Wednesday, 12 December 2012

My Response To The Coalition's #EqualMarriage Consultation Response

Just as summer follows spring and Catholics follow the Pope, it is inevitable that upon the release of any Government proposals on marriage equality there will be a grumpy blog post from Jae. It is a tradition I refuse to break with but, you'll be pleased to know, part of my grumpiness is directed at those attacking the Government for once.

The Government's response to their consultation can be found here.

Before I moan about the problems I have with the proposals, I must firstly get something off my chest. These proposals, to allow religious as well as civil marriage equality, are far more than I was expecting. I must say I am extremely pleased with how far the Government has come since it initially set out its plans for civil marriage equality. David Cameron, Maria Miller and the other Tories championing this policy deserve special praise for being so brave! And of course I have no doubt that wise words came from the Lib Dems involved (such as Lynne Featherstone) which helped push them in the right direction! Thank you to all those who have worked hard on this consultation response.

Now, there are a few things I hope we can persuade them to consider further...

1) I've made it clear before that one of my major issues with the civil partnership/marriage divide was its impact on transgendered people and their significant others. Whilst it is good to see that those in marriages will no longer need to divorce to get a GRC, and those in a civil partnership can "convert" to a marriage, there is the problem that those who have had to divorce in the past get no restitution under these proposals. This is a significant slap in the face to those mistreated for so many years. Zoe blogs on this is a little more detail.

2) My number 2 problem with the current situation was with the pensions disparity explained so simply in this video:

Sadly it does not appear that these proposals will fix this either.
Policy on public service pension scheme in the UK is reserved to the UK Government. Those schemes where policy is reserved will treat same-sex married couples as civil partners. This means, that for the majority of schemes, survivor benefits for same-sex married couples will apply from 6 April 1988
Thanks to Mark Collyer for keeping an eye on this one.

3. Mixed-sex civil partnerships are still off the agenda. This has some affect on transgender rights and, quite frankly, also seems bizarre. Why allow same-sex civil partnerships AND equal marriage but no civil partnerships for mixed-sex couples? It gives same-sex couples a greater choice than mixed couples!! That is discrimination, and I hope it is challenged in court.

4. Consummation and adultery as legal concepts remain completely unchanged. Same-sex married couples will not be the same as mixed-sex married couples.

So whilst we have marriage equality in name, I feel what we are getting is just civil partnerships renamed as marriage. It is hardly radical and certainly not something our opponents should be at all worried about. Why they are is beyond me... oh wait no it isn't. They are mostly stupid.

Yes, there is plenty I feel the Government should change and I hope greater minds than mine are currently working on proposing suitable amendments to do just that during the Parliamentary process.

In other grumpy news...

The Government has made it quite clear that they wish to defend religious liberty. They have called these protections a "quadruple lock".

Key protections  
we will make it explicitly clear in the legislation that no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit their premises to be used for this purpose  
we will devise an 'opt-in' system where same-sex couples can only marry according to religious rites on religious premises where the governing religious body has expressly consented; and the legislation will make it clear that no law requires any religious organisations to opt in to that system  
we will also amend the Equality Act 2010 so that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose  
the legislation will not apply to the Church of England (or Church in Wales) so that they will not be able in law to marry same-sex couples and will not be able to opt in to do so without further changes to primary legislation. Therefore, there will be no interference with the Church of England's Canon law
This has done little to appease the bug-eyed loons on the opposing side, which is understandable given that they won't be appeased until LGBT folk are kept away from the "normal" folk. But it has caused a small Twitterstorm from people on the supportive side too.

Much has been said about the Government's plan to make Church of England same-sex marriages illegal. Many have complained this flies in the face of religious liberty. I have sympathy for that position however in practical terms I just don't see how it matters. Even without it the other protections would forbid any Anglican priest marrying a same-sex couple on Anglican property without the Church of England expressly endorsing the practice. I feel it is more important to focus on disestablishing the church rather than attempting to defend their religious freedom on the micro level. True religious freedom is for those who aren't in an established church.

On the Church in Wales front, that seems more complicated and needs some thought as they are disestablished but are they seriously going to be allowed same-sex marriages any time soon?

Other myths that appear to be developing on Twitter include:

  • A ban on marriages in the Church of England is a ban on all religious marriage equality. That is just not true at all. 
  • A ban on marriages in the Church of England means the Government is not allowing marriage equality at all. This is one I've seen particularly stupid opponents stating. This appears to flow from them making the mistake above at the same time as believing civil marriages and civil partnerships are the same thing. Dumb. 
  • That those angry at Church of England ban are trying to force equal marriage upon the Church of England. I've seen some UKIPpers and people like Guido Fawkes try this one. Mostly these angry people are defending the Church of England's right to choose. That is about religious freedom, and UKIP and Guido Fawkes are supposed to be concerned about that sort of thing. Alas, only when it is politically expedient it would seem. 
More concerning than these myths are the few people I've noticed declaring that churches, especially the Church of England, should be forced to marry same-sex couples. This is completely against the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights and I would urge those proposing such authoritarian things to think very careful about that sort of move. We are meant to be better than that. 

So... yes I am of course delighted that we have reached the point where legislation on marriage equality is going to be debated in the House of Commons. However I have some serious concerns about what is missing, about what some well-meaning "allies" are saying and on what effect some of the nastier opponents publicly views (such as that parents don't want their gay children) will have on LGBT young people.

I know, I know. I'm never satisfied! 

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

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