) with around 50,000 civic partnerships taking place each year, and around 1% of households comprising gay couples and around 1 in 30,000 men and 1 in 100,000 women are transgender. Whilst many women and disabled people find there is inadequate provision for them, under gay pressure, some local authorities are now de-gendering public toilets (as in Brighton, but also in several North American cities such as Toronto and parts of New York) to accommodate gay people. Granted many gay people experience extreme homophobia if they are thought to use the ‘wrong toilet’. From the research we have always said that those people who are ‘mid-operation’ in terms of gender reassignment should have safe, clean toilet private toilet provision away from prying eyes. I have always tried to speak up for all groups, including gay people, who are adversely affected by inadequate provision, with the proviso that adequate provision must be maintained (or in the case of women increased) in a sensitive manner that benefit everyone else too. Abolishing male and female demarcations makes many women very uneasy for personal safety and modesty reasons, further compounding the lack of provision they already experience. Everyone has the right to have adequate facilities and services, provided it does not impinge on other people’s rights and beliefs, whether it be toilets, marriages, housing, hotels, schools or whatever. So a balance of rights and duties is essential be it loos or marriage.

10. The secret to dealing with the concerns about the gay marriage issue, in the words of one of your committee members, is to make ‘adequate accommodation’ and to provide greater opt-out provisions and flexibility for laity as well as priests. The Netherlands has introduced the principle of adequate accommodation within its Emancipatory Laws, significantly, the country where pillarisation developed, which enabled different church denominations and social groups to live side by side within their own space without impinging on the beliefs of the other. Live and let live. This approach shows a more sophisticated approach to the balance of human rights, and demonstrates the principle of proportionality. The alternative is to denigrate everyone else’s deeply held beliefs and overnight to criminalise ordinary workers and people who do not go along with the beliefs behind the Act. There have been several high-profile cases of Christians being unwilling as registrars, teachers, nurses, and other public sector workers, to acquiesce to the harsher requirements of the PSED regarding gay marriage. Case law has already shown the weaknesses in protecting the religious beliefs of individuals against equality-related employment law, as epitomised by Lillian Ladele the Registrar. Furthermore there are thousands of other employees who are uneasy about ‘promoting’ gay marriage as school teachers.

11. Now there would be a right old fuss if the Equality laws were taken to mean that in state schools belief and religion (which are also protected categories) must be actively promoted and anyone who did not ‘believe’ would be fired! But in reality religion and belief have very little weight amongst the other equality issues. In research on balancing ‘God and Gender’ on the implications of secularisation and equality measures on urban expressions of religion it was found that both the Bible and the Koran narrowly escaped being rendered illegal under the PSED (Greed, 2010). An element of flexibility, accommodation and understanding needs to be introduced, particularly at workplace level. In the past secular society was characterised by relativism, humane humanism and a lack of absolutes. Gay issues were a matter of sociological debate, personal preference and academic discussion not Stalinist laws. It would seem that the committee is of the view that there is only one right answer and it is theirs, introducing a new form of religious fundamentalism based on gay tenets. So why should your ‘absolute beliefs’ trump mine? Why is your religion truer than mine? On what authority are you intervening in theological doctrine, sociological debate and church business? In the past, as one of your witnesses attested, many women, gay people and others saw marriage as a prison. Only 1 in 5 gay people are in single-person relationships. Do all gay people want gay marriage? As we found from public toilet research many gay men are not ‘out’ and some find public toilets one of the few neutral public spaces where they can meet other men for sex. Since many are already in straight marriages the issue of gay marriage does nothing to help them.

12. Nowadays gay issues have become very respectable and middle class, and have lost both their revolutionary fervour, and gay marriage is all the rage. This is all rather quaint and old-fashioned. The angry young men of each generation always become the respectable establishment leaders of the next, whether they started off as socialists, environmentalists or gay activities. In contrast many believe that ‘religion is the new Marxism’ as we move into the new post-secular age, in which debates about sexuality becomes all rather irrelevant for the younger generation. Many people have other issues to deal with such as unemployment, lack of housing, and poor public transport and so they are bewildered why the government is using up legislative time on this Bill.

13. This brings us back to the question of what are the implications of having a belief or a religion in the public sphere. For Christians and the other main religions, a person’s belief cannot be contained or restricted to church buildings or ceremonies. A Christian life requires that all aspects of a person’s work, family life, culture and activities are an outworking of their faith. This is why I find the Bill so discriminatory in that it restricts religious freedom only to what happens within church buildings. In Pentecostalism, a clear principle is that the Four Square Gospel affects mind, body, soul and spirit. There is little place for individual pietism, as true religion should be manifested in the social, economic, physical and political arenas. I cannot relate to what I would see as traditional clergy, mainly male and middle class, hiding behind their quadruple lock, whilst they throw their laity to lions of authoritarianism, secularisation and christophobia in the workplace. The use of buildings for worship will also be affected, if congregations are refused permission to hire out school and community halls for worship. Likewise Christian charities and church Trust Deeds will be adversely affected. As for planning law research, already there is a high level of refusal for church-building related applications - which is racist - as it affects growing Black Pentecostal congregations disproportionately (Greed, 2011).

14. Therefore there needs to be provision in the Bill which acknowledges the existing rights of individuals to freedom of conscience and belief. These factors inform the laity’s lives, especially at work, and affect the use of the whole built environment. In implementing gay marriage, please do not trample over the beliefs and conscience of large numbers of people, in order to impose the personal beliefs of a small minority upon society, by applying a ‘one size fits all’ approach to marriage. Find a more sophisticated less totalitarian way of solving this problem to the satisfaction of all citizens. Make provision in the Bill that enables people to exercise discretion, tolerance and flexibility towards the beliefs of others, as not everyone holds the same personal beliefs as you. Unless revisions are made, its operation is likely to be classist, sexist and racist because of its emphasis upon only protecting the rights of the established clergy and not protecting the rights of ordinary people. Have a proper referendum too!

March 2013


Cavanagh, S .(2010) Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality and the Hygienic Imagination, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Doan, P. ( ed ) (2011) Queering Planning: Challenging Hetero normative Assumptions and Reframing Planning Practice , Farnham: Ashgate .

Greed, C (2003) Inclusive Urban Design: Public Toilets ,Oxford: Architectural Press.

Greed, C (2005) 'Overcoming the factors inhibiting the mainstreaming of gender into spatial planning policy in the United Kingdom, ' Urban Studies Vol.42, No.4, p1-31.

Greed, C (2011) ‘A feminist critique of the post secular city: God and gender’ chapter 6 in Justin Beaumont and Chris Baker (eds) Post Secular Cities: Space, Theory and Practice, London: Continuum.

Greed, C et al (2012) Review Symposium of Cavanagh’s book, Queering Bathrooms: Gender Sexuality and the Hygienic Imagination, for Gender, Place and Culture, Vol 19, No 4, August, pp 545-547 arising from the Session on Queer at the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference, 2011.

Molotch, H. and Noren, L. (2010) Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, New York: New York University Press.

Prepared 6th March 2013