When is a consultation not a consultation?

Unsurprisingly, yesterday’s launch of the Government’s ‘consultation’ on gay marriage didn’t do down well in most Christian quarters.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Government is making it clear that it has already decided that same-sex marriage will become legal.  This makes it hard to understand why they are even bothering to have a consultation and what they are trying to achieve through it.  Here are some opinions:

‘The Government consultation on same-sex ‘marriage’ makes a mockery of democracy and will ignore overwhelming public demand to keep marriage as it is – a union between a man and a woman.

A recent survey shows 70 per cent of the population don’t want marriage to be redefined, yet the Government says, in its consultation paper, it will not listen to majority opinion.

It states that however strong the opposition is to same-sex ‘marriage’, the number of respondents will not influence the outcome. This represents a blatant acknowledgement by the Government that it is only going through the motions with this consultation.

Over 200,000 people have, in less than three weeks, signed a Coalition for Marriage petition against changes to marriage. The Government appears intent on ignoring such high levels of public opinion from across society and is seeking to force through a redefinition of marriage as a done deal.

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance said: “When is a consultation not a consultation? The Government’s attempt to ignore public opinion about marriage has been a feature of their proposals from the outset. With 70 per cent of the population against marriage being redefined, it seems that politics is yet again falling short of what people want and is bringing the entire democratic process into disrepute.

“Changes to marriage are wanted only by a small, political elite and a few activist groups. It is clear that there is no public appetite for it so politicians should keep their hands off marriage and listen to what the country wants.”’ (Evangelical Alliance)

‘The Government launched its consultation on redefining marriage today. Not content with trying to change the meaning of “marriage”, now they’re trying to redefine the meaning of “consultation”.

Consultation means listening to people before making up your mind. But Lynne Featherstone has a new definition – she is going to bulldoze ahead with the plans whether the public like it or not. Some consultation.

Yes, she’ll ask the public if they agree. But she says she’s already determined to push on. Asking isn’t the same as listening – unless the meaning of those words has been redefined too.

This consultation is a sham. It is being pushed through despite the public never having a say on this change. None of the main political parties proposed redefining marriage in their manifestos and the impact assessment misses out many of the possible problems that could occur if this institution is redefined, for example how this change will affect our schools.

The institution of marriage is not the play thing of the state, it belongs to society and therefore cannot be redefined by a few politicians obsessed with appearing ‘trendy’ and ‘progressive’.’ (Coalition for Marriage)

The Church of England supports the way civil partnerships offer same-sex couples equal rights and responsibilities to married heterosexual couples.  Opening marriage to same-sex couples would confer few if any new legal rights on the part of those already in a civil partnership, yet would require multiple changes to law, with the definition of marriage having to change for everyone.

The issue of whether marriage should be redefined to include those of the same-sex is a more complicated picture than has been painted.  Arguments that suggest ‘religious marriage’ is separate and different from ‘civil marriage’, and will not be affected by the proposed redefinition, misunderstand the legal nature of marriage in this country. They mistake the form of the ceremony for the institution itself.

Currently, the legal institution of marriage into which people enter is the same whether they marry using a civil or a religious form of ceremony. And arguments that seek to treat ‘religious marriage’ as being a different institution fail to recognise the enduring place of the established church in providing marriages that have full state recognition. The Church of England will continue to argue against changing the definition of marriage, which has supported society for so long. (Church of England)

I do wonder where the Government is going with this exercise.  I’ve been in situations in different jobs where the management has asked for the views of the staff on an issue affecting the organisation only to then ignore what has often been a majority view and do something completely different.  All that achieves is to stir up resentment, frustration and a feeling of disempowerment.  I can see the same happening here.  We are supposed to be living in a democracy, but just at the moment I’m starting to question what that actually means.



Categories: Government, Homosexuality, Marriage

Tags: , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. Like much of the Government’s proposed contentious legislation, very little of it was either in party manifestos or in the Coalition Agreement, including this change to the Marriage Act. When Civil Partnerships became law they should have been made available to all couples regardless of gender or persuasion with changes necessary for inheritance and next of kin recognition status enshrined in law. This would have ensured equality for all before the civil law, leaving those who wanted to a religous blessing to have one seperately. This is by and large how the law works in France; the formal part takes place in the Town Hall or other civic building with a religous ceremony to follow for those that want it.

    For those undertaking a religous ceremony in the UK in a non CofE Church, currently there has to be a civic ceremony performed by a registrar before the religous one takes place, whether it be a Catholic Church, Mosque, Temple or Synagogue. This part of the law would I imagine remain unchanged.

    The Government has said religous institutions will not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. However, I fear that this will at some point be challenged by the same minority voices advocating them. I suspect even now, there are lawyers busily scrutinising the Equality and Human Rights legislation for any obscure clause or section which will provide sufficient basis for a legal challenge; once the Government has arbitarily decided to introduce the necessary legislation to legalise same-sex unions, regardless of the majority views of the population, both religous and non-religous alike.

    • “This would have ensured equality for all before the civil law, leaving those who wanted to a religous blessing to have one seperately. ” It already exsists for heterosexual couples. Its called a Civil Wedding.

      • “This would have ensured equality for all before the civil law, leaving those who wanted to a religous blessing to have one seperately.
        ” It already exsists for heterosexual couples. Its called a Civil Wedding.

        What about those hetrosexual couples who do not wish to be married but want their relationship to be recognised by the state particularly with regards to next of kin status?
        My partner are not married and have no plans to be. Officially I cannot be her next of kin and she cannot be mine. In her case it is her parents, in mine my elder children
        from when I was married before. We have been together ten years this year, longer than most married couples. Why should we continue to be discriminated against just
        because we choose not to go through a marriage ceremony, civil or othewise?

  2. “Over 200,000 people have, in less than three weeks, signed a Coalition for Marriage petition against changes to marriage. The Government appears intent on ignoring such high levels of public opinion from across society and is seeking to force through a redefinition of marriage as a done deal.” That leaves 35,800,000 [adult population] unaccounted for in. That is why the government is ignoring the signatures, plus the fact that the petitions have all come from ‘interested and ‘biased’ groups.

    Further more: “If history is anything to go by, it is not uncommon that, when it comes to persecuted or discriminated minorities, against whom the beast of majoritarianism roars its head, it is often only after the establishment of civil law that civility follows. Catholics in this country of all people should know this very well.” http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/03/09/analysis-did-the-catholic-voices-poll-show-a-britain-opposed-to-gay-marriage-not-really/

    Allow civil marriage to be for same-sex and heterosexual couples and allow the various religious institutions to be biased towards whom they marry because of their faith. After all the majority of heterosexual marriages in a religious [Christian in this case I am talking about] are not adherents of the Christian faith, and most probably not nominal Christians either. Just THE WEDDING that matters, not really the marriage, to such couples. There is nothing wrong with that per se of course, but the church is more than happy to take its thirty pieces of silver to marry such couples. Pharisees come to mind.

    Personally the state and religious organisations should be able to issue a marriage licence that is accepted as legal. That way the law could be effective and fair – the institution concerned can abide by its own doctrine.

  3. Dear Michael Cronogue
    You asked, “Why should we continue to be discriminated against just because we choose not to go through a marriage ceremony, civil or othewise?” Quite. That is why Civil Partnership should be open to heterosexual couples and marriage open up to homosexual couples, with the various institutions having the right to licence a marriage. That way all parties can ‘choose’, with the understanding that each institution has is bias and rules. There is bound to be a mix-n-match via some institutions. Common sense should prevail.

    • You asked, “Why should we continue to be discriminated against just because we choose not to go through a marriage ceremony, civil or othewise?” Quite.
      That is why Civil Partnership should be open to heterosexual couples and marriage open up to homosexual couples, with the various institutions having the right to licence
      a marriage. That way all parties can ‘choose’, with the understanding that each institution has is bias and rules. There is bound to be a mix-n-match via some institutions.
      Common sense should prevail.

      I’m pleased you agree hetrosexual couples should be allowed to form civil partnerships, however nowhere have I seen this debated publicly by politicians. In the interests of
      fairness perhaps those advocating same-sex marriage should call upon David Cameron and Lynne Featherstone to introduce the appropriate changes to allow all parties to
      undertake either form depending on personal choice and/or religious belief as they see fit, with the usual proviso – as you put it – around bias and rules. Until this happens,
      I will not support the principle of same-sex marriage while it still leaves a substantial number of other people being discriminated against in the eyes of the law
      because of their personal choices.

  4. Thankyou Michael you have clarified for me why civil partnerships would be required if marriage were an equal opportunity. The real problem with redefining marriage is that it is attempting to make diverse things equal. Once that happens some vicar somewhere is going to feel the heat of publicity when he declines to marry a same sex couple. When it comes to court it will not be the law of the land that matters but what decisions are made in European equality law. Recent cases highlight that religious rights are often relegated below other rights. Both the government and the church will have to comply so choice at the institutional level will not be available. The National Secular Society would be deeply unhappy with any choice that religious institutions make which could be viewed as discrimination. Marriage based on ”loving commitments” only could be problematic and allow other forms of relationship in the future. Definition is a key element and making diverse things equal removes the profound and natural procreative element of marriage as being anything special.

    • Graham, thankyou for your comments. In general I share you view on future possibilities of enforcing same-sex marriages in church which I wrote in my original response to
      Gillan’s blog. The law if changed, would have to be worded succinctly to ensure rights of religous institutions to “opt out” from having to conduct such ceremonies, but I take
      your point about the likes of the National Secular Society. However as you may recall their recent high court victory over prayers before council meetings turned out to be
      somewhat premature as Eric Pickles – not normally someone who I agree with – made it clear they can and would where a majority wanted them to.

      Regarding European equality law, to my knowledge no Christian Church has been forced to do conduct same-sex marriages and given most of Europe is RC
      in persuasion even the EU know when to leave well alone. You may know different, is so I would be glad if you could share these with me and other readers of this blog.

      I suspect that enough MP’s on all sides of the House will ensure that the views of their religous constituents are taken into account when the bill weaves it’s way through the
      parliamentary process, and I would expect a number of amendments protecting the rights and traditions of religous bodies will be included.

      That is not to say that the more vociferous elements of the LGBT community will not continue to press their case, but as you may have seen on the newsnight debate last
      night, some of those campaigning for the right to same-sex marriage undermined their cause with their behaviour towards those who wanted to retain the more traditional
      definition of marriage. With the news that Archbishop Rowan is standing down at the end of this year, if the smart money is right, Archbishop Sentamu will be enthroned as
      the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury; and his views on the subject are not only well know but he is far more extrovert and unafraid to make them public.

      Should be an interesting twelve months should it not?

      Who said Christianity was boring??

  5. Michael – More exciting than boring i would say. I am maybe being pessimistic over the European law thing. I just get the impression that article 9 as a qualified right only seems to be less important than other rights. Its just a prediction on my part. I have no hard evidence of churches being forced to perform same sex marriage in Europe but we are in the early stages of this process in regard to the U.K. and i think much of this remains to be worked through in law. I hope i am proved wrong. I think Eric Pickles brought forward the localities act in response to the Bideford prayer situation but i dont think the legislation was framed with that scenario in mind. I do beleive that opt outs for religious institutions with regard to same sex marriage are legislated for in some parts of the world but they do not have a E.H.R.C which gives limited value to religion.

%d bloggers like this: