Tag Archives: Equal Love

What to expect from the anti-gay marriage brigade: Sentamu

In Scotland the consultation on equal marriage is closed and we can expect the report around April, which is just about when in England and Wales, the consultation on equal marriage is to be launched. In England and Wales, David Cameron has restricted the terms strictly to secular marriage: same-sex couples will still be banned from being legally wed in church.

This has not stopped the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, from speaking his mind on gay marriage (he’s against it).

On 4th December the Guardian published a kind of checklist I wrote on what we can expect from the anti-gay marriage brigade. Let’s see how Sentamu matches up against it.

“Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” says Dr Sentamu. “I don’t think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are.”

Allowing same-sex couples to marry redefines marriage. The ba’s on the slates, the penguins are out on parade, the definition of marriage is already changed. Scotland for Marriage means marriage as a privilege from which some groups are barred – just as Focus on the Family means some families aren’t included. It’s as if they think there isn’t enough marriage or family to go around.

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Scotland for Marriage

I responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on lifting the ban on same-sex couples marrying in Scotland. (You can too: www.equalmarriage.org.uk.)

Question 10: Do you agree that the law in Scotland should be changed to allow same-sex marriage?

Yes. Please give reasons for your answer: There’s no reason to ban same-sex couples from getting married and that by itself is enough reason to change the law. Scotland ought to be a country which stands for fairness, justice, and equality. It should be up to each couple to decide for themselves how they want to solemnise their relationship. There’s been a lot of nonsense talked about how this will “damage” or “redefine” or “taint” marriage, or somehow lead to polygamous marriage or nebulous dangers to society. All of this has been said before by the Christian Right in the US – and all of it has been disproved in court in the US. It’s a sad shame that so many religious figures in Scotland are taking their cue directly from right-wing hate groups that use Christianity as their excuse to promote homophobia. They haven’t got any real reasons to oppose same-sex couples getting married, and there are solid reasons why a couple would want to marry – their religious beliefs, their preference for a universally-understood relationship, improved international recognition of their status if they travel. Denial of marriage to same-sex couples is a pointless discrimination.”

Question 13: Do you agree that same-sex couples should be able to get married through both civil ceremonies (conducted by a registrar) and religious ceremonies (conducted by those religious groups that want to)?

Yes. Please give reasons for your answer: Mixed-sex couples in Scotland have always been able to decide if they want to get married by a civil or a religious ceremony – there’s no reason to ban same-sex couples from the same choice.

Question 19: If Scotland should introduce same-sex marriage, do you consider that civil partnership should remain available?

Yes. Please give reasons for your answer: Some couples may still prefer to register via civil partnership instead of marriage, and the choice should remain open for them. Civil partnership should be opened up to mixed-sex couples. This would simplify international recognition as couples who have registered a civil partnership elsewhere (in New Zealand or in the Netherlands, for example) could be recognised as having a civil partnership in Scotland, whether same-sex or mixed-sex.

Question 1: Do you agree that legislation should be changed so that civil partnerships could be registered through religious ceremonies?

No. Please give reasons for your answer: I think it would be unfair to a registrar. Registrars perform civil partnership ceremonies and they shouldn\’t be required as part of their job to perform a religious ceremony which they may not agree with.

Question 5 & 11: Do you agree that religious bodies should not be required to conduct same-sex marriages or civil partnerships if it is against their wishes?

Yes. Please give reasons for your answer: Basic religious freedom. No religion should be required to solemnise a couple’s relationship if they feel it’s against their faith. Besides, who wants a dour pastor girning away as he sourly performs the marriage, on what should be the happiest day of their lives? Common sense and religious liberty both say it shouldn’t be required of a minister of religion who doesn’t want to do it.

Question 20: Do you have any other comments? For example, do you have any comments on the potential implications of the proposals for transgender people?

At the moment, with same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partnership banned by law, if a couple are married / in a civil partnership and one of them wants to transition, they’re required to get a divorce before the trans partner can get the final gender recognition certificate. This is profoundly wrong. No couple should be forced into divorcing against their will. If the law were changed to allow for same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partnership, mandated divorce in the gender recognition process would disappear.

Responding takes from two to ten minutes, depending how verbose you get. Just click here and get started.

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Equal marriage: A long revolution

Equal marriage is the big revolution. Traditionally, the model of marriage was one where a woman was given to a man (or, very occasionally, to two or more men) to be his wife. He might in some cultures have the legal right to take another wife or more wives, but she didn’t. (Even in cultures where women can have two or more husbands, the power to pick and choose is not on the woman’s side: the convenience of having the same wife shared between two or more brothers is for the men who take long journeys to trade and see no reason to have more than one woman at home to bear their children and do the unpaid labour.)

Feminism changed that. Over two centuries ago, one of the basic reforms of the French revolution was to change marriage law so that either spouse could divorce the other and to change inheritance law so that all the children of the marriage inherited an equal share, daughters as well as sons. Less than two decades later, Jane Austen politely argues in Mansfield Park that Fanny Price, despite being a poor dependent with no special looks or sparkling charm to recommend her (nothing but a dogged courage in the face of adversity) has the right and indeed the obligation to stand firm against a marriage to a man she does not love and whose character isn’t admirable – no matter how rich he is. A few years later again, Charlotte Bronte passionately argues that Jane Eyre, who has walked away from a wealthy man offering to make her his mistress, and is contemplating immolating herself in a missionary life in India, will refuse a passionless marriage to a man who does not care for her: she has a right to care for herself, to refuse a man whom she knows does not love her as she deserves to be loved.

In the UK – indeed, in most of Europe, North America, Australia, and in many other countries – marriage law now gives both spouses identical and equal legal rights, responsibilities, and obligations to each other. At that point – when there is no legal difference between husband and wife – there is no reason for the state to deny legal marriage to same-sex couples, and, starting 22 years ago in Denmark, gradually the ban on same-sex couples marrying has been lifted – one by one in the first decade and then with a tidal rush in Europe as the ECHR ruled that EU states ought not to deny the tax and pension benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. (Poland is the only EU state that still persistently defies this court ruling, though not all EU states have lifted the ban on same-sex marriage nor provided a registered partnership equivalent to marriage.)

Many opponents of lifting the ban on same-sex couples marrying, argue that if there’s no ban on same-sex couples getting wed, there can be no ban on polygamy or incest. This is incorrect. The ban on incestuous marriage remains intact in every country: and a legal framework that supports same-sex couples marrying is one that will not support polygamous marriage.

The general form of polygamous marriage is one which is fundamentally unequal. The man has the right to add wives: no woman has the right to add husbands. (In the special case scenario in which a woman may be married to two or more men, she still does not have the right to add husbands of her own choice.) In this framework, a woman’s rights, obligations, and responsibilities towards her husband are fundamentally different from a man’s rights, obligations, and responsibilities towards each of his wives. You cannot take this kind of legal framework for marriage and open it up to same-sex couples: same-sex marriage can be instituted only where marriage law is equal.

Creating a polygamous marriage legislation that did not affect anyone in a monogamous and which gave equal rights to all marriage partners would be far more complex than even creating civil partnership legislation equal and separate from marriage (and the Civil Partnership Act of 2005 is the size and weight of a telephone directory). My first thoughts about how it would have to work entail each poly marriage being dissolved by divorce each time the participants want to add someone new – leaving each participant free to leave with their share of the community property and future family income if they so choose. That would protect stable long-term poly relationships but ensure that wealthy men could not simply keep adding new wives to their stable… which happens in the real world wherever equal marriage is not supported by law and social custom.

Sixty-one percent of Scots now agree that the ban on same-sex marriage should be lifted. (Scottish Social Attitudes Survey findings, 2010) When John Mason put forward an amendment against the idea that people would be “forced” into involvement with same-sex marriage (a common trope amongst campaigners against lifting the ban) he got three signatures, and thirty-seven MSPs from every party in the Scottish Parliament except the Tories signed Patrick Harvie’s amendment in celebration of Scotland’s move towards equality – and one of the signatories to Mason’s amendment was the openly-homophobic Andy Walker. We already have civil partnership, and we’ve had equal marriage for mixed-sex couples for over 35 years. Lifting the ban on civil marriage for same-sex couples won’t be a big revolution. But a worthwhile one.

  • Sign the Scottish Youth Parliament’s petition here: Love Equally
  • The UK government’s petition site is not particularly well organised – there are three separate petitions circulating now to lift the ban on same-sex marriage, and a good official petitions site would only permit one.  The one I think is best-worded is Equal Marriage Rights regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The one with the most signatures so far is Legalise Gay Marriage. The third (mentioned just for the sake of fairness) is Allow same-sex marriage in the UK. Since all three are effectively asking for the same thing, a sensible government would allow a debate in the House of Commons when the total signatures on all three got to a hundred thousand, but a cynical person might think they are exercising so little control over split petitions  in order to ensure that as few as possible hit the magic number.
  • And Peter Tatchell’s Equal Love campaign – seeking to overturn the ban on civil partnership for mixed-sex couples and civil marriage for same-sex couples – also has a petition you can sign.

Also, and perhaps more effectively than any online petition – write to your MP and your MSP.



Filed under LGBT Equality, Scottish Politics