Thousands speaking up
As the consultation on the redefinition of marriage and the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales begins, pressure is mounting on the government to scrap their proposals.
By March 16, over 218,000 people had signed the national petition launched by the Coalition for Marriage (C4M) on February 20, and church leaders, politicians and even celebrities have spoken out in support of maintaining the current system of marriage and civil partnerships.
The C4M’s petition calls on the government to leave the definition of marriage alone. The current definition of marriage is the voluntary union between one man and one woman for life.
Colin Hart, C4M Campaign Director, said: ‘There is no need to redefine marriage as civil partnerships already confer all the legal rights of marriage on same-sex couples. It would be profoundly undemocratic, as none of the main political parties put this huge change in their manifesto and yet want to push it through without the public having a say.
He added: ‘And the government seems to think it can rewrite 1,000 years of legislation, without all sorts of damaging consequences both intended and unintended. It is time the government listened to those who back traditional marriage and consider all the implications of their actions, before it’s too late’.
The Equalities Minister
Setting out the government’s case for equal marriage in the Telegraph at the end of February, Lynne Featherstone MP, the Equalities Minister, said: ‘We understand how strongly some religious groups feel about the issue, which is why we are listening, and we want to work with them. But there is a range of other views we need to listen to as well.
‘I want to urge people not to polarise this debate. This is not a battle between gay rights and religious beliefs. This is about the underlying principles of family, society and personal freedoms.’ She concluded: ‘Marriage is a right of passage for couples who want to show they are in a committed relationship, for people who want to show they have found love and wish to remain together until death do them part. Why should we deny it to people who happen to be gay or lesbian who wish to show that commitment and share it with their family, friends and everybody else? We should be proud of couples who love each other and a society that recognises their love as equal’.
However, the issue is not so clear-cut. In February, homosexual celebrity Christopher Biggins said that he does not want to redefine marriage because ‘we can’t just get rid of everything’. Mr. Biggins was speaking on ITV’s daytime show Loose Women, where he commented: ‘I’m very anti-marriages, because I think that is for heterosexual couples’.
And lesbian feminist Julie Bindel has also reacted against the plans, saying that the campaign for same-sex marriage is ‘a waste of time and effort’.
As Archbishop stands down
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who announced his decision to stand down in March, stated that the government has no right to legalise same-sex marriage, and that issues of homosexual rights should be ‘addressed at the level of culture rather than law’.
In a statement to the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Dr. Rowan Williams commented that the legalisation of homosexual marriage would impose an unwanted re-definition of marriage on the whole of society, and that the law on human rights fell ‘short of a legal charter to promote change in institutions’. He added: ‘If it is said that a failure to legalise same-sex marriage perpetuates stigma or marginalisation for some people, the reply must be, I believe, that issues like stigma and marginalisation have to be addressed at the level of culture rather than law’.
In a discussion with MPs, Dr. Williams also made it clear that Church of England buildings would not be used to solemnise same-sex marriages should they be introduced, although critics believe that it would only be a matter of time before churches were forced to accept same-sex marriages on their premises.
The director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) has also questioned the credibility of the government if they press ahead with plans to redefine marriage.
John Stevens, who was previously deputy head of the University of Birmingham’s law faculty, criticised the ‘unpopular’ proposals. Writing on his blog at the end of February, he said: ‘When civil partnerships were introduced in 2004, the government gave its word that there would continue to be a distinction between civil partnership and marriage as traditionally understood, so that Christians and others need not fear the introduction of civil partnerships.
‘A mere eight years later the government is reneging on these commitments, and introducing a policy that was never put to the British people in their manifestos. Government should not be allowed to get away with such duplicity.’
He continued: ‘The gay community is a tiny percentage of the population as a whole, but they exercise inordinate power through their vociferous lobbying’.
Ann Widdecombe has said that if the Prime Minister ‘insists on pushing ahead’ with the change, then there should be a referendum on the issue.
The former Conservative MP warned the government: ‘It is simply not true that only the church is opposed to redefining marriage. People who never go inside a church from one year to the next oppose it. Some of those who spoke out in favour of civil partnerships oppose it’.
She commented that it suited government ministers ‘to paint a picture in which everyone wants gay marriage except the church’.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Scottish Government’s consultation on whether to redefine marriage and introduce same-sex marriage closed on December 9 2011. The Scottish Government is currently analysing the 75,000 responses, the largest ever response to a Scottish Government consultation.
They have also received the petition from Scotland for Marriage, which was signed by almost 10,000 residents of Scotland.
Mike Judge, from the Christian Institute and C4M, said: ‘If the consultation for England and Wales is as popular as it was in Scotland, the Home Office could receive a record-breaking 750,000 responses’.
He urged Christians who felt strongly about the issue to contact their local MP and write to David Cameron.