Whatever you think about gay marriage and the current legislation passing through parliament, it is most definitely not boring. perhaps one a day a film will be made based on all that is happening with its complex plot and plentiful twists and turns. Once upon a time the institution of marriage was a pretty straightforward affair. A man and a woman came together either through love or arrangement, were married in the sight of God and usually went on to have children. Things have got progressively more complicated with the rise of divorce, remarriage, cohabiting and single parenthood and now here we are on the next step of the journey trying to work our how to fit gay relationships into the context of marriage. If that wasn’t enough of a struggle we are now facing the prospect of civil partnerships for everyone too.
One of David Cameron’s reasons when he came out in support of gay marriage was that it would strengthen the institution of marriage, making it available to more people, but potentially his actions could have the opposite effect if we effectively end up with another form of legal partnership, which could easily be renamed ‘marriage lite’.
Did David Cameron and other ministers have any idea what lay ahead when they started on this journey? The answer is most likely ‘No’. Perhaps the thinking was that there would be a bit of opposition from mainly religious types and the churches, but with sufficient safeguards everything would work out well without too much difficulty. In particular for the Conservatives, Cameron surely can’t have envisaged the level of opposition from his own MPs, party members and supporters and the reaction it would cause. There’s now a festering open wound that will take years to heal. It may well cost Cameron the next election and possibly his own leadership.
With a bit more intelligence and careful planning, those who were in charge of pushing this legislation through could have done a lot more to help themselves. The easiest thing would have been not to have started out on this journey in the first place, but it’s too late to wish it had never happened. If they’d paid a bit more attention to public opinion rather than just ignoring those who disagree with the priniciple and try to spin the line that those against are in a small backward thinking minority, they could have avoided some of the sentiment of betrayal and anger that is now being expressed. Maria Miller speaking on the Today Programme on Radio 4 this morning made a couple of revealing points. When asked about the amendment to allow heterosexual couples to form civil partnerships, she complained that those supporting it were trying to over-complicate the situation and that such a measure would delay gay marriage being legalised requiring “considerable thought and consultation”. Surely she realises that gay marriage in itself is an incredibly complicated issue that needs time to be considered. One of the biggest complaints is that it is being rushed through without proper consideration. She demonstrated yet again that there has been a worrying lack of coherent thought.
The Government has potentially shot itself in the foot by proposing that gay marriage should be introduced whilst continuing with civil partnerships for gay people. Even their proposal to review it five years after legislation is passed, only appears to have been suggested to fend off support for today’s amendment and all it does is kick the problem into the long grass for the time being. The term ‘equal’ marriage is being used over and over again, but they have failed to follow that equality line of thinking through fully.
So we now wait to see which way the votes go on Tuesday and then watch as the consequences begin to be addressed. What makes this stage of the process most interesting is that it has temporarily brought us away from the toxic argument about whether gay people should be married and focuses on the value of marriage and the point of civil partnerships in respect to it. Will a two-tier system do any good or was the hope that civil partnerships in time will no longer be required?
It’s heartbreaking to see the way that something that does so much good that binds families and provides one of the foundations of society is being torn apart and messed with. We still don’t know how things will turn out and the long term implications of it all, but whatever the end result is, things will be a lot less straightforward than they currently are with negligible or negative gains. Marriage deserves a lot more respect than this.
There are prayers being said outside parliament today and tomorrow for the future of marriage. For those of us who understand its importance, we should be joining this call to pray for our politicians as they battle with this. It feels like it needs a miracle for this situation to be redeemed and when miracles are needed, there is only one place worth turning to – and it’s not parliament.