David Cameron, gay marriage and the betrayal of democracy

We all know it’s been coming and yet when the reality of the situation begins to sink in the emotions and frustrations begin to boil over.

That’s the sense of feeling I’ve been getting today as I’ve seen the huge response to the news that the Government is to allow churches and other religious organisations to host same-sex weddings.  Given that during the initial consultation earlier in the year the promise was that gay marriages would remain entirely civil, it’s not surprising that there has been an outpouring of anger from traditional marriage supporters as the goal posts have been moved once again.  The overwhelming sense I’m getting is one of fear and betrayal.

First of all gay marriage plans were announced despite there being no mention of them in any party manifesto at the last election, then as the consultation was launched it was stated that the decision had already been made that gay marriage would happen irrespective of public feelings and sentiment.  Now we have another development where the Government appears to have completely ignored the wishes of many religious institutions.  The reasoning is that if equal marriage were to be enacted without provision for marriage on religious premises, that law would be seriously vulnerable to challenge under equalities legislation or at the European Court of Human Rights.  This is what the Church of England and other organisations have been saying all along, but with the sudden change of heart, it’s no wonder that those who are against the gay marriage plans are fearful of what is to come.

As I look at it, gay marriage itself is almost becoming secondary to the way that the Government is going about its business.  If politicians want to build trust, this is definitely not the way to go about it. Marriage is still a key part of our societal make-up even though the numbers getting married have declined significantly over recent years.  It’s not something to be played with as a political football.  The full consultation results will be out next week, but the rumours that the Government is planning to rush the legislation through early next year, doesn’t give the impression that they understand or respect the enormity of what they are doing.

I personally don’t see that gay marriage is the equal of heterosexual marriage, but at the same time I understand why many would want to see it happen.  If the legislation is passed it won’t affect myself greatly in my day-to-day life nor will it for the vast majority of the population, but what it will do is leave a great deal of uncertainty about what the future holds.  Will churches who want to offer gay-marriage ceremonies cause great battles within their own denominations?  Will churches still run the risk of facing court cases in this country or at the European court of Human rights if they refuse to accommodate gay-marriages despite the Government’s promises that may or may not be impossible to keep?  Will teachers be forced to teach that there is no difference between gay and heterosexual marriage under equalities law?  Perhaps I’m scaremongering, but whichever way we look at it, the future of marriage will not be as straightforward as David Cameron and others would wish us believe.

The Church of England has responded today with a press statement that includes this passage:

‘We believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will entail a dilution in the meaning of marriage for everyone by excluding the fundamental complementarity of men and women from the social and legal definition of marriage.

‘Given the absence of any manifesto commitment for these proposals – and the absence of any commitment in the most recent Queen’s speech – there will need to be an overwhelming mandate from the consultation to move forward with these proposals and make them a legislative priority.’

There are plenty of MPs who don’t believe there is an overwhelming mandate.  Bob Blackman, Conservative MP for Harrow East, spoke today that there will be “outrage throughout the country” and a “clear backlash” against David Cameron’s proposals.  His fellow MP Stewart Jackson tweeted: “Gay marriage bill will be massacred in the Lords and govt can’t use Parliament Act as it wasn’t in manifesto. Arrogant Cameron knows best.”  David Cameron has tried to appease those in his party who disagree with his stance by saying it will be a free vote, but currently the liberal Democrats and Labour will be applying the party whip to ensure the measure is passed, so it will be anything but a free vote.

If you want to see an example of democracy at its best this really is not the place to be looking.  The biggest danger through all of this for David Cameron is that he permanently damages his standing with a large proportion of the public and yet he still chooses to push on regardless.  Potentially this will be what he is remembered for more than anything else as Prime Minister.  Certainly any gay marriage proposal brought to parliament was always going to be hugely controversial, but whichever way you look at it, it could and should have been handled so, so much better.  The institution of marriage deserves far more respect than this for all our sakes.


To get a more detailed legal understanding of today’s announcement then the UK Human Rights Blog is the place to visit.  For a helpful, general overview, I recommend Stuart at eChurch’s write-up of today’s news.

Categories: David Cameron, Government, Homosexuality, Marriage

Tags: , , , , , ,

36 replies

  1. Ha. Cameron’s just following the Church of England’s lead: betrayal of democracy? Women bishops, anyone?

    • Yes I did think about highlighting the parallels between the two, but couldn’t quite find a place to fit it in. Democracy failure all round.

      • I also find it rather bizarre that the powers-that-be in the C of E seem to feel at liberty to issue sweeping statements opposing marriage equality without any membership consultation or Synod debate, yet when it comes to Women Bishops they allow themselves to be tied in knots by that process. Double standards at work somewhere, methinks: in this case, those-who-issue-press-statements presume to know the mind of the church and boldly declare it; in the case of women bishops, where the mind of the church is very clearly known, all decision-making ability is scattered like chaff before the wind.

        I guess there comes a point where you believe that you know the right thing to do and get on with it regardless of where it lands you in the popularity charts: here we have Cameron doing just that; the anonymous C of E PR dept doing likewise; but for whatever mysterious reasons, tied in knots by its own bureaucracy, the C of E fails to do the right thing by women. We move in a mysterious way, our blunders to perform…

      • From what I hear in conversation, the C of E clergy are angered at the rejection of women bishops. It’s mainly women themselves who would not wish it to come into being.

        • A minority of women, Bill, alongside an equally small minority of men.

        • Phil, I also think that we need to get women into the House of Bishops. It’s been far too long. However, the reason that it failed was because the conservatives were given a promise of ‘respect’ that they felt was too vague and did not trust. The reaction both within and outside the Church has shown that they were right – their theology is not ‘respected’ and the promise was vacuous. Perhaps you’re right that they should have just got on with it, but then they should have been honest instead of pretending a ‘respect’ they clearly don’t feel.

        • Peter Hitchens is rather good on this – scroll down past the bit about bigots (he’s also feeling it, but is less inclined to lose his temper over it as I am) and he sums up what happened. (Just because it’s in the Daily Mail doesn’t mean it isn’t true).

        • Liz, I’m inclined to think it was more a failure of trust than a lack of respect that was the issue: the conservatives evidently didn’t trust the promise of respect, which was a promise to respect their position, a different matter to respecting their theology or ideology; and that assurance was, I believe, made in good faith and would have been made good. ++Rowan made a point of appointing new flying bishops when the old ones flew to Rome; and even now bishops such as +Martin of Chichester who oppose women’s ordination are still being appointed: the determination to make provision for the naysayers was there; but — repeating myself, I know — they conflated a lack of respect for their theology with a lack of respect for their position.

          It’s rather like the old freedom of speech issue: I may disapprove of what someone says, but I’ll defend to the death their right to say it.

    • The problem I have with this predominantly non-religious yet non-atheist country that is the United Kingdom, is that too many people are willing to quote religion when it comes to marriage, but not when it comes to living their everyday “christian” lives. I have grown up in an area that has a high proportion of single teenage mothers, I have had the experience of seeing these people develop from a young age as my peers in school, and yet, the condemnation of these people was fleeting if anything! From what I have been taught by so-called “Christians” throughout my academic career, is that an unmarried mother is just as sinful as “a man that lays with another man as he would with a woman”.

      I am proud to say I was born homosexual, I have been in love, I have had my heart broken, my sexual encounters are probably far less risky in terms of disease and certainly pregnancy outside of wedlock than any heterosexual encounter that occurs behind the bins of a local kebab house on a Friday or Saturday night.

      I, as a person have standards, not only in terms of personal conduct, but also how a potential soul mate conducts himself. I personally don’t care that a narrow minded (and thankfully dying) minority have a bigoted view on who should and shouldn’t be recognized married. In an age where you are more committed to someone with a shared mortgage than you are with a marriage certificate, why is there such hatred towards a single group?

      I am not religious in any way, I was so sick of the pious nature of the “holier than thou” from an early age that I cant take any religious argument seriously, its just an excuse to exclude people. I don’t want a religious marriage, if the church doesn’t want to recognize a same sex marriage…. big deal! let them get on with it, their message has been clear for 2000 years or so. But if an atheist can legally marry in a “Christian” country, why can’t I? I’m not asking for anything other than a legal equality, I couldn’t give a s**t what the church thinks of me, christianity has no baring on my life, but being equal in the eyes of the law is what this country has been standing for a very long time!

      Your beliefs are yours, I wouldn’t disrespect someone by trying to change them no matter how wrong I felt they were, I doubt the vocal, bigotous minority would echo this, but its about time their 1,800 (or so) year strangle hold was snapped in half and thrown on the fire like their opponents for far too long!

  2. The people i feel sorry for are those who are employed in areas (such as teachers) who may not be able to adhere to their conscience and remain employed. The Canadian experience surely must inform us. So many unpleasant court cases to come and no need as there is no material inequality that exists before the law. David Cameron knows that this will split the church and expose it to the move for disestablishment. I am convinced that religious ministers will have to defend themselves in the European court in the future similar to the ”conscience” cases running there at the moment. The process by which all this has taken place is high handed as is the Labour and liberal party decision to apply a three line whip on what is clearly a matter of personal conscience. At least in the synod people were allowed to apply their vote as they saw fit. Sure the voting system is flawed and there were political style manoeuvrings regarding women bishops but at least the discussion allowed for all available options as opposed to the closed consultation put forward by the government. The buck also stops at the synod who take the criticism. David Cameron will be able to deflect criticism toward the European union and its equality law on legislation he seemingly wants to make his ”legacy issue”. The sky will not fall in if Same sex marriage is legalised it will only benefit a minority of a minority anyway but some really decent people and their families are going to be hurt if this law comes into effect. Is it really worth it ?.

  3. *sigh* this just rolls on and on. Unfortunately this does seem to be a logical step in the process. If you are going to change the definition of marriage then it follows that you open up the right perform the redefined version to whomsoever wants to.

    Also, the next step would seem to be equally logical – i.e. that any institution offering marriage must offer it equally to those legally eligible to receive it. That is equality in action.

    The question then remains whether to take the first step.

    I am proud that the C of E are standing strong but equally I think that 5, 10 years down the line it will simply be a case of offer the marriage service equally to all or don’t do marriage services at all. The C of E won’t have a choice in this – either disestablish or go with the flow. Will be a shame for other churches to lose their marriage rights but maybe a powerful stance as well. After all there is nothing mandated in scripture about a requirement to perform marriage ceremony’s, and it would probably be healthy for the church to be disestablished and removed from so many positions of public priviledge.

  4. I do find this idea the we are suddenly changing the definition of marriage odd. If we suppose that definition to be ‘one man, one woman, til death parts them’ – well we know that definition has been overturned. If we look to the Hebrew Scriptures, we see a model of one man, shed loads of wives and concubines thrown in for good measure. You could even marry you half sister. In this country, marriage has been used to transfer property rights, with a mistress or two for fun times. And latterly, there has been a view that sadly, ’til death us do part’ simply isn’t realistic in some cases, often for good reason. The extension of that is, yes you can remarry. anything else would imo, be inhuman, but is in direct opposition to the words of Christ. Throughout time,both culturally and religiously, that which constitute marriage has varied. And God still does God stuff, and bit by bit the kingdom continues to grow. We now live in a time when the institution of the state are to be equally available to all. Notwithstanding thin end of the wedgery, I think that is a good thing. The rights I want, I want for others.

    • Well said Tracywb: The rights I want, I want for others.

      Marriage has constantly been redefined down the ages and there is no consistent “biblical definition” of marriage, only a variety of patterns that emerge in the Bible.

      Did Adam and Eve marry? Of course not: they just got on with it, as did their children — and those who insist on a so-called “literal” interpretation of the Bible that sets aside such literary factors as genre along with so many other basic hermeneutical principles are then faced with the dilemma of incest amongst Adam & Eve’s children *sigh* …

      The reality is that marriage is not a specifically Christian institution: it is rather a social construct that was subsumed by the Church in its heyday of world domination under Christendom; and now the Church arrogates to itself the right to dictate what it believes marriage to be to the rest of society.

      Dear Church of England, I love and despair of you in equal measure. The days of Christendom are over: we must now rediscover the way of Christ and seek to serve our community, not to control it; institutionalised sex discrimination, whether it be on the basis of gender or orientation, is not the way forward, let alone the way to win our society for Christ.

  5. Cameron’s timing is interesting: until the CofE revisits women bishops at the July synod, it’s compromised over women bishops, and over anything it says in public in the area of gender, sexuality etc. So between the Nov 2012 and July 2013 synods, the measure is announced and then pushed through Parliament, knowing that the CofE is likely to be one of the strongest opposing voices.

    I remember responding to the ‘consultation’ earlier this year, and remember the questions being overtly skewed towards the answers the coalition wanted to hear.

    • Hi David, I think that is a really good point. To which can be added that the policy has proved damaging to the cohesiveness of the Conservative party and has haemorrhaged some of their grassroots support. Cameron’s hope is now not to persuade his detractors within the party but to try and ram this through quickly and hope that everyone forgets about it and moves on

    • David, the timing IS indeed very interesting from another viewpoint, imho – that of the meaning of Advent and the spiritual aspect of current events. (This is covered in my analysis of the PM’s decision may line up with scripture at http://wp.me/p1Y1yB-2xN).

  6. Whilst you are right that for the majority of people this change will make little difference you have not mentioned the massive effect on the minority of Christians this will effect. I have seen gay Christians rejoicing at this news. Finally they will be allowed their full religious freedom and be able to marry in their church without government interference stopping them.

  7. It is very simple, the Bible tells us that God defined marriage so it isn’t something that men can change. They may call it marriage but it will not be marriage, simply a mockery of marriage.

    Incidentally those multiple wives of the Old Testament are nowhere endorsed as marriages in the Bible, the model is everywhere the same, one man and one woman

  8. My faith in David Cameron has been progressively eroded, but now shattered. Gillan’s presentation of this latest issue is well reasoned but, over and above all else, what Martin Ploughboy says will stand. God’s definition is His definition and will remain so. Politicians tamper with it at their own (and our society’s) risk.

  9. Gillan. Thank you. A very well written article. Surely the results of the consultation need to be in the public domain before government acts. Why spend thousands of pounds on a consultation exercise if you are not going to consider the results of the consultation in an open manor. Is this the new democracy Mr Cameron really wants?

    • What else should we expect from a man who declares that farce known as the PCC elections gives those appointed a mandate? Not to be confused with C of E PCC elections, of course, which are always *cough, splutter* entirely democratic…

      Perhaps the role of Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England should be subsumed into that of Prime Minister as Her Majesty’s representative to the state? If we then wrap up ABC into the bundle, our next female Prime Minister would also be a Bishop, and if she should happen to be a lesbian too all these little dilemmas could be solved at a stroke. On second thoughts, disestablishment might be easier…

  10. Marriage is inseparable to children. Yet the government once again is placing the individual above all others. Children no longer have a right to their birth mother and father. In gay marriages, any children who are integrated into the ” family” are denied the right to have one or the other. The idea that children are brought up fine by ” two” people is a joke and contrary to the claim “the welfare of the child is paramount”! Not for this government. Denial denial denial. Husbands, wives, mother, father, all mean nothing once marriage is redefined. Sexual relationships is king! What a world we wil become.

  11. Marriage has proven itself above and beyond the fact the bible says so. We have history and many studies to prove it, and the testimony of millions all over the globe.

    This issue is about “approval” for the chosen lifestyle of a few. They have the legal rights the law affords those who are married, but this aim is to attempt to give it the social ” status” of marriage, despite the fact much of the principles of marriage are despised by the lobby calling for it.

    The father and mother for the child is denied.
    Chastity before marriage is impossible.
    Exclusivity and fidelity is denied.
    Fornication is a given.
    Adultery approved.
    Sexual behaviour is king!

    Despite the results being as chalk and cheese, Cameron falls for the ideology that they are somehow the same, despite being nothing like.

    It began with section 28, then civil partnerships, now marriage. Each denied the other would happen. Before long any adherence to the traditional view of marriage will be castigated and vilified by the same lobby claiming they are “victims”, to which they will look to inflict far worse upon the opposition than they suffered themselves.

    Gay couples denied a room, we’re denied a room in a hotel. Whereas now those who don’t hold the same view lose their job or living and it is acceptable and legal!

    • I don’t quite agree with everything you’ve written, Stan. I think most gay couples don’t have an agenda beyond getting on with their lives, and I wouldn’t refuse them a room in a hotel. However, you’ve hit the nail on the head with ‘most of the principles of marriage are despised by the lobby calling for it’. This is what makes me really uncomfortable about this business. Scratch the surface and you’ll find that the people shouting the loudest – gay or straight – actually despise marriage. In fact one (straight) friend came straight out and said that he thought it was an out-modded institution and his main reason for supporting same-sex marriage was because it was a step towards getting rid of it altogether. Another (straight) friend has argued that gay and straight relationships are basically the same as gay relationships because straight couples just have an abortion when the contraception fails – so no longer need marriage to confine heterosexual relations. Far from blaming gay couples for this move, I’d say it was down to the decline of the moral values of straight people. I can actually sympathise with gay couples who look at heterosexual attitudes to marriage and think ‘We could do better than that’.

  12. Cameron is not a democrat, he is a predator, as was Maggie Thatcher. This isn’t about gay marriage, it’s about the Tories’ systematic destruction of all authoritative opposition to their predation. Never mind that not all Tories are evil monsters any more than all preists interfere with little boys, I am not here to stoke the witch hunt, but to try to make people see it for what it is and end it.

    Christianity urges tolerance, but whatever that may mean, live and let LIVE is the general idea, not live and let die, which may make a great Bond movie, but sucks in real life. So oppose the govt if you beleive in your church, NOT out of homophobia, but out of a desire to stay united. The Tories want to split the church because it is a strong adversary to their predations, and because a method has been found to effectively make that split happen. If you care about unity, make it happen, or Christianity itself is spent force, no good to anyone. Can you stand by and let that happen?

    I’ll admit to being non-religious, but I do think that our presence, and that of all of existence, is bound in greater patterns than we know, and that we can’t go around dismissing notions and beleifs of a spirit to all that, guiding it, but when it comes down to it, all we can do is use our tiny bits of it, the stuff in reach of us. If the predation gets any worse, all we will have is each other, and if we can’t accept that, we will die off as soft targets for others to exploit. The church has done both good and bad in its time, but it has ALWAYS tried to do something, and has managed to resist some of the most ruthless things in history. If the church can see the real threat here, and stand firm, it will more likely win the support of those of us who have wondered too long where we can ever find help.

  13. I agree Crow about the analysis. If you agree with making lots of money you don’t want people teaching that you should share it. The attack on the Church is safe in the knowledge that Christians will continue doing the big society stuff. I sense that some of the traditional Church structure may fall by the wayside or become less relevant but something rather more interesting and ”Jesus like” is beginning to emerge. I believe there may be a smaller number of those who self identify as Christians but that smaller number will become more politically and socially active, resist poverty injustice and teach the Gospel in the future like never before.


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