Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

3 February 2013

Why I’m opposed to the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill

The British government’s bill to legalise same-sex marriage in England and Wales – the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill – received its first reading (a formality) in the House of Commons the week before last and is due to receive its second, more significant, reading this coming Tuesday. The bill is likely to be passed into law during the course of the year, as the great majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs are thought to support it, and enough Conservative MPs appear to be in favour. Indeed, one article identified only 118 Tory MPs that were on record as opposing the measure, one of whom has said he will abstain. Nonetheless, this is a sizeable Conservative backbench rebellion and may wipe out any temporary kudos Mr Cameron may have gained from his recent speech promising a referendum on the EU.

I’m opposed to the Bill on two main grounds. Firstly, I believe it’s morally and ontologically wrong: there is, and can never be, any such thing as true same-sex marriage. The basis for this belief in my case is Christian faith, which teaches us that marriage is by definition the lifelong union of a man and a woman, a union which both symbolises and enacts the union between God and humanity in Christ. One of the intrinsic purposes – but not the exclusive purpose – of this union is the raising of children. It’s something both sacred – transcendent – and natural, in the way that Christ himself is both divine and human, and that all humanity is called to share in the divine love in Christ.

Therefore, on this basis, marriage actually is something: it’s a real state or condition, ordained by God, and not a mere socio-cultural convention or legal contract that we are free to modify as society and its mores change. One could as it were no longer have same-sex marriage as two persons of the same sex could naturally procreate.

Well, why not then introduce a form of secular, civic gay marriage that is legally distinct from religious or Christian marriage? That would in theory be a way round the religious objections. But the trouble is that English Law, owing to the establishment of the Church of England, makes no distinction between civic and religious marriage. This is in contrast to other jurisdictions on the Continent, such as France, where the legal form of marriage is civic, and anyone requiring a religious marriage has to have a separate religious ceremony additional to the civic wedding.

The stupid thing is that we could have had effectively a form of civic same-sex marriage simply by making a modest tweak to the law on civil partnerships: by enabling them to be referred to as ‘same-sex marriages’ as an alternative name to ‘civil partnerships’ in official and legal documents and contexts. Indeed, this seems to have been the intention of the Conservative Party in its ‘Contract for Equalities’ published just before the 2010 election as an annex to its manifesto. This stated: “We will also consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage”.

The government’s somewhat preposterous ‘myth buster’ about same-sex marriage tries to make out that this equates to a ‘mandate’ to introduce same-sex marriage. But there is no such pledge in the Contract for Equalities. On the contrary, that particular document talks about supporting civil partnerships and recognising them in the tax system as the way in which a Conservative government would advance the equality of gay people. The plan was to ensure that civil partners had the same rights as married partners, and that civil partnerships could formally be called ‘marriages’ while remaining legally civil partnerships. By contrast, the present Bill extends the existing institution of heterosexual marriage to same-sex couples while preserving civil partnerships for gay people only. This is not the same as was stated in the Contract for Equalities, nor is it especially egalitarian! And besides, only the manifesto is generally taken as setting out the commitments for which a party considers it has a mandate if elected into power, not a subsidiary annex that receives hardly any publicity during the dying days of an election campaign.

Now, ironically, the government has just announced that it will not give married couples a special tax break during the forthcoming financial year. This was a manifesto pledge, as was the commitment to recognise civil partnerships in the tax system. The obvious inference is that the government is delaying or reneging on this commitment because it knows it will be legally, or at least politically, obliged to extend any married-couples tax allowance to gay married partners as soon as the same-sex marriage passes into law. A pledge that was initially intended as a means to reward married couples and parents who stick together in adversity, and who thereby help reduce the huge social and financial costs of family break-up, would then be diverted into providing what most Tory voters would probably see as a completely unmerited tax break to gay couples, the great majority of whom are without the responsibilities of children.

This gives the lie to claims, including in the afore-mentioned ‘myth-buster’, that “the principles of long-term commitment and responsibility which underpin [marriage,] bind society together and make it stronger” are exactly the same in the case of straight and gay marriage. The life-long commitments to family – to each other’s families and to raising a family of their own – that a husband and wife make as part of traditional marriage are in no way equivalent to the merely long-term mutual commitment of a gay couple to one another, however much in love they may be at the time.

And this brings me to the second main reason why I oppose the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill: it depreciates and further undermines traditional, straight marriage, whether you see this institution as predominantly a religious thing, or as a universal phenomenon of human civilisation and cultures. True marriage – involving a lifelong commitment of a man and a woman to one another – is about so much more than the mutual commitment of two persons of the same gender, however beautiful and loving this can be in its own way. Marriage speaks to the nature of human beings as male and female: the two sexes as complementary to one another, and as having differing as well as mutual responsibilities towards one another. It involves the whole mystery and beauty of procreation and parenthood, and is what encapsulates and channels the primordial reproductive instinct into a cohesive social structure – the family – and gives it meaningful, ritualised and standardised forms of cultural expression: making it and us human in the process. It is about the rich, cultural meanings that have built up around the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, and ‘father’ and ‘mother’, and which are bound up with what I have just described.

And it is family that marriage is above all about. Marriage is the cornerstone and foundation of family, and not just in the purely causal sense of children deriving from exercising the conjugal rights. Marriage is essentially the glue that seals the family together at each generational link in the chain: it is what turns us into members of a family, and by extension of the human family and of society, as opposed to being mere random assemblages of competing genes. But there is absolutely nothing in the present draft of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill about the family. Indeed, the word occurs only once in the whole document in a legalistic point regarding the parental rights of a married or civil partner over his/her own children or those of his/her partner.

Apart from the fact the complete absence of any discussion of family from a bill that seeks to extend marriage to gay couples completely destroys any confidence that the bill has anything to do with authentic marriage, what message is this sending out to existing or aspiring straight married couples and their families? If the government will not recognise in law the interdependence of marriage and the family – as it has just refused to recognise it in the tax system – how is this going to encourage the sort of responsible, sustainable relationships between mature men and women that are needed to produce cohesive, caring families and communities?

And don’t even get me on to the fact that the bill completely evades any question of what constitutes the consummation of a gay marriage, for the obvious reason that gay unions cannot conform to the traditional definition of consummation as genital-penetrative sexual intercourse open to the possibility of conception. So are we to assume that there is no consummation test for marriage per se now, even for straight couples? I don’t think this is the case, although this is open to interpretation, it seems to me. The reason I don’t think it’s the case is that adultery within a same-sex union is defined by the bill as involving sexual relations only with someone of the opposite sex, not someone of the same sex. In other words, if there is no same-sex adultery because there can be no same-sex consummation in the first place (nothing officially being defined as gay ‘intercourse’ for the purpose of the bill), the fact that there is still heterosexual adultery implies that there is still such a thing as consummation of a straight union.

But not only is this not equal, and not fair in different ways to either gay or straight married couples; but it also gives the lie to the claim that gay marriage can also be equivalent to – the same as – straight marriage, existentially and socio-culturally. Same-sex marriage will not have the same meanings or the same role in society; and it will not have the same forms of expression or the same impact on gay married partners as marriage has traditionally had on straight couples.

The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill is therefore wrong on a number of levels. Same-sex marriage is a contradiction in terms: inauthentic as well as incoherently and inconsistently defined, if indeed it is at all, in the bill. It also involves an impoverishment of our understanding of the core meaning and importance of marriage, reducing it merely to a mutual, loving commitment by two persons, rather than as the cornerstone of the family and by extension of society as a whole.

And there is one last reason why this Bill, if it becomes law, may need to continue being opposed. This is that it relates to England and Wales only; and yet it is the UK parliament as a whole, including the 77 MPs from Scotland and Northern Ireland, that will be voting on it. The Bill may end up being another instance whereby a law relating only to England, or in this case England and Wales, relies on the votes of MPs representing constituents not affected by the legislation to be passed. This is all the more likely in this instance, in that 52 out of Scotland’s 59 MPs represent either the Labour Party or the Lib Dems. And these MPs will mostly vote in favour of the Bill, despite the fact that it does not relate to Scotland, and that a draft bill to legalise same-sex marriage has separately been presented to the Scottish parliament. Indeed, I’m tempted to think that one of the main reasons this particular shoddy Bill is being rushed through Parliament is that David Cameron wants to ensure that the UK parliament gets gay marriage on the statute book first, ahead of Scotland, in part to demonstrate to the people of Scotland that the Union can embody the so-called progressive values that supporters of Scottish independence feel could best be realised in a stand-alone Scotland.

Whatever the reasons the prime minister does have for cutting off his backbenchers to save his liberal-unionist face, you can rest assured that if this misplaced and ill-devised Bill does become law through the votes of MPs representing countries not addressed by it, this writer will not remain silent.

16 Comments »

  1. I see no reason at all why the whole population should be deprived of the option of having a same-sex marriage just because a small minority of it holds these impenetrable (not quite the right word in this context perhaps) semi-mystical views, based on nothing except adherence to some religious texts that mean nothing to most of us. To the limited extent that I can make head or tail of them, they seem to forbid heterosexual persons who are past child-bearing age, or who are infertile or impotent, or who choose not to have sex, from marrying anyone even of the opposite sex. Time to struggle somehow into the 21st century, I suggest. You’re welcome to your bizarre views, but there’s no justification for trying to inflict them on others who don’t share them by opposing a law that conflicts with them.

    Comment by Brian Barder — 3 February 2013 @ 11.33 am | Reply

    • Once again, Brian, you choose to completely misread the substance of what I’m saying. I didn’t say marriage is solely for the purpose of procreation, did I. In fact, I explicitly said it wasn’t. And my views aren’t “bizarre”: they’re mainstream Christian. In any case, I thought it wasn’t the “whole population” that stood to be deprived of same-sex marriage, only the very small proportion of the population (might I suggest, very much smaller than those who hold traditional religious beliefs) that would wish to avail themselves of such an entitlement.

      Comment by David — 3 February 2013 @ 6.04 pm | Reply

  2. Some points. First of all, the bible is not a reliable guide to what marriage should be. There are many cases in the Bible where men (like Solomon) had several wives. Also the Bible subscribed to the sexist notion that the wife was property of the husband. Which leads onto the second point that just because something is tradition doesn’t make it right.

    If marriage is based on the Christian faith then are non-Christians allowed to get married? If marriage is solely for the purpose of raising children then are infertile people allowed to marry? Should people get divorced once their children are grown? What about couples who don’t want children? Or maybe marriage is about something more, maybe its about love?

    Listen, if two men or two women want to marry, that doesn’t harm you or anyone else in anyway, so why stop it?

    Comment by Robert Nielsen — 3 February 2013 @ 4.58 pm | Reply

    • You make preposterous statements and raise ridiculous questions about marriage and the Bible that have nothing to do with what I wrote in the article, and very little to do with my understanding of Christian faith. With reference to your last sentence, my response would be: I disagree that two people of the same gender can marry, in the true sense of the word. But insofar as Parliament chooses to institute same-sex marriage, I do regard this as harmful to society, yes, for the reasons I stated: it depreciates and diminishes true manage, to the detriment of the many couples that are trying to live it out in the face of adversity, while misleading the young about the true meaning of any marriage undertakings they might be thinking of entering into.

      Comment by David — 3 February 2013 @ 6.09 pm | Reply

      • I’m sorry but what? How can you call me preposterous after your final sentence? How does more people getting married “diminish” marriage? How is same-sex marriage to the “detriment” of other couples? Just because two gay people are getting married doesn’t make it harder for straight couples to do anything. How would it? Finally, I thought the true meaning of marriage was love, but perhaps I’ve already been mislead by the same-sex partnership that exists here in Ireland.

        Comment by Robert Nielsen — 3 February 2013 @ 6.24 pm

    • These are good questions. Solomon went on to regret and repented from the way he lived his life, read Ecclesiastes. The BIble says that men and women are image bearers of God, made with equal, value dignity and worth. According to the Bible men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church in that he gave himself to it. So in truth in the Bible you have the very highest sacrificial non-sexist attitude to the relationship between a man and a woman (I can give you the verses if you like). Non-christians are allowed to and choose marriage because it is recognised as the safe place, a sanctuary for men and women to love and enjoy one another. Marriage, family, commitment, unconditional love, protection, provision, unity, love and harmony are the honourable hopes for marriage (I’ve been married long enough to know those require a lifetime commitment and my wife and I are work in progress). If you want to know why not change the definition of marriage to endorse the behaviour of men being sexually active with other men look around at conditions of our society as we have rapidly allowed marriage to fracture over the last sixty years. We are at a pivotal point when we should be looking to strengthen marriage between a man and a woman, invest and encourage it, help and equip people to build strong marriage for each other’s sake and importantly for the sake of their children and children’s children. Our society is founded on family, heterosexual unions within marriage, as we see marriage decay, we see our society decaying and with it the hopes for our children. Better not to ask what harm does it do but what benefits are there in strengthening heterosexual marriage.

      Comment by creditaction — 3 February 2013 @ 6.26 pm | Reply

      • The Bible also says “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (1st Timothy 2:11-5) So I don’t think the bible should be guide in making decisions. I think you might be mistaken in what the Bible says about marriage because Ephesians 5:22-5 says “Wives submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.” So no the Bible is sexist.

        I fail to see how same-sex marriage (which has only been an issue for the last 5 or so years) is responsible for the last 60 years of societal change. (What exactly do you want me to see when I look around?) Surely by letting more people marry, that will strengthen marriage? How does two men marrying weaken my (hypothetical) marriage? The reason society is based on heterosexual marriage is because all other kinds are illegal. Bit of a fail there.

        You keep mentioning that we need to strengthen marriage but you never explain how blocking same-sex marriage will do so.

        Comment by Robert Nielsen — 3 February 2013 @ 6.39 pm

  3. Consummating marriage requires genital penetrative sexual intercourse that is open to conception. That in no way discounts the infertile or older heterosexual couples (conception may be less likely but nature routinely surprises us). It is thoroughly 21st century and if mankind is around long enough I am sure will stretch into the 22nd century that a man and woman are designed to mould together beautifully. Making love with your spouse is the most intimate, precious and trusting place and is purposed to be enjoyed within the safe and secure confines of a heterosexual covenant marriage. This is for the sensible protection of the man and the woman for proven physical, spiritual and emotional reasons.

    Comment by creditaction — 3 February 2013 @ 5.49 pm | Reply

    • I don’t know where you got the idea that the true test of marriage is penetration, but it definitely wasn’t the 21st century. Yeah sex is great, but its not the most important part of marriage.

      Comment by Robert Nielsen — 3 February 2013 @ 6.27 pm | Reply

      • You need help with your hermeneutic so you can harmonise Scripture. To understand the Bible’s direction and guidance on the relationship between a man and a woman in marriage you need the whole Bible. You are doing what is called ‘proof texting’. You’re missing context. The BIble is clear about the equality between men and women but they have different roles. Women play key roles throughout the Scripture, from Sarah, through Ruth and Esther to Pricilla. However, I am sure if you really wanted to understand the BIble you would not be taking the stance you are. Marriages have to consummated that’s all and you need a man and a woman to achieve that.

        Comment by creditaction — 3 February 2013 @ 7.13 pm

    • Actually most women in the Bible aren’t even named and rarely play a role or even get a mention. Not what I’d call gender equality. If reading the entire Bible is a pre-requisite to a debate than you might as well not debate anyone, because you’ll find few who’ve done it. I find it strange that you claim the Bible will convince me, because I have found that there is no book more likely to make someone lose their faith than the Bible

      Comment by Robert Nielsen — 3 February 2013 @ 10.29 pm | Reply

      • You can’t persuade someone of the accuracy of a maths puzzle if they don’t understand the laws of maths and refuse to learn them. However, I can inform them that 2+2=4 and gently invite them to study the justification for that. All I can do is mention the error in your understanding of the Bible and point you, lovingly, to a better understanding. John Dickson’s book, the Life of Jesus, is an examination of the historical context and authenticity of the biblical accounts and is a great starting place for a secular understanding of the most reliable ancient records known to mankind.

        Comment by creditaction — 4 February 2013 @ 3.38 pm

  4. This is as good a commentary on the importance of – and the decay thereafter – of marriage. Regardless of its religious implications, it had merit in acting as a bond between man and wife, as well providing a perceived secure environment for the children. I believe it has been the backbone of a stable society. Great article, David, and I agree with your comments, too, ‘creditaction’. I’m going to save this article, and cite it when I myself try and explain its destruction, and resulting increasingly hedonistic, narcissistic, emotional society. Same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce, family courts – all completely responsible for turning marriage into a joke, and not worth the paper its written on anymore.

    Comment by Scott Stevens (@ThatSkochyBloke) — 3 February 2013 @ 8.24 pm | Reply

  5. There is no god. Therefore the bible is not true. Simple. Now you may believe that there is a god and believe that the bible is true and you are entitled to live your life as though these falsehoods are true and I would support you in that. I will not however support you to frame laws that are based on the falsehood which is your belief in god.

    Comment by Fishstik — 23 February 2013 @ 5.17 pm | Reply

    • You know that for sure, do you? And even if what you say is true, there are still arguments for opposing gay marriage based on recognising the importance of traditional marriage for society and the family.

      Comment by David — 4 March 2013 @ 9.27 am | Reply

      • That’s a fair question David. For of course to deny God requires the possession of ultimate knowledge. I am willing to tolerate such an unscientific worldview, however, I retain the right to demonstrate how foolish it is. I would welcome the opportunity to show Fishtik how easy it is to prove God’s existence beyond a shadow of doubt.

        The issue is that we have allowed people with such arrogant claims into government to frame our laws. The consequences manifest themselves in what we teach children in schools, the redefinition of terms that have stood throughout human history, the endorsement of quick, easy breaking of supposedly lifelong covenants, and the glib acceptance of killing children in the one place that should be the safest place of all – the womb.

        Sex is a wonderful gift, to be enjoyed within the safety and security of a covenant relationship between a man and a woman. The traditional family model, when pursued, diligently and in love: ‘to have and to hold, for richer and poorer, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, until death us do part so help me God'; is the proven model. Without children it leads to healthy, monogamous, faithfulness, and if all is well and the commitment and desire is there, it can produce children. A man has as much chance of making another man pregnant as an aardvark has of making a mongoose pregnant. You require no great intellect to get it, no in depth scientific research, no high brow political philosophy, it’s simple common sense. It’s about design. Look at the design and you’ll answer the question, what is the wise think to do? http://www.thewisethingtodo.wordpress.com

        Comment by creditaction — 4 March 2013 @ 11.56 am


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