Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Rev John Hibberd (MB 98)

Credentials for submitting comments

I write as a minister in the Church of England, engaged therefore in marriages and weddings. I also speak and write on moral issues and on the relationship between science and faith


My main arguments against this legislation are as follows:

1. It seeks to redefine marriage in a way that is contrary to the understanding of all cultures across all time; thus it tries to make ‘marriage’ mean something that it simply does not mean.

2. It has been introduced undemocratically, not announced in any party manifesto or the Queen’s Speech and is therefore being foisted on the nation.

3. It is claimed that it is being done to ‘give equality’. This is based on an erroneous redefinition of marriage and is also unnecessary, given the civil partnership legislation.

4. It is claimed that it will ‘strengthen marriage’ when in fact statistics from countries with similar legislation flatly contradict this claim.

5. Redefining marriage will open a Pandora’s Box of legislative issues.

My arguments

1. The redefinition of marriage

Marriage simply means the union of a man and a woman. This is a universal understanding, not unique to Christianity or even to religious groups. It is a given that men and women marry and that this is integral to the furtherance of our species. In other words, there is an argument from Darwinian evolution here. Homosexual union cannot be given the same status for, if nothing else, it is an evolutionary dead-end. Whatever may be claimed about its origins, same-sex attraction must be viewed as a lifestyle choice. It is true that heterosexual people are free to choice to marry or not to marry but if they marry, then this can be rightly said (from a biological perspective) to be called ‘the norm’ in a way that same-sex union cannot.

This understanding of heterosexual union as the norm and as the meaning of marriage is not lightly to be ignored. I do not believe that any single government has the right to re-define it, as this current legislation proposed to do. This is nothing short of Orwellian Newspeak and it cuts across the rights of the majority of people in this country who believe that marriage should continue to be defined by its commonly held cultural values.

There is another factor to be borne in mind. If you allow homosexual relationships to be defined as marriage, then what is to stop people lobbying for other combinations? For example, Muslims are free to marry up to four wives elsewhere in the world. Will they not lobby for that here, especially given their abhorrence for the proposed legislation? And what about two men with one woman, or vice versa? How could this be defined as any more ‘unnatural’ than what is being proposed? You will leave yourselves at the mercy of very arbitrary moral reasoning.

2. An undemocratic innovation

I am not sure that I need to make much more of an argument here than I have given in my extract. The main thing to stress is that this has been sprung on us without warning and it is not a small thing. People feel deeply about this issue. It attacks a core unit / institution of our society which we believe will be a desperately sad loss.

3. The equality argument

I simply do not believe that same-sex relationships need the title ‘marriage’ to make them equal to other relationships. The legislation on civil unions extended a number of key protections to same-sex couples, analogous to the laws that protect parties in heterosexual marriages. To call same-sex relationships ‘marriages’ – which they are not (see above) – is unnecessary; it simply causes offence to those who do have a high regard for marriage.

4 Strengthening marriage

This claim, bandied about by David Cameron and also alluded to in a letter to me by my MP, Andrew Lansley, is shown to be false by statistics from countries that have introduced similar legislation. I will not repeat the statistics here, as they are readily available.

5 The effect on UK legislation

It is widely recognised that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will require the overhaul of something like 2000-3000 laws on our statute books. For example, there is the problem of defining adultery or consummation, due to the difficulty of saying exactly what these mean in same-sex relationships. Due to equality legislation, this will mean rethinking how to apply these things to heterosexual relationships so as not to be discriminatory against them. In schools, sex education will have to be amended if marriage is redefined and this will have knock-on effects for teachers who do not agree with teaching this. The government has been keen to talk about protecting the conscience of Church of England ministers by agreeing that same-sex marriages will not be able to be performed in Anglican churches but this leaves out a lot of other people who will be affected, such as the afore-mentioned teachers. I have a friend who leads a Baptist church that is independent, not part of the Baptist Union. His comment is that they may have to stop performing weddings altogether because they could be in breach of discrimination laws if they refused a same-sex wedding since they do not fall under the umbrella of a denomination that is protected from this. Thus the change of one law will generate a legal minefield as well as massive costs and bureaucracy in changing hundreds, if not thousands, of others. It will also represent yet another movement away from a moral framework that has stood us well towards a society full of relativized values.

This legislation is folly. It is unnecessary, unwelcome and undemocratic; above all it seeks to extend the term ‘marriage’ to something that plainly is not a marriage. I urge this Parliamentary Committee to advise Her Majesty’s Government that it is unworkable and wrong.

March 2013

Prepared 8th March 2013