Sarah Teather on equal marriage – “I tied myself up in ridiculous intellectual knots”

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Sarah Teather has written the following public post on Facebook:

Next week marks 8 years since the Marriage (same sex) Act gained Royal Assent and became law. When the proposal for gay marriage came to parliament I tied myself up in ridiculous intellectual knots trying to find a way to navigate official Catholic teaching on marriage and my liberal instincts and campaigning history on gay rights. In the end, I voted against the bill. Wise friends said to me then that it didn’t fit with what they knew of me and I would regret it. They were right. In the years since as friends and acquaintances have got engaged and married I have inwardly cheered and thanked God that I was then in an irrelevant minority. I think this anniversary is a good time to say more publicly that I was wrong then and I am delighted now that gay people have the right to be married.

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  • Paul Murray 6th Jul '21 - 10:25am

    I am pleased that my comment on this forum on an article about support for equal marriage in 2013 – I said that in a few years time people would wonder what all the fuss was about – has proven correct.

    YouGov polling on equal marriage 2013 versus 2021:

    Position : 2013 2021
    Strongly support : 28% 51%
    Somewhat support : 23% 26%
    Somewhat oppose : 17% 9%
    Strongly oppose : 20% 9%

  • LiberalLondoner 6th Jul '21 - 10:52am

    This is great example of how religion, especially the more dogmatic brands of it, ties people up in intellectual knots.

    It’s a pity that ST suffered from this as in all other respects she had an excellent record.

  • lynne featherstone 6th Jul '21 - 11:42am

    I am so pleased Sarah. You are a true liberal. It was easy for me – but it tore you apart at the time. Religions need to look at themselves and their teachings. I hold them guilty for making people choose between their sexuality and their faith.

  • Laurence Cox 6th Jul '21 - 11:56am

    Had I been in Sarah Teather’s position, I might also have voted against the Act, but for exactly the opposite reason to hers. Of all Churches, the Church of England is prevented by Law from the marriage of same-sex couples or even blessing a same-sex civil marriage; the Church of Wales (the Anglican Church in Wales) which was disestablished a century ago last year has a specific power under this Act to institute same-sex marriages or blessings in church and this is now being discussed, with the Bishops already in favour of it. The Scottish Episcopal Church (the Anglican Church in Scotland, which was never an established Church) voted for same-sex marriage in 2017.

    It is time that the Church of England is finally freed from the dead hand of the State and its General Synod allowed to make decisions on marriage for same-sex couples for itself.

  • Brad Barrows 6th Jul '21 - 12:12pm

    There is no doubt that the tide of public opinion is shifting on this issue. As this happens, those who continue to have religious beliefs that marriage should be between a male and a female are increasingly having to keep their opinions to themselves if they wish to avoid being accused of homophobia and disadvantaged in their careers. Religious belief is one of the protected characteristics but, it appears, only if those beliefs are acceptable to the rest of society.

  • Helen Dudden 6th Jul '21 - 12:35pm

    I think most who have practice some form of religion will have their own opinions.

    I think Sarah has been very honest, to admit the decision she made could have been wrong.

  • It would have been better to remove the legal concept of marriage and make all existing marriages civil partnerships. Religions could do their thing and the state would have the required legal framework. France separates the legal and the religious, we could have followed them but with even more clarity.

    A missed opportunity to simplify the situation and further separate religion from the state. It then could have then been followed up with disestablishing the Church of England.

  • @fspeople – Intellectually it would have been better, I agree. But this is mostly a thing about people and words and how much value the one puts on the other.

    Like most reforms, what’s on the table is about where campaigners reasonably believe they can get to from here. Ending the “one woman and one man” phase marriage had oddly fallen into was as big a leap as was plausible.

    @Paul – quite. You’d never believe from here, barely a decade on, how bold a moved it felt at the time!

  • Paul Barker 6th Jul '21 - 5:52pm

    I think Sarah should be praised for this, admitting that you got something wrong is hard & has been made harder by Twitter & The “Culture War”.

  • I just want to say thankyou to Sarah for saying this. She wasn’t my MP at the time, but a neighbouring one and I remember feeling very let down by her decision.

    Now – heading for my fourth wedding anniversary as part of a same sex couple – it does make a difference to hear this. It takes a lot to admit you were wrong, even years after the fact, especially publicly, and I respect that, and appreciate it.

  • David Marshland 7th Jul '21 - 9:35am

    As an at least nominal Catholic and a former lawyer, the Catholic Church’s position on marriage has made less and less logical sense the more I think about it.
    It doesn’t recognise marriages of Catholics not performed under its own rites, but does recognise them for non-Catholics. See Alexander Johnson for further details.
    Logically then if a non-Catholic and a Catholic marry in a non-Catholic rite, only one party is recognised as having married. If that party then becomes a Catholic then their marriage continues to be recognised but the Catholic party’s isn’t?
    My own view was that a civil marriage is not a religious ceremony, isn’t recognised as a valid ceremony on its own by the Catholic Church and therefore it is up to the Civil Authorities to decide the parameters. Just as it isn’t for the Civil Authorities to influence the religious bodies on their criteria.
    “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, as someone or other advised a couple of millennia ago. Separation of Church and State etc.

  • Nigel Jones 7th Jul '21 - 10:32am

    I am so pleased that Sarah now feels gay marriage is good. It comes so soon after the Methodist Church voted overwhelmingly to generally accept gay marriage. I say generally, because it allows each Methodist congregation and Minister to make its own decision. That is similar to the position in the Baptist Churches where there has always been an inbuilt tradition that each congregation makes its own decision on a whole range of matters.
    Baptist minister Steve Chalke has been saying loudly since 2014, that there has been huge misunderstanding of Biblical interpretation among those who strongly oppose gay marriage and also a forgetfulness of the harm to gay people of the past by the huge support given by churches to the previous laws against gay relationships. That however was relatively recent in church history.
    A book published by John Boswell in 1994 showed that prior to the 14th century gay partnerships were widely accepted in the church and often solemnised in a church service.

  • Nigel Jones 7th Jul '21 - 11:28am

    Just to make clear my reference above is to John Boswell, the historian and professor at Yale University and his book is entitled; “Same-sex unions in Pre-Modern Europe”.

  • John McHugo 7th Jul '21 - 12:00pm

    Speaking as both a fellow Lib Dem and fellow Catholic, I admire and have huge respect for Sarah and am very sorry she is no longer in Parliament as part of our team.

    She is truly a person of conscience, courage, and sincerity. I have no doubt that this is related, at least in part, to her faith. Her opinion, and her change of mind on an issue, are therefore very significant and should be taken note of by others (especially within the Catholic Church). I think of that as far more important than the fact that I agree with her.

    She is now at the forefront of the struggle for helping refugees and upholding their rights. This has been her choice. We all wish her well – all power to your elbow, Sarah.

  • nvelope2003 7th Jul '21 - 12:27pm

    As I understand it the Ministers of the State recognised Church – before the Reformation the Catholic Church and after it the Church of England – were given the right to perform marrriage ceremonies because they were the only people who could read and write in many places and would keep the Register in a safe place. In the mid nineteenth century Civil Marriage was introduced for people who did not want a church service and Ministers of other denominations were allowed to perform marriage ceremonies subject to certain requirements about having a safe to keep the Register, otherwise the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths had to be present in a non conformist chapel which is apparently still the case. Marriage is not a religious matter just because a minister of religion has the right to act as the Registrar for historic reasons and because many people liked it that way.

  • lynne featherstone 7th Jul '21 - 12:42pm

    FS people – this was simon hughes argument at the time – and perhaps in an ideal world. It is a miracle we got this through. It had to be able to be got through while we were in coalition – so in one parliament. This suggestion along with amending the marriage act rather than creating a new act would have tied us up forever. The art of the possible not the perfect!

  • lynne Featherstone

    I appreciate it is a judgement call as to how much risk each option poses, but given that it what would have been required was scrapping the marriage act and having everything governed by the civil partnerships act (which is far more coherent) I’m not sure it would have been as bad as it may have looked.

    Though I appreciate it is a call you have to make without knowing what you will face as you progress, so I get why you went that route even if I would have thought differently.

    I was not entirely serious about the disestablishment point, as although a good idea, that would derail anything it was attached too.

  • I have been campaigning for gay rights throughout my time as a as a Methodist minister starting in the early 1970s. So I too was disappointed by Sarah’s original decision but welcome her catching up with herself so-to-speak. I find it strange the way many Christians make a fuss about the Bible but fail to notice that it has lots more to say about money than about sex.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Jul '21 - 2:01pm

    A really fine reflection from a really fine person.

    Yes the decision to allow influence from the Church and faith to effect her vote made sense . Now it would be good if she let her change of mind and heart influence her Church and faith group.

    I was an active Catholic youth who was openly for women priests when most Catholic
    women were not!

    I was an open supporter of gay rights and transgender rights so many times aware then the Church were not then, also.

    That was the eighties.

    We have moved forward. The Church should!

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