Greg Mulholland to propose “complete separation of state marriage and religious weddings”

Greg MulhollandLib Dem MP Greg Mulholland was one of seven Lib Dem MPs to abstain from the vote on same-sex marriage in February. He explained his reasons for doing so here:

I do agree unequivocally that all adults must be treated equally in terms of legal recognition of their relationship and the rights that they convey; the question is how best to deliver that at the same time as protecting freedom of conscience. These are two important rights and must both be delivered simultaneously. The problem is that as currently drafted, the Marriage Bill delivers neither of these. It is a confused and flawed piece of legislation that does not actually deliver equality as it proposes different definitions of marriage for heterosexual and same sex couples; nor does it sufficiently protect freedom of conscience for people with religious and other differing views of marriage. This is why I was unable to support the Bill at second reading, however nor did I want to vote against it or what would be misinterpreted as my being anti equal legal rights, which I am very clearly not.

Greg now has a proposal, though it’s far-reaching legislative changes may not be well-received at Westminster:

  1. repeal of the Marriage Act 1949
  2. repeal of the Civil Partnership Act 2004
  3. removing clauses in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 for the ending of marriages on the grounds of adultery or non-consummation, and
  4. banning any religious service during a state marriage overseen by a civil union registrar.

Greg is quoted in the Evening Standard saying:

“The Marriage Bill neither delivers equal marriage nor adequately protects freedom of conscience. The way to deliver both is a proper separation of civil and religious marriage, so it is clear that civil recognition of relationships is a matter for the state, defined in law, and this should be the same for all couples, but at the same time then allowing belief-based organisations to marry whoever they want according to what they believe marriage to mean. This is the liberal and the fair approach, but also the commonsensical one that would deliver equality and tolerance and would avoid some of the pitfalls of the Bill as drafted.”

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  • Somebody, please, make this stop!

  • Yep, he is right.

  • Yes, he is right and this would create more separation between the state and religion.

    Where I disagree is the abolition of civil partnerships. I would like to see the possibility of extending this to non-sexual dependent partnerships and could for example be available to those who devote their lives as long term carers.

  • I would have a lot of sympathy for religious people proposing this solution if… if they had said this BEFORE they lost the battle on equal marriage.

    You see, people have been proposing this French style separation for decades. Where were the religious groups supporting this solution then, hey? Cat got their tongue? Why is it that they only come forward supporting separation of church marriage ans state marriage once they have lost the battle of preventing equal state marriage?

    The truth is, the church only got 18th and 19th century governments to legislate to take marriage into the realm of the state legislation because they wanted to use the state to exert control on who would marry, how and where. The church assumed that by using the state it would be able to control the use of marriage. But in the end this backfired, because the advance of society meant that not only did the state legalise gay marriage, but because the church had bolted themselves to state marriage it meant that church gay marriage would be legalised by extension (except for the CofE, it seems).

    My response to this is: you make a bed, you lie in it. The church forced this unwelcome battle on everyone, and now they have lost it they want to re-wind history and not have the battle in the first place. Well, it’s too late now. Tough.

  • I too am suspicious of Mr Mulholland’s motives in proposing this now. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a superior solution to the issue of marriage equality than the current legislation. If it was a choice between the two, I would vote for Mulholland’s proposal. But it has no chance at all. And on that basis, the new legislation put forward by the Coalition is supportable because it remedies the more fundamental social injustice we have now.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Apr '13 - 6:51pm

    @MBoy: Not quite sure I understand your points. Greg Mulholland MP does not speak for religious groups. I for one am not sure of the motives for introducing this. If it is for religious reasons I think he’ll find he will be opposed.

    The French system seems to me to be appalling. Outlawing wearing of the Hijab for Muslim women who want to wear it – locking them up if they refuse? Tantamount to persecution to me.

  • Richard Wingfield 7th Apr '13 - 7:15pm

    Prior to the Marriage Act 1753, the state had no involvement whatsoever with the recognition or conduct of marriages; the matter was entirely left to canon law. And the state did not conduct marriages (civil marriages) until 1837. The history of marriage and marriage law in England and Wales is really quite complex and while an overhaul and simplification would be beneficial, I think it should be preceded by a review by the Law Commission and proper consultation rather than through amendments to this Bill. I’m sure Greg Mulholland accepts that his amendments are unlikely to be successful and that this doesn’t prevent him from supporting the Bill at Third Reading.

    I don’t actually have a problem with religions conducting marriages on behalf of the state (just as religions and religious organisations) conduct a number of other state functions but only if they do so on an entirely non-discriminatory basis and without any exemptions from the Equality Act 2010. This would mean that they would not be able to refuse to conduct marriages between two people of the same sex, between people who had been divorced, or people of different religions, for example. If, because of their religious doctrines, a religions feels it cannot do this, then they should not be permitted to conduct state-recognised marriages. But, if they can, and they are willing to conduct marriages on the same terms as civil registrars, then I do not see the benefit in forcing a couple to have two ceremonies when they could just have one. So I don’t actually agree with Greg on this one.

    I am also suspicious of his suggestion that the Bill does not “sufficiently protect freedom of conscience for people with religious and other differing views of marriage”. As far as I can see, the Bill goes out of its way to protect freedom of conscience. Indeed, the fact that there is such been criticism of the Bill from certain quarters suggests to me that people are entirely free to express their beliefs. If his concern if for teachers and civil registrars then I have no sympathy. Your beliefs are irrelevant when are you are carrying out a public function and do not justify exempting you from carrying out that function. If you don’t like it, find another job.

  • Richard Church 7th Apr '13 - 7:52pm

    There is a simpler answer to this. Allow organisations which are not religious, such as the British Humanist Association, to conduct weddings. Stephen Williams proposed this in committee, but sadly it fell on the chairman’s casting vote. I would be interested to know if Greg would support it.

    The problem is that religions want to appropriate marriage as just their property, it isn’t. How the Catholic Church defines marriage is their business, not the sates or any body elses. If any particualr Church doesn’t want to recognise a same sex marriage, that is their own sad problem, it should be recognised by the state if it is conducted by a registrar, a quaker officiant, a vicar or a humanist celebrant.

    Greg’s proposal is superficially attractive, but its for another day. A simple change to the legislation now to allow humanist weddings, as already happens in Scotland, is what is needed.

  • This article fails to point out that Greg Mulholland is proposing the abolition of Marriages and CPs to be replaced by a new instituion called ‘Civil Unions’. It removes the concepts of adultery & consummation.

    It strikes me that what he is saying is that he’d sooner destroy the whole institution of Marriage rather than let the gays be part of it.

    Those commenters who suggest this is about separating ‘state marriage’ from ‘religious marriage’ are deluding themselves.

  • What does Lynne Featherstone think of these amendments? If this is what the LibDem party wanted then why didn’t they propose this at their party conference? Why is GM rebelling against party policy and why is he one of the 11 LibDem MPs who didn’t vote for SSM?

  • lynne featherstone 8th Apr '13 - 11:48am

    The suggested proposal above is a long grass proposal.

    The Bill is permissive – a live and let live proposal – which removes a fundamental wrong.

  • if churches wish to dictate the terms of a marriage, then they must do so under their own auspices and only seek to marry couples within their congregation.

    Secularising religious ceremonies will provide them with greater representative authority and end the challenge those bodies pose to free democratic control of a peaceful, integrated society.

    There is a clear distinction between the romantic ideal of marriage and the practical reality – and therefore there must be a clear distinction between the state of civil and religious union.

    Equality between the two requires recognition of the difference. Exposing inequalities shows the direction for progress.

  • Chris Beney 12th Apr '13 - 8:16pm


    Good for Greg Mulholland.
    I think we have been tying ourselves in knots over the word ‘marriage’. People, and priests, want it to mean what they think it should mean. Why not let them! What I mean is by separating the state’s interest in close relationships from the individuals’ (and their religion’s) interests, much confusion in names and in law would be avoided. The state should wholly divest itself of any interest in ‘marriage’ and enact that any agreements or vows shall have no effect in law. Then the state should widen ‘partnerships’ as it wills, tying all responsibilities (eg maintenance) and benefits (eg tax reliefs) to that contract and none at all to any ‘marriage’. Render unto Caesar!

    In fact that process used to be quite common for different reasons, my brother married in a registry office the day before his (church) wedding, due then to the building being unlicensed, but the effect was the same, the civil document trumps any church promises..

    Of course there would be loose ends to sort. Aren’t there always.

  • The logic of what Greg is reported as saying is that for state purposes, only the state’s procedures should count. Up to now some religious groups have up till now been able to effect marriages according to their procedures and beliefs which were also recognised by the state for its purposes. This proposal would appear to aim to end this and would require people who wished to claim any tax concessions or trigger inheritance rights to undergo a parallel civil ceremony. Why? If that isn’t his intention, what is he actually advocating? If he’s actually saying that the state should withdraw from any attempt to set parameters for marriage through religious institutions, is this reasonable given that the state and the law do sometimes discriminate between married and non-married relationships and people?

    Eliminating any mention of religion from a civil ceremony (I thought that was the case already) won’t necessarily make it acceptable to religious groups: for example, to Quakers it is fundamental that a marriage ceremony is not a thing that by itself changes the status of a relationship, but is a public recording of an agreement between two people.

    Richard and others: please don’t stereotype religious people and groups by implying that “the religious” have opposed, for example, same sex marriage. Some religious individuals and some religious groups have long and strongly supported it.

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