The Government’s marriage bill is an exercise in trying to mix oil and water

The Government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has now been published with the second Reading on Tuesday 5 February, which will be the first opportunity MPs have to debate and vote on the Bill.  It’s a hefty piece of reading at 56 pages and even the explanatory notes are 49 pages long.  If you want to read a concise and helpful summary I would recommend looking at Law and Religion UK’s blog post on it.  There’s nothing new in the bill that hasn’t already been made public, but there are however a few anomalies presented that highlight some of the difficulties that this bill causes. These include:

  • Heterosexual couples will only be allowed to marry whilst same-sex couples will have the choice of either marriage or a civil partnership.
  • If a same-sex married couple move to Scotland or Northern Ireland their marriage will only be recognised as a civil partnership.
  • If one member of a heterosexual marriage changes their gender the marriage will be allowed to continue (which is the opposite to the case at present), but civil partnerships will not be able to continue unless both partners change sex simultaneously.
  • Only heterosexual couples can divorce on grounds of adultery and the adultery must take place between two people of different sexes.
  • Only heterosexual marriages can be annulled due to non-consummation.

The Government has done its best to ensure the Churches of England and Wales cannot be challenged for refusing to carry out same-sex weddings, but this does not resolve the issue for other denominations or faiths.  For example, local congregations of Baptist churches are self-governing and may potentially decide to allow same-sex marriages to be conducted, but Baptist Union Accredited Ministers are not permitted to publicly endorse same-sex relationships and could face disciplinary action if they did.

The big question is why heterosexual couples will not be allowed to enter into a civil partnership or alternatively why any new same-sex civil partnerships need to take place.  It will be interesting to see what the courts make of this if anyone challenges it.  My main concern right from the beginning with same-sex marriage was not that gay people should be allowed to marry per se.  After all many people now refer to partners in civil partnerships as husbands and wives and civil partnerships have equal legal standing alongside marriage as it stands.  My big gripe alongside many others is that whereas having both civil partnerships and marriage allow for the mostly biological differences between the two types of relationships to be accommodated effectively, trying to merge the two into one single amorphous new thing still called marriage doesn’t get away from the fact that different rules have to be created within marriage depending on the gender make-up of the relationship.  Reading through the notes I end up with as many questions as I find answers.

There are various other concerns that still need to be addressed in more detail, many of which were covered in the Church of England’s press statement on the bill:

“For the Church of England, in common with other denominations and faiths, one central test of this Bill is whether it will preserve and guarantee religious practice and religious conscience. We recognise that the Government has sought hard to do so in the drafting, but as the legislative process continues we shall wish to press serious questions about the implications for wider society, for the significance of procreation and upbringing of children as part of the purpose of marriage, the effect on teaching in schools, and the work of chaplains and others with religious convictions who are involved in public service delivery.

“We have also continued to raise questions about whether it is wise or appropriate to legislate at speed on a matter of such fundamental importance to society, when the proposal was not in any major party manifesto, the Coalition Agreement or the last Queen’s Speech. The lack of a clear mandate and the absence of an overwhelming public consensus for change ought at least to give pause for thought.”

In trying to unite marriage and civil partnerships, it’s as if the Government has taken a bottle containing both water and oil and given it a thorough shake trying to mix them together.  If you shake hard enough, it may give the impression that it works, but if you look closely you’ll see that they’re still separate and the longer you look at it the more obvious it becomes.  No matter how much you believe in equality it doesn’t overcome the fact that we’re not all the same and the Government’s attempt to shoehorn all of us into the same box, whilst the intentions may be well meaning, is only causing more problems than it solves.

Categories: Government, Homosexuality, Marriage

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9 replies

  1. What’s needed is a third ingredient: detergent. Emulsifies the oil and away you go… alternatively, add flour & eggs, bake for a while, and out comes a cake; and with any luck, it’ll be the perfect wedding cake 🙂

    Now, we just have to figure out what the missing ingredients are in this particular recipe: are we mixing up a recipe for disaster, as C4M would have us believe, or a recipe for cake, as C4EM would argue?

    Me, call me an optimist, but I’m for the cake; and I think the missing ingredients are love and grace, which is ever the problem with setting something into a legal framework: the law leaves no room for love and grace. Challenging times ahead, shipmates: splice the mainbrace and hold on tight!

    (with apologies for mixed metaphors)

  2. It just looks like scrambled egg to me, or maybe an Eton mess. A legislative labyrinth offering different things to different people. I have real concerns about freedom of religious conscience particularly for public sector workers but also the danger of splitting the Church. For what little material gain there is going to be for same sex couples i wonder if its really worth all the pain, with criminal cases and industrial tribunals bound to be the result. Maybe those people will need love and grace as they encounter the legal system as well.

  3. I suspect the definition of marriage has shifted in the (heterosexual) popular imagination – away from anything to do with gender differences and families to a more sentimental/consumerist perspective – something two people do when they are in love and want a ‘big day’ wedding ceremony.

    Several important underpinnings of the original definition were lost in the preceding decades: the notion of a legitimate child, state recognition of the biological family as the basic unit of society (we are all individuals now whether we married or not), a woman’s dependency on a man for economic security – all of which were abandoned for commendable reasons.

    The gay revolution itself only occurred after straight sex broke free from the twin dangers of disease and unwanted pregnancy. Effective antibacterials and contraception became widely available in the same decade that attitudes about gay sex stated to change. The feminist revolution of the 1970s then contributed to a change in the general understanding of the purpose of marriage. Everybody now views sex as something two people do for mutual pleasure for as long as they are “in love” – which is something a gay couple can do just as easily as a straight couple. The widespread acceptance of serial monogamy and “no fault” divorce has also made straight marriage seem more like a lifestyle choice than anything else – something a couple have a right to purchase and dispense with at will (even though all marriages start with the best of intentions). Hollywood and other celebrity couples certainly aren’t typical but they have been influential. The government now wants to abolish divorce on the grounds of adultery because they cannot decide on the definition of an adulterous sex act for gays. Are straights going to mourn the loss of (the legal concept of) adultery? Probably not.

    I honestly don’t think anything the ‘gay lobby’ have said or done over the last 40 years is the reason we are now having this debate about gay marriage. There just aren’t enough gay people (who are at most 2% of the adult population) to have engineered this moral revolution. Nothing like it occurred in the West before the 1960s – and it hasn’t happened in other parts of the world where biological families are still the main source of economic security. Gay people simply rode the wave of moral & economic changes that occurred between straight men and women in developed countries. Gay and straight relationships are now more like each other than at any other point in history – hence the demand for “marriage equality” which is really “marriage sameness”. If anyone wants to turn back the clock, they probably need to start with the 98% – not take it out on the 2%.

    [I know evangelicals are more committed to lifelong monogamy and a “complementarian” definition of marriage.]

  4. Joe Thats a good analysis. Having personal choice is at its core. Even when those choices go wrong or are harmful to us and others, we as a society still want that freedom rather than be bound by what we call Gods moral and spiritual laws.

    • I’ve just read the reader comments over at Pink News about the proposed bill. All agree the concepts of adultery and consummation (which the government have been unable to define for same-sex marriages) are “outdated”. To make marriage equality truly equal they are now suggesting these concepts are abandoned completely. The only option for everyone will be a civil partnership but they will call it “marriage”.

    • Seems to me God wants us to have that freedom too: membership of God’s covenant people has never been by coercion, at least not by God. It’s a pity that Christians down the ages haven’t recognised that. Christians love to damn where God loves to reach out. God offers liberty; Christians offer law, forgetting that in Christ we have died to the law.

      Often, I think, Christians have so little faith in God: all this fuss about “protecting” marriage. If “traditional” marriage is as important as conservative Christians make it out to be, God is quite capable of defending it. But in truth I don’t think God really gives two hoots about marriage as an institution: he eschewed it to bring Jesus into the world; as far as we know Jesus never married either; and Jesus himself said that come the resurrection it’ll all be water under the bridge. Marriage is a human institution which God has seen fit to bless; and above all else it’s about faithfulness, which is God’s recurrent call to his people: be faithful, to God, to one another. So why all the fuss over opening up the institution of marriage to same-sex couples who want to make that commitment? Nothing is lost, but so much is to be gained.

      Consider the wisdom of Gamaliel: Leave well men alone! Let it go! For if this movement is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop it; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.

      • I wish I could see it in such a positive light, Phil. Actually, if two men or two women decide it’s their life’s calling to commit themselves to one another and adopt three or four kids from difficult backgrounds, I don’t have any beef with that couple – in fact, I wish I could be as loving and generous as them. But when I hear gay couples say that their kids by surrogate parenting are much better than my kids that happened because I had a sip too much wine, I feel like I’ve been kicked in the womb by a mule. When heterosexual politicians say ‘Sure, it’s all the same thing, anyway – we just get rid of the ones we didn’t plan’, I want to weep. I can’t express these feelings in our society because I’ll be hounded for my ‘judgemental’ attitudes towards these responsible parents. I know I’m far from perfect myself, but is this what we’ve turned marriage into? I agree with Joe – don’t take it out on the 2% – I’m not surprised that they look at the divorce rate and think they can do it better than us. But, I want to weep! I just want to weep!

  5. Please read
    The reason there can not be adultery or consummation is because gay marriage cannot exist without taking away (in law) the definition of biological parenthood. The issue is far bigger than you have grasped.


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