Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Equal Marriage Debate FAQ

There are a number of false assumptions and misunderstandings doing the rounds on the internet and, sadly, in news studios the country over. I hope to answer some of the serious questions and concerns people have about marriage equality in order to make things a little clearer. 

Would legalising same-sex marriage force churches to carry out ceremonies whether they wanted to or not? 

(As asked by Guy Fawkes here)

Firstly consider that, at this stage of the debate, the Government has no official plans to allow ANY legal same-sex marriages to be carried out on religious premises. They have specifically planned this so as to ensure churches aren't forced to carry out any marriage they don't want to.

But it would be disingenuous of me not to admit that most people arguing for marriage equality do want  religious organisations to be allowed to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies. That is quite different to wanting to force all religious organisations to do so, something that the Law Society says won't happen if religious marriage equality ever became a reality in the future. Religious same-sex marriage would strengthen religious liberty not destroy it.

Many lay people seem to be very concerned, mainly due to some rather suspect comments by the large churches, that no religion is forced to do something it doesn't want to. Rightly so. That is not going to happen under the current proposals, especially considering the current proposals only concern civil marriage.

Also, for those who think marriage is a purely religious institution, there's a fantastic brief history of marriage in the UK here.

Many people, including gay people, think there's no need for marriage equality. Aren't civil partnerships good enough?

(As suggested by Ben Bradshaw and Andrew Pierce)

Civil partnerships were, I'll admit, a great step forward in protecting the private lives of LGB couples. Without it we'd still be living in a country where hospital visits could be denied, homophobic families able to force partners out of funeral arrangements for their other halves and many other nasty things. Civil partnerships were a plaster to heal some very deep wounds.

But, as I've stated many times before, there are differences in the rights and responsibilities bestowed by civil partnerships and marriage. They are not the same. And the separation unfairly affects transgendered people and their partners.

This is not an argument about semantics, nor about "gay people stealing our words" as some might put it. We do not want marriage because we want to upset heterosexuals, we need it to give us the same rights as opposite-sex couples.

Why do you prefer "marriage equality" to gay marriage? Are you trying to make it sound more acceptable?

I've seen this a few times, mainly in Telegraph and Daily Mail articles, and I'm never more amazed by this obsession with language. I don't stop people saying gay marriage, but I prefer marriage equality (or same-sex marriage depending on the circumstance) as it's more factually correct. Bisexuals aren't gay. Transgendered people might not be gay and this issue is about them too. Gay marriage is so simplistic and takes away from the fact we don't want a separate new form of marriage but just to be allowed the current type... i.e. "marriage".

So no, I didn't adopt it because it sounds more acceptable and, in fact, it's often a hindrance as people might not get what I'm talking about. But it is correct and thus it'll stay.

What other questions could people, genuinely, have? Let me know in the comments below.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist


Richard Gadsden said...

Some questions:

1. If marriage equality includes permitting same-sex religious marriages, how could the central authorities of the Church of England stop a "rogue" vicar from conducting same-sex marriages.

For other churches, the answer is easy - they'd kick that priest (Catholic) / that congregation (other denominations) out, but the Anglicans would actually have severe problems stopping rogue vicars even if Synod was solidly opposed to same-sex marriage.

Vicars can remarry divorcees at their discretion, which provokes horrible rows within the Church, but they can't be stopped by higher authority from doing so - this is because the higher authorities within the Church have very little control in practice over what a vicar does in his/her parish; they're almost unsackable.

My suggestion on this point would be that, for the Church of England, the legislation should be commenced by Synod (well, by an SI in the names of the two archbishops following a vote in Synod, which is the way that this is officially done). That way, the Church has to come in as a unit and doesn't end up getting dragged in a little bit at a time, and tearing itself apart in the process.

2. While there's little doubt that any anti-discrimination case against a church (or other religion) that entirely refuses to conduct same-sex marriages will fail on religious freedom grounds, what about when some parishes within a denomination will allow same-sex marriages and others won't? I suspect there may be a stronger case there.

Jae Kay said...

Very interesting questions, but beyond my ability to answer and perhaps outside of my remit.

I'm pretty sure church legislation will be brought about in the event of marriage equality becoming reality. That may stop too many issues.

Although I understand it would cause huge issues internally for the church involved, my opinion is that if a priest/parish wants to marry a same-sex couple then that should be their prerogative. I'm not really big on higher authorities!

Anonymous said...

Currently there is an opt-out for the Anglican church regarding marriages of anyone a minister reasonably considers to have changed their ngender.

It woould be interesting to know whether this had ever been challenged, and if so what the outcome was.