Today is the day the Government seizes control of marriage

Today is the big day that the Government reveals its plans for the introduction same-sex marriage.  There’s been plenty of talk about this over the last few days since the news that religious institutions will be allowed to conduct same-sex ceremonies, but I predict that will be nothing compared to what we’ll read and see once the details are announced.  If you’re fed up with this then, apologies, but it really is too big an issue to ignore, despite having written plenty about this already.

Going off at a slight tangent, Tim Loughton MP was speaking last night at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) on the Government’s failure to support marriage in the tax system.  Mr Loughton was the Children’s Minister until the latest reshuffle and clearly understands this subject more than some of his colleagues do. In yesterday’s Telegraph he wrote an article setting out the benefits of tax breaks for married couples.  Here are some excerpts:

‘At its most extreme, the absence of strong family structures contributes to the chaos of the herd instinct and lawlessness that we saw in last summer’s riots. On an everyday basis, family breakdown costs society £44 billion a year, so it is vital that we heed the shocking revelation from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) that 48 per cent of all children will see the breakdown of their parents’ relationship. Or that by the end of his or her childhood, a youngster is considerably more likely to have a television set in his or her bedroom than a father living at home.

‘Family matters to Mr Cameron and to the Conservative Party. I hope that family still matters to this Government. And under the banner of family, marriage matters especially. A commitment to recognising marriage in the tax system was included in the last Conservative Party manifesto and it was in the Coalition Agreement, notwithstanding the get-out provisions for our Coalition partners to abstain. The statistic that if your parents are still together when you are 16 there is a 97 per cent chance that they are married is in itself enough to justify our enthusiasm.’

‘The CSJ’s poll, published today, reveals that not just 47 per cent of  Conservative supporters feel betrayed by the PM on this omission but 35 per cent  of all voters. I doubt that the Government will enjoy anything like compensatory approval ratings for announcing in the same week that gay marriage has apparently become a more urgent issue for government action, despite no similar manifesto commitment to legislate and after a massive consultation exercise that has been overwhelmingly negative.’

David Cameron described himself as a “massive supporter of marriage” last week and by quoting some stark statistics Loughton has reinforced the need to give marriage a great deal of respect for the benefit of families and society as a whole.  However, in both cases Cameron and the Government have done the opposite of what a huge number of voters who care about marriage would want.  Isabel Hardman in The Spectator sums this up well:

‘…a point that other Tories may wish to make on his behalf, is that while David Cameron is very keen to endorse gay marriage, both as a civil and now religious ceremony, he is not following through with manifesto commitments to rewarding marriage through the tax system. While there are obviously MPs whose comments on gay relationships in general are not exactly helping the Prime Minister’s detoxifying cause, there are many others who just don’t think same-sex marriages should be a priority. Encouraging stable relationships is far closer to their hearts.’

It feels like a bomb that has been primed for some time is about to go off.  One thing that’s surprised me over the last twenty-four hours is the level of upset even in the media at what is about to happen.  The Telegraph has run a number of anti-gay marriage pieces including today’s front page. Even in the Independent which has been very pro-gay marriage has published this article on why Cameron’s introduction of gay marriage could backfire politically.

When the women bishops result came through last month I was shocked and upset, but as I wait for the same-sex marriage announcement to be made in the commons, I’m already finding myself in a state of mourning.  David Cameron and other politicians who are seeking to push this legislation through may think they are doing marriage a favour, but as the saying goes, ‘With friends like these, who needs enemies?’

Labour Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Yvette Cooper has said that: “Marriage is not the preserve
of any individual faith or organisation.”  This is her justification for parliament having the right to decide how marriage is defined.  And yet there is an irony in what she says.  Marriage is bigger than parliament.  It is bigger than the church, in fact it is bigger than any religion or any organisation including the state.  That is why we all have a right to voice our opinions on how marriage should be defined and that is why the Government has a duty to listen to what the public is saying on this.

Too many people are feeling they have been ignored on this matter and for good reason.  It is highly likely now that gay marriage will become a reality, but our MPs will have no right at all to feel proud of their achievement if and when it happens. David Cameron and other MPs may indeed be huge supporters of marriage but hijacking this whole process has not been the way to lead any of us to believe that this is the case and I doubt many right now are in the mood to trust them with something so precious.

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Categories: David Cameron, Government, Homosexuality, Marriage

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12 replies

  1. The government has always had control of marriage: marriage is a civil institution and churches are only allowed to conduct marriage ceremonies under license from the state, with a registrar present. In the case of the C of E, the registrar happens to be the priest who is licensed to that role by virtue of the C of E being the established church. In other words, no bombs are about to explode (unless right wing extremists go into Guy Fawkes mode in protest) and nothing is about to change: keep calm and get ready for equal marriage.

    Allowing gay couples the status of being married doesn’t undermine the sanctity of marriage; it doesn’t in any way invalidate heterosexual relationships; happily married straight men aren’t going to suddenly look at their wives across the breakfast table and say, “Hey, I could’ve married my best man instead of you.”

    Panic over, people: as you were.

    • “and nothing is about to change”

      Meh, really – it changes the definition from one of presumed physical complementarity and a relationship open to the generation of children (and the best environment for children to grow up in all things being equal) to a relationship based solely around the feelings of two adults. This is a change, and quite a big one.

      Also, it is not really about equality. I may call my relationships anything I wish but to seek government recognition of the name that I desire for my relationship under the banner of equality is a little odd. I would say it cheapens the equality agenda.

      Now, in all likelihood this will go through and the church will be lodged between a rock and a hard place. Personally I think that is generally a good place for the church to be, and hope it can begin the thrive and discuss things well from that position.

    • Out of interest, Phil, has this question always seemed so clear to you? For me it’s the social/legal implications of treating two relationships as exactly the same which are actually quite different that troubles me rather than, for instance, hospital visiting rights or same-sex couples being involved in fostering or adoption. Have you always been certain that treating gay couples differently is discrimination based on social constructs and prejudice? (Genuinely interested – promise not to throw my toys out of the pram again!)

      • It’s been a journey, Liz. I was brought up conservative evangelical, and it’s been far from easy breaking free from that: a constant wrestling match between my own convictions, scripture, upbringing and experience. My conclusions: above all else, marriage is about faithfulness; it’s about commitment to a loving, lifelong companionship.* See this conversation for some of my reasoning: Shadow Dancing: A conversation about faith, hope and gay love in the church … it’s a conversation that’s far from over, methinks…

        * and before the idiots begin to howl, I’m referring to a relationship freely entered into by two consenting adult human beings.

  2. The Government in England seized control of marriage in 1533.

    I am intrigued by the assertion that the result of the consultation was overwhelmingly negative. Have you found anything on this? Quakers and reformed Jews wish to marry gay people, and said so. Polls on equal marriage in Scotland are overwhelmingly in favour. I hope the CofE will come round in time.

  3. Well it looks like the Government has made some apparently sensible decisions about banning the Churches of England and Wales from administering same-sex marriages, but it all looks very messy at the moment.

    Clare, if you read the Telegraph article in full, the only reason that the consultation seemed to come out in favour is that it ignored huge numbers of email responses submitted from the Coalition for Marriage, whilst at the same time allowing responses from other countries that most likely skewed it further. Most other polls over the last few months have not shown that the public overwhelmingly supports gay marriage if at all.

    • Sensible? Institutionalised homophobia enforced by government decree with no choice for individual parishes or priests? Ho hum: the fight for equality and equity in the C of E goes on, but now we must fight for religious freedom too *sigh*

      • That’s why I said ‘apparently’ sensible. maybe from a legal point of view, but it feels like they’re just digging a bigger hole for themselves.

        I knew we’d disagree on this one Phil, but I still appreciate your challenges. It stops me getting sloppy and makes me think a bit harder.

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