Equal marriage: it’s a matter of religious freedom

There’s been a lot in the media today from opponents of equal marriage about how the state mustn’t go about redefining marriage.

What they keep on skating over is that equal marriage isn’t something cooked up by atheists and agnostics. It’s also - as Lynne Featherstone has pointed out – supported officially by Quakers, Liberal Jews and some Unitarian Churches, not to mention many people of other faiths that officially take a different view.

Insisting that the state continues to make illegal the sort of marriages which Quakers, Liberal Jews and some Unitarians want to carry out isn’t defending marriage against the state. It’s about saying that some religions should be specially favoured by the state at the expense of others.

Let’s keep it simple and leave aside the question of what role an Established Church should or shouldn’t have, and just consider this:

Why should the law say what the Catholic Church believes on marriage is legal but what Quakers believe is illegal?

Believing in religious freedom means believing the law should let Quakers do marriage the way they wish just as much as Catholics.

So opponents of equal marriage should be up front and say it: they want the law to discriminate against some religions. They don’t want religions to be free to choose their own practices, nor do they want religions to be equal under the law. They want some religions to be able to enforce their views on others with the force of law.

If that’s what you believe, you should say it. I still think you’d be wrong, but at least you’d be frank about what you want.

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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58 Comments

  • Mark, it’s also worth pointing out that the C of E position on this is far from the settled view of it’s membership, many were angry at the release supposedly in their name. Take a look at http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/ for a wider viewpoint.

    Personally I would like the Church to see this in the same way as marriage of Divorcees. This accepts that some clergy have an objection but allows those who do not to carry out services. This would allow both religious freedom and the freedom of those clergy without objection to officiate at any marriage.

  • Richard Church 10th Dec '12 - 6:23pm

    Agreed. But it should be a matter of non-religious freedom too. Allow humanist celebrants to conduct weddings.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 10th Dec '12 - 7:40pm

    Whilst religious organisations wish to remain existing in a, thankfully dim and distant past, perhaps they should also be removed from the House of Lords, for some of their beliefs seem to be rather discriminatory, and out of step with society today, and in my opinion would cloud their judgement on current issues.

    I am a firm believer in the rights of the individual to have and to hold a strong religious or other belief system, but not to use these to discriminate against others. I believe that the time has come for the State and the Church of England to finally seek an amicable divorce?

  • As far as I and many others are concerned it is not about the law, it’s about what is possible. The definition of marriage is a binding union between a man and a woman, neither more nor less. Bring in a law to call a cow a hen but it will still produce milk, not eggs!
    What you are trying to do is not to change the law but change the definition of marriage.Neither you nor I nor government has the power to do that.
    What we can do i s to legalize an other institution, similar to marriage but designed specifically for same sex couplesand with adifferent name which would be administered by the state, thus leavings marriage as it always has been.
    Is it so difficult to devise something which would satisfy bothe sides of the argumen? I really don’t believeit is.But we all have to listen and stop shouting.

  • Mark,I could say that it is not MY definition but that which is given us by God, but I suspect that argument will not hold water with you! Also, certainly meanings of words change with time but the word “marriage ” is the word we usein translation from the Hebrew or Greek. Changing the word does not change the fundamental concept. I dont know where or when mariage has meant anthing other than a relatio ship between a man and a woman though I have heard this argument before. Perhaps you could put me right here but you would surely agree that the majority of religions now and in the past confined marriage to a man and a woman.
    (By the way, Idont follow you argumentin your article : if it was legal in one church it would be legal in all, just some would chose not to make use of it. )
    This all seems to me to be a guite unnecessary debate where sides are becoming more poarized brought about by politicians. Why can’t the churches keep their marriage as it has been been and a secular society have whatever they want and then perhaps we shall all be happy.

  • “I dont know where or when mariage has meant anthing other than a relatio ship between a man and a woman though I have heard this argument before.”

    It’s sad that people are so ignorant of the Bible these days. Of course the Old Testament makes it clear that the Mosaic conception of marriage was far from being confined to a relationship between “a man and a woman”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Dec '12 - 12:08am

    Mark Pack

    Beadlady: Why is your definition of marriage that is must be between a man and a woman?
    It’s not my definition. It’s not the definition in other places around the world. It’s not the definition always used in the past

    The Wiki article you quote suggests something which is more like Beadlady’s ” another institution, similar to marriage but designed specifically for same sex couples and with a different name” in the clearest examples it gives from the past. Historically, the term marriage HAS been used for a relationship which is characterised by the two people having different roles due to having different genders. It seems to me the idea of inventing a new term for a form of relationship between two people which is similar in some ways but different in others because there is no formal distinction of roles between the two makes sense. I rather suspect that just a few years ago the idea of “gay marriage” would have been condemned as insulting to gay people due to trying to push them to conform to a model which is fundamentally heterosexual.

    I still find it odd that suddenly liberals are going on and on about what and important thing marriage is and how it’s an insult to gay people if they can’t have it when there seems to have been a liberal obsession in recent years with abolishing any aspect of the law which confers some advantage to being married. We used to be fond of saying that two people can be in love and living together without the need for a bit of paper saying so, now we’re saying the opposite.

    I am sorry, but I DO think this gay marriage thing IS an attempt to change the accepted meaning of a word by imposition of the state, and that concerns me. That is why I find the logic of a legal partnership which confers the same rights as marriage but uses a different name in recognition of it not making a distinction in role between the two partners as making more sense. If we had a true sense of equality for gay and straight people we would not find any problem with that, any more than we find a problem having a separate word “gay” and “straight” for two kinds of attraction to others.

  • “because there is no formal distinction of roles between the two”

    So, Matthew, you would have no objection to same-sex marriages in which the spouses are willing to subscribe to a “formal distinction of roles”?

  • @Beadlady
    I take it you would allow polygamy as it was clearly prevalent and accepted in the Old Testament ??

    As a Christian, can I suggest this clip from the West Wing which pretty much deals with literal interpretation of selected Biblical passages better than I could ever do. You need to listen from about 40 seconds on…

  • It’s not about dictionaries. That train has already left the station.

  • It may not be about dictionaries but part of the issue is about language and specifically the increasing lack of precision in ‘labelling’ words. Hence a valid question is whether ‘marriage’ is the union between a man and a woman before god or is something else.

    With the ‘Civil partnership’ we gained a second label for the relationship between two people. In some respects the Registry Office (non-secular) marriage probably should more correctly also be called a ‘civil partnership’, permitting ‘marriage’ to retain it’s religious connotations.

    My understanding is that part of the reason for allowing same sex ‘marriage’ is to enable these relationships to be treated as a ‘marriage’ without having to go and amend all the laws (UK and internationally) that refer to ‘marriage’ to also refer to ‘civil partnership’ etc.

    But I do agree with Mark, if we believe in reasonable religious freedoms then the law needs to support both the Quaker and Catholic viewpoints on the types of marriage they are willing to conduct..

  • Alex Matthews 11th Dec '12 - 11:19am

    Beadlady, you do realise that the Greeks had marriage before Christianity ever touched their shores and that the marriage they had could be between a man and a man in many of their city states. (I am unsure if it could be between a woman and a woman.)
    -This proves that your idea that the definition of marriage cannot change is flawed, your religion reformed it in the first place.

    PS I also notice that you spelt legalise as legalize; are you from the USA? I ask this, because before Christians arrived on those shores, the American Indians also had a form of gay marriage, again proving that the definition of marriage can easily change.

    In response to Matthew; whilst I cannot comment on behalf of other Lib Dems, I can speak for myself in regards to your confusion over why this is an important issue in my mind, despite marriage not being something I personally find important. There are two reasons why this is important to me:
    1=Just because I ‘personally’ do not find something important, does not mean that I arrogantly forget that it is important to others. Law should not be based on my personal views, but formed as a part of social cohesion. That is why I am a Liberal and not a Conservative.
    2=I have nothing against individuals believing in one definition of marriage over others, but I do find it erroneous when the law does that.

  • Geoff Crocker 11th Dec '12 - 11:20am

    We should also remove the current censorship which forbids the use of ‘religious’ music and literature, or texts from the Bible, at civil marriages in the UK. It is an outrageous infringement of liberty and a shame to the CoE House of Bishops who pushed for it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Dec '12 - 12:49pm

    Alex Matthews

    1=Just because I ‘personally’ do not find something important, does not mean that I arrogantly forget that it is important to others.

    Sure, but that goes both ways on this issue. I am uncomfortable about the way in our circles the arguments of those who feel strongly against gay marriage have been dismissed and misrepresented. That is why I have taken the step in posting something that doesn’t fit in with the consensus here on these issues, even though in doing so I have probably damaged my standing amongst people here. I DO believe in hearing BOTH sides of a case rather than dismissing the side I disagree with using lines that are more about making me feel satisfied with my position than about being sure I have properly considered the real objections. That is why I am a Liberal and not a Conservative.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Dec '12 - 1:02pm

    Alex Matthews

    Beadlady, you do realise that the Greeks had marriage before Christianity ever touched their shores and that the marriage they had could be between a man and a man in many of their city states

    OK, but were these treated as indistinguishable from a marriage between a man and a woman, or were they taken as a different sort of relationship? Same applies to your American Indian example. Beadlady was not arguing against same sex relationships, and not arguing against the formal recognition of these, so the examples you raise may actually be more supportive of her line than the “gay marriage” line – which once we have established legal civil partnerships is a purely semantic issue. In dismissing what Beadlady is actually saying and using arguments that misrepresent her as something else, you are showing just what concerns me here which I find in so much of the pro-gay marriage side – an arrogance and an illiberalism which seems only too happy to bend facts and insult its opponents in order to get its way.

  • Alex Matthews 11th Dec '12 - 1:36pm

    Despite common belief to the contrary, arguing against a consensus for the sake of arguing against a consensus does not make you a Liberal, Matthew.

    You seem to presume that we have just decided to come to this conclusion and that we have ignored all arguments against it. That is a BIG presumption to make about so many people. Once again, I cannot speak on behalf of others, but I can safely say that I, personally, have reviewed both sides and come to promote what I believe the evidence suggests is a fair and just outcome for both sides.

  • ray Earwicker 11th Dec '12 - 2:34pm

    I do not accept Stephen Gilbert’s argument about official discrimination between different religious beliefs. If the Quakers thought it appropriate to offer sacrifices, should we let them? Ultimately it is for the Government to set the ground rules by we are governed and if it gets it wrong there is always the ballot box to put it right (hopefully).

  • I find it hilarious that the Church of England uses the “redefinition of marriage” argument. The Church of England was founded on redefining marriage! It has absolutely no room to speak on the matter.

    And marriage in the Bible has no requirement that it be only one man and one woman. One man, tens of women, and several hundred concubines are perfectly acceptable by Biblical standards!

  • (Oh, and as a former-Catholic, the term for the sacrament done by the church to join two people in God’s sight is “Holy Matrimony” not “marriage.” Note the case of the letters used.)

  • Roman marriages were complicated.

    There were four forms of partnership in Roman law that are usually referred to in English as “marriages” – confarreatio, coemptio, manus in usus and sine manu. But they would not have been regarded as marriages in English law or modern custom; only confarreatio and coemptio are really marriages in the modern sense;

    Manus in usus is pretty much the old (pre-1753) English common-law marriage, whereby two people to live together as man and wife become married by that fact. Sine manu is more like a modern cohabitation. Indeed, whether a sine manu relationship was actually a marriage (matrimonium) was much-debated under the Republic (by Imperial times, sine manu was accepted as the norm).

    Yes, the Roman recognition of relationships between two people of the same sex was a different category – but they didn’t have a single unified conception of marriage the way we do to start with.

    We do. If you want to change that – to have multiple different types of relationship having different names, not superior, not inferior, just different, then you would be changing the meaning of marriage in a far more fundamental way than expanding the boundaries of who can be married.

    At the moment, we have civil partnerships, which are clearly an inferior form from marriages. We have six ways of getting married* but all of the marriages are the same afterwards. There are people who want to have forms of marriage from which divorce is more difficult or impossible (covenant marriages). Having more than one contract between people who form a relationship might be a good idea. But it’s a revolution to the whole of Western marriage law; a far deeper and more profound revolution than same-sex marriage would be.

    * Yes, six: Church of England, Jewish, Quaker, other religious, registry office, authorised premises civil marriage.

  • “That is why I have taken the step in posting something that doesn’t fit in with the consensus here on these issues, even though in doing so I have probably damaged my standing amongst people here.”

    If only you were willing to explain what you’d posted! What do you mean by a “formal distinction of roles”? Sexual roles? If so, does that make some marriages between homosexual and lesbian couples OK, if they are consistent in their sexual practices? If not, what does it mean?

    And have you now dropped that other argument that people of the same sex can’t be married because they can’t produce children?

  • Old Codger Chris 11th Dec '12 - 9:12pm

    Gays quite rightly are now able to enter into civil partnerships – why do they want to call it marriage?

    Conversely why would gay marriage cause any harm to hetrosexual marriage?

    And why specifically exclude the CofE when nobody is forcing any denomination to marry gays and some other denominations and faiths are more united against gay marriage than the CofE? Incidentally what about Anglicans in Scotland and N Ireland?

    Most importantly, the economy is in a mess, we’re cutting higher education while other countries are expanding theirs, we have a housing crisis. Why waste parliament’s time on this matter? Is it a ploy to keep government failure out of the headlines?

  • This looks like a bad bill as it stands. The CofE and Church in Wales should be able to opt in like any other religious organisation. Even the Archbishop of Wales is quoted as saying making it illegal is a step too far. One rule for all religions please, any less is discriminatory and adds another hoop to jump through for those who support equal marriage within those deemed ‘special cases’.

    Millibland has stated he would rather the exemption for the CofE was not there so lets hope for a sensible opposition amendment with Lib Dem support…

  • Richard Swales 11th Dec '12 - 10:45pm

    @Ray Earwicker, no, but secular human sacrifice is not allowed either. (I assume we are talking about human sacrifices rather than those of vegetables, kegs of beer or animals, though the last of those is probably a legal minefield). With marriage the situation is going to be that the Quakers are prevented from doing something simply because they are a religion.

    Isn’t the root of all this that the CofE is such a difficult organisation to control that it is easier for them to ban something through statute law than to try to get their different factions to agree and comply with an internal policy?

  • Alex Mathews
    No, Not from the States, just can’t type on my tablet!

  • As a long-standing member, I was appalled to get Lynne Featherstone’s email trumpteing her role in promoting gay marriage and asking me to jointhe celebration. I am a committed Christian and a member of the Church of England, but I am not a conservative evangelical, nor am I a homophobe. While not wishing to deny gays the right to live together in a committed loving partnership (a civip partnership), I cannot swallow the idea that that relationship should go under the name of marriage, sorry. And my objections are not only theological. By extending marriage to gays we make communication about the implications of marriage, as more conventionally understood, that much more difficult. In biological terms a gay marriage simply cannot be equal to a gay marriage. The issue of gay marriage has been forced on the public by the Coalition and to judge from LF’s email it looks as though the thought police are after all our members. So much for truly liberal values!

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Dec '12 - 12:35pm

    @Don Manley – I agree wholeheartedly. Those like David Cameron,pushing for a re-definition of Marriage argue that it is just an issue of personal lifestyle commitment between two adults than a public union of two people, male and female as the basis of the basic natural family unit , which society accepts is the best environment for the upbringing of children.
    This view does not exclude other relationships that quite rightly have their civil rights but marriage is not just about two individuals but the family. Diverse definitions of diverse relationships best describe reality of our diverse society.

    I find it incredible that so-called liberal politicians can spout such illiberal intolerance of those who continue to value and uphold the marriage of mum and dad as the best unit for the upbringing of the next generation.

  • Helen

    If it’s all about the upbringing of children, the obvious question is whether you would wish to take away the right to marry from heterosexual couples who can’t have children. And if the answer to that is “Of course not!”, then I can’t help feeling that, despite what you say, your objection isn’t really about the fact that same-sex couples can’t procreate – it’s really just about the fact that they are same-sex couples.

  • Helen: you are amazed that “liberal politicians” show “illiberal intolerance” of those who would refuse to tolerate a liberal tolerance. Oh well said. By the same token, we must also be appalled at the “illiberal intolerance” of those same liberal politicians who refuse to tolerate an intolerance of free speech, or who refuse to tolerate intolerance of blacks and Asians and Jews. Poor Dear Old Mum and Dad; how hard it must be for them to live in a country whose liberal politicians refuse to endorse their prejudices. The Empire is simply not what it was.

    What Helen wants, of course, is a “liberalism” that only tolerates viewpoints she finds attractive. But if she were to find herself on the rough end of the argument; if, for instance, laws were made that only recognized a marriage between two members of whatever church she doesn’t belong to as “real marriages”, and ghettoized all other marriages as second-class “partnerships”, she might find some use in a different kind of liberalism. The liberal thing to do would be, I should think, to put oneself in the shoes of the class adversely affected by a legislation. I don’t think Helen’s even trying. As for trying the other shoe, Dear Old Mum and Dad’s marriage is going to be exactly the same as it was. The only adverse effect of they might feel is that they can no longer assume that their heterosexual marriage is superior to all others. But Helen has yet to demonstrate why assumptions of superiority are a good thing.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Dec '12 - 2:09pm

    @David. ” Helen: you are amazed that “liberal politicians” show “illiberal intolerance” of those who would refuse to tolerate a liberal tolerance.”

    On the contrary, I want to have liberal tolerance in society. That means a toleration of diversity and pluralism, equal civil rights, certainly. The problem with ‘equal marriage’ is that the proponents want to define apples as pears. All relationships are equal in the eyes of the law – that is why civil partnerships were brought in, quite rightly.

    However, the issue is about redefinition of an institution we have had in this country which safeguards a particular union and whether we like it or not, is linked to children. This does not mean that in law one set of relationships is superior to another. It means that one relationship is described in different terms to another and comes with different socio-cultural and religious ‘baggage’.

    Certainly, many people want to strip away the term marriage from its socio-cultural, religious meanings and redefine it as something else, for what they consider to be a greater good ie: sameness or parity of esteem. However, there is no getting away from the fact that the basic unit of society is particular and that other units are a divergence. I don’t see it as first or second class, in fact – just diverse. Liberal tolerance does not mean we all have to be the same.

    Mark Pack asks why religious groups like Quakers, Liberal Jews and Unitarians for instance cannot be allowed to have their religious views taken into account now in relation to gay marriage, while mainstream religious groups like the C,of .E does. Perhaps it has something to do with the history of Christianity in this country. Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews are very much at the extreme end of mainstream religious (Christian and Jewish)thinking – they are not considered orthodox and are very much minoritarian groupings. Why should the minority tail wag the majority dog?

    Do you think that minorities should dictate to the majority (ie: the traditional collective understanding of marriage, derived from biblical and theological sources), in this case within and between religious traditions?

  • @Helen Tadcastle
    We can all agree that a stable family is the best option for raising the next generation. However, as a Christian, Heterosexual, married Father I fail to see why my children will fair better with a Mum and Dad than those with a Mum and Mum or Dad and Dad. I suspect that the reality is there are good and bad couples within all examples practising good and bad parenting…

    I also fail to see how allowing other forms of marriage would stop you valuing or upholding your preferred option. Your view of someone’s marriage is irrelevant, it matters not a jot whether you, the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Queen of England value anyone’s marriage. It becomes illiberal when you stop others partaking in the institution based upon your viewpoint. Many do not consider divorcees that remarry to have a valid marriage. They can hold that view, clergy do not have to remarry divorcees (even within the established Church), but we do not forbid them from re-marrying..

  • “Do you think that minorities should dictate to the majority (ie: the traditional collective understanding of marriage, derived from biblical and theological sources), in this case within and between religious traditions?”

    It sounds to me very much as though you think a minority – practising Christians – should be allowed to dictate to the majority what marriage means!

  • I fear that whatever (my new-found chum!) Helen says or what I say)we will be talked down by those who want change. We’ll be told we want to preserve a distinction that is unfair. I cannot for the life of me see what the word ‘marriage’ gains for civil partners, but I can see that heterosexual married people are being denied the uniqueness of their own word to describe their relationship. Traditional marriage is already in decline and now it is to be edged away a bit in its own space. The Coalition for Marriage collected half a million signatures for preserving the stsus quo. I wonder how many signatures the Con-LibDem Coalition would collect for a change? I guess we’ll never know because the change is being pushed through by bullies. This new idea was never on any party manifesto. We voted about something to do with university fees, I seem to remember,but we didn’t vote for this. What can I trust the party with in 2015? Treating the voters with contempt is what gives politics a bad name.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Dec '12 - 2:58pm

    @Steve Way: “I fail to see why my children will fair better with a Mum and Dad than those with a Mum and Mum or Dad and Dad. I suspect that the reality is there are good and bad couples within all examples practising good and bad parenting…”

    I suppose if one starts from the assumption that a heterosexual marriage is a lifestyle choice then it is easy to agree with you that a committed relationship of two individuals whether gay or straight are the same and can be the same thing.

    Of course there are good and bad parents in heterosexual marriages. But this does not get away from the fact that it is commonly understood in our society that having a parent of each gender is the particular combination which is most favourable to the upbringing of children. Perhaps it is an ideal. This does not mean that other partnerships cannot or must not exist ie: civil partnerships.

    ” Your view of someone’s marriage is irrelevant, it matters not a jot whether you, the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Queen of England value anyone’s marriage. It becomes illiberal when you stop others partaking in the institution based upon your viewpoint.”

    It’s not about my single opinion but about the common view held not just by other individuals but by whole groupings throughout a considerable length of time . It is still the law as well, presumably passed by hundreds of individuals giving their common consent.

    What I find illiberal is how those who push for a change in law condemn others for defending commonly held tradition. I understand that liberals fight conformity – that goes for for those who wish to marginalise religious opinion to the ghetto of private action – as it offends against their secular sensibilities. There is a danger that ‘fighting conformity’ could become just another way that one group practises intolerance towards another, ie: if the religious viewpoint is not sufficiently understood.

  • “Of course there are good and bad parents in heterosexual marriages. But this does not get away from the fact that it is commonly understood in our society that having a parent of each gender is the particular combination which is most favourable to the upbringing of children.”

    You seem to be arguing against same-sex couples adopting children – which can already happen. Logically, this has nothing whatsoever to do with same-sex marriage, does it?

  • @Helen Tadcastle
    It used to be commonly understood that capital punishment was just and effective, that women shoul not vote and that beating children was an effective education tool. All have been superseded, common understanding does not make something right.

    No one wants to force a change in your viewpoint, or force you to live an alternative, but they do wish to be able to live according to theirs.

  • Alex Matthews 12th Dec '12 - 4:09pm

    Helen can you please tell me where your evidence of this common understanding comes from? You see, I thought it was commonly understood that scientists, sociologists and psychologists had all roundly rejected the idea that having two parents of the same sex is in anyway detrimental.

    Steve, please can you tell how in anyway this has devalued the idea of marriage for you? If you are married, please tell how this has in anyway changed your marriage? Right now you keep harping on about traditional values, but I am sorry that does not carry any water here because:
    1=As Steve noted, traditional does not always equal good.
    2=The rights of two gay people has in no way changed your rights or marriage. You are still completely free to get married and live in exactly the same way as you could before, this has not changed that in anyway. So, please, I implore you to show me how this has in anyway changed your marriage? Until you can show me something substantive all I can presume is that you are just upset that Gay people now have more rights.
    3=No Church is being forced into this, we are just the removing the Prohibition currently placed upon Churches so if a Church CHOOSES to do so, it CAN do this. This is giving Churches more rights, not less.

  • jenny barnes 12th Dec '12 - 5:15pm

    This man and woman thing. Any of those claiming that marriage has to be between one of each care to define how you know which is which? And none of that chromosome stuff – that’s not in the bible. I think there’s a whole load of gender essentialism going on here.

  • The point is not that any one’s individual (heterosexual ) marriage is affected but that the genaeral discourse about heterosexual marriage is affected, if only because the word ‘heterosexual’ has to be added as a qualifier. Language is at its most useful (except in crosswords, of course!) when words have precise meanings. Extending the meaning of marriage will make social discourse about ‘heterosexual marriage’ and what it is for that much more difficult. There is a biological complementarity between opposite sexes that is lacking between members of the same sex. No amount of ‘unfair/denial/religious-bigot’ discourse can affect this. The language would be debased. The hijacking of the word ‘gay’ is one thing, but the hijacking of the word ‘marriage’ is another. All this, regardless of any theological argument. And my point about the political arrogance of our party’s leaders still stands too! At this point I bow out, I’m afraid.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Dec '12 - 5:22pm

    Alex Matthews

    You seem to presume that we have just decided to come to this conclusion and that we have ignored all arguments against it. That is a BIG presumption to make about so many people. Once again, I cannot speak on behalf of others, but I can safely say that I, personally, have reviewed both sides and come to promote what I believe the evidence suggests is a fair and just outcome for both sides.

    You may have done, but this thread indicates that most who publicly argue for gay marriage have not. Beadlady here made explicit her acceptance of there being a legal recognition of partnership between two people of the same sex, that her only objection was to the insistence of it being labelled with exactly the same term as a partnership between two people of opposite sexes, yet she was hit with arguments which assumed she was opposed to any form of recognised gay partnership, arguments which attacked her with historical precedents which actually SUPPORTED what she was saying because they suggested a multiplicity of legally recognised partnerships.

    I decided to “come out” as a critic of the gay marriage line, having remained silent on this issue for a long time, very much because I was continuously reading attacks on opponents of gay marriage which just assumed anyone who took that position was opposed to any form of gay relationship.

    My initial position on this was that I found the arguments on BOTH sides silly because once we have an acceptance of gay partnership conferring the same legal rights as marriage, we are down to arguing purely over whether we should use the same word for this or another word. What does it matter either way what word is used? However, I was eventually convinced that there were some valid points from the anti side that the pro side was drowning taking instead a position of “You’re all ****, we’re not listening to you, so yah booh sucks, we’re better than you”. I have written **** because I haven’t quite worked out the algorithm for things going straight through to be posted, but I mean the word Nick Clegg (or his speechwriter) first used and then withdrew. Sorry, but quite a lot of what is being written here from the pro side does come across as just this. I’m not saying by this that everything from the anti side is quite clean and liberal and free of bias, quite obviously it is not. I felt, for example, that the leaders of the RC Church in England and Wales put their point on this issue respectfully, while the leader of the RC Church in Scotland put his point disgracefully.

  • “However, I was eventually convinced that there were some valid points from the anti side that the pro side was drowning taking instead a position of “You’re all ****, we’re not listening to you, so yah booh sucks, we’re better than you”.”

    Hmm. I’m starting to think this constant refrain is more a way of avoiding awkward questions than anything else.

  • @Alex
    I think you addressed your question to the wrong person, I am pro equal marriage…

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Dec '12 - 7:02pm

    @Steve Way: “It used to be commonly understood that capital punishment was just and effective, that women shoul not vote and that beating children was an effective education tool. All have been superseded, common understanding does not make something right.”

    My point about common understanding regarding marriage was made in response to your response that my position on the issue is simply ‘an opinion.’ The fact is that gay marriage was not a big issue in the 2010 GE, it was not in the Coalition Agreement nor in party manifestos, yet we’re all now supposed to believe that this issu is equivalent to the Suffragettes suffering for the franchise for women.

    The point is that civil rights equality was won in 2005 – quite right too. Same sex marriage is argument over the meaning and symbolism of a term used to describe a particular unit and union in society. Apples are not the same as Pears.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Dec '12 - 7:09pm

    Alex Matthews: ” Helen can you please tell me where your evidence of this common understanding comes from? You see, I thought it was commonly understood that scientists, sociologists and psychologists had all roundly rejected the idea that having two parents of the same sex is in anyway detrimental.”

    I guess the fact that same sex marriage is not legal at the moment is a clue to what this society’s view is regarding the common understanding of the term marriage.

    I am not arguing against rights won through the civil partnership act – my contention is that marriage describers a particular relationship and unit. I think that if people are unhappy with the term ‘civil partnership’ then another definition should be generated to best describe that relationship.

  • Richard Dean 12th Dec '12 - 7:25pm

    Does anyone have any information about what the population of this country thinks on this issue?

  • Alex Matthews 12th Dec '12 - 10:38pm

    @Stave=Sorry, I meant Don.

    @Helen=As someone with a Law degree who has published a paper on the Law and Morality, I can assure you that there are many laws which most people in society will dislike or disagree with. Those who suggest this law will undermine marriage and social cohesion, I think we should all remember that Lord Devlin once tried to use a similar argument to justify homosexuality being illegal, now does anyone want to go back to the dark days of when we used to use electro shock treatments on people who are gay, no? Why? Well, the answer is rather simple actually, it is because now society has realised that changing that law, far from ending society, has in fact improved it.

    @Matthew=The word is very important because:
    1=Civil partnerships do not have the same legal status as marriage.
    -Some rights a civil partnership misses out on:
    Status as “next-of-kin” for hospital visits and medical decisions
    Right to make a decision about last rites
    Right to make a decision about the disposal of loved ones remains
    Immigration and residency for partners from other countries
    Automatic inheritance in the absence of a will
    Crime victims recovery benefits
    Domestic violence protection orders
    Judicial protections and immunity
    Public safety officers death benefits
    Social Security
    Joint parental rights of children
    Joint adoption
    Joint filing of tax returns
    Wrongful-death benefits for surviving partner and children
    Bereavement or sick leave to care for partner or children
    Child support
    Joint Insurance Plans
    Tax credits including: Child tax credit, Hope and lifetime learning credits
    Deferred Compensation for pension and IRAs
    Estate and gift tax benefits
    Welfare and public assistance
    Joint housing for elderly
    Credit protection
    2=The fact that the Law still feels the need to call them something different shows that it still is not treating them the same.

    @Richard=Well the response to the consultation in Scotland was very inconclusive.

  • @ Helen
    No one said they were equivalent, just pointing out that the common understanding is not a reason for blocking change. If I had to choose to allow votes for 50% of society or allow equal marriage the former would of course win. But we do not have to choose…

  • It is claimed — to my mind, entirely spuriously — that this is really all about language, and that the resistance to the idea of same-sex marriage is “just” an attempt to preserve one particular dictionary definition of the word marriage. Aside from the fact that dictionary definitions reflect social norms but do not mandate them, no particular reason has been given as to why one possible definition of marriage should be preferred over all others. Nostalgia, perhaps? But since when has nostalgia, in and of itself, been sufficient justification for maintaining a system that is prejudicial to an entire class of people?
    It has been demonstrated that civil partnerships and marriage are not, in fact, legally equivalent. But let us say the law were to be amended so that they were so. Then why should they not be called the same thing? Are not quantities equivalent to the same quantity also equivalent to each other? Is it not in fact the case that the entire purpose of calling a male-female union by one name, and male-male or female-female unions by another, is to privilege the former over the latter — in fact, to disparage the latter, and thereby suggest that those who have “partnerships” instead of “marriages” have purchased an inferior product?
    How small does one have to be, how petty is the triumph, to resort to this kind of chicanery in order to have something positive to say about oneself? “Yes, my life is a wreck otherwise, but at least I have a real marriage instead of one of those wretched partnerships“? There are all other sorts of things in life which one can find satisfaction that don’t involve trying to take one’s neighbour down a peg, or if already down, making sure they stay down. I would suggest finding any one of them and trying them out.

  • Buddhists get married so the definition of marriage is not God given.
    Here in Thailand couples go to a gowernment office to register their marriage.Those who only go through a religious ceremony are not recognised as married by law. (same sex marriages not recognised in Thai law)
    I got married to a Thai woman at a registry office in England.The marriage is recognised by Thai law but I didn’t registered the marriage in Thailand because of the legal restrictions placed on women with foreign spouses.
    There are increasing immigration restrictions in Britain on British citizens who have a foreign spouse so is marriage equal?

  • Alex Matthews 13th Dec '12 - 10:11am

    @David, I agree so much.

    @Manfarang, as someone with a Taiwanese partner, I can empathise. The way we are treated by this state has led me to believe that in fact it is not marriage the Tories are interested in, but the idea of a perfect, white, middle class marriage. Ironically we have come to a situration where EU citizens with non-EU spouses have more rights than me to be here with my partner. (Note, my partner is female and I am male.)

  • Alex Matthews 13th Dec '12 - 1:04pm

    Someone helpfully pointed out to me that my list on law currently is unclear. That list refers to American law, not British. I am sorry for the confusion, I was tired last night and forgot to edit the list according to the audience. For those wondering why I bring this up; I felt it was important to understand there are legal issues to the language we use.

  • Helen Tedcastle 14th Dec '12 - 10:43pm

    @Alex Matthews: ” I can assure you that there are many laws which most people in society will dislike or disagree with. Those who suggest this law will undermine marriage and social cohesion, I think we should all remember that Lord Devlin once tried to use a similar argument to justify homosexuality being illegal, now does anyone want to go back to the dark days of when we used to use electro shock treatments on people who are gay, no? Why? Well, the answer is rather simple actually, it is because now society has realised that changing that law, far from ending society, has in fact improved it.”

    I have not argued that marriage or social cohesion will be undermined by same-sex marriage. I am arguing about language, which is not as some people think, a distraction or a cover for homophobic attitudes but a genuine argument for a much more rigorous debate about this term and yes, this institution.

    In my view the term marriage is a religiously-loaded term borrowed by the state to describe the union of man and woman in civil services. It is not by definition a term to describe a diversity of commitments but a particular commitment.

    The idea by the way that because someone in conscience who is against a change in the law doesn’t want any change to civil rights and by implication would have gone along with rampant homophobia in the past, is unfair and and an illiberal allusion.

  • Alex Matthews 14th Dec '12 - 11:54pm

    @Helan, sorry to be brutal, but religion ‘borrowed’ the word first, not the other way round. The word marriage referred to a very legal/formal unification of two people which originally had nothing to do with god or love. In fact, far from being something quite profound, it was really just a way for families to cynically create stronger legal and social obligations to one another, and a way to gain wealth and social advantage.

    I think it is also worth remembering that words are protean. This means that any word’s usage and meaning can be multifaceted as it is defined by the people using it AKA society. If we wanted too we can make any word mean anything. Ironically, one word which does have a very religious heritage is the word awesome; that use to mean something terrifying, normally in response to an ‘act of god’. However, now it means amazing or very good, and even more recently, it has changed again to mean ‘lame’ or uncool. This shows that we can change words as we wish because we create language to suit our needs, we do not change to suit the languages needs.

    This means, in my opinion at least, the word marriage is large enough to carry the many different personal interpretations of the word that people and it is not the place of the law to say which of those interpretations is correct. In fact, as liberals, the idea of the law telling us how we should speak should be an awesome thought. ;)
    -As a religious person, the idea of the law having any affect on the words real meaning should be silly to you, surely if you honestly believe that marriage is union between god, a man and a woman, then that is what it means, why do you need it to be written into the laws of man? That means just silly, who cares if the laws of man do not say this, what does it matter if the rest of society has a different interpretation, surely you are a strong enough person to not need everyones’ agreement to validate your beliefs, what matters is you believe?

  • It’s certainly an interesting challenge trying to put one’s finger on what people’s real objections are to these proposals. They seem so elusive and inconstant that it’s difficult to resist the impression that the fundamental arguments are being concealed while flimsier surrogates are exercised in public.

    Take Helen. A couple of days ago the objection seemed to be something to do with a claim that the best environment for raising children was the traditional nuclear family – though it was difficult to fathom the relevance of that claim, given that (1) children can already be raised in any manner of non-traditional families, including by gay and lesbian couples, and (2) that situation will remain unaltered whether same-sex marriage is legalised or not.

    Today her concern seems to be primarily a linguistic one. Perhaps extreme linguistic conservatives could mount a consistent argument against same-sex marriage. But then again, the rest of us probably wouldn’t be able to understand it, because they would be speaking in Chaucerian English – or pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon – or perhaps in Ancient Sogdian or something even more archaic. And it comes as a real shock to see Helen referring to “gay marriage”. What can she mean? Marriage that is “full of mirth; light-hearted; lively; cheerful; merry”, presumably – to quote a dictionary published in the 1920s. Surely she wouldn’t do such violence to the language as to describe homosexuals as “gays”?

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