On Friday, there was a piece on the Today programme about how many Tories were opposed to the proposed changes in the law to allow gay people to marry each other rather than have a civil partnership.
One of the major objections, was expressed thus “The State has no right to interfere in what constitutes marriage” I have heard this argument before and it’s often used in tandem with “Gay people have civil partnership and that should be enough.”
At this point I start shouting at the radio and swearing.
First, civil partnership, as my mother points out civil partnership is to all intents and purposes the same as civil marriage. It’s the difference between white coffee and coffee with milk, they are the same thing but we call them something different. If you are happy for gay people to have the benefit of civil marriage, and if you agree with civil partnership, you are, then why the need to call it something different?
If you believe that the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong and you don’t want your Church to do it. The proposed changes won’t force your church to do marry gay people and if you have a minister that wants to do that, you’ll need to fight it out in your Church. However, if your views are Biblically based, then you shouldn’t eat prawns or pork, not wearing fabrics made of mixed fibres or have a tattoo! (all banned by Leviticus).
Personally, I think we should have one thing either civil marriage or civil partnership, for two adults regardless of their sexual orientation. You have that conducted in front of a registrar and have a separate ceremony in a Church. Like my parents did (admittedly, theirs were several years apart but the point stands)
Let’s move on to ‘the State shouldn’t change the definition of marriage’ argument. This seems to be based on the idea that the concept of what marriage is unchanging and that the State has never interfered or made laws that changed that concept.
A brief glance at the history of marriage in the UK proves that wrong. So wrong, it’s a concept standing in a field with a 60ft flashing sign of wrongness. A quick search on Wikipedia shows me that from 1540 to 2010, there have been 31 Acts of Parliament that have defined and re-defined what marriage could be in England and Wales. It changed who could marry, where they could marry and what constituted marriage.
- The 1753 Marriage Act, (An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage), changed the definition of what constituted marriage in England. It said that for a marriage to be valid it had to be performed in a church and after the publication of banns or the obtaining of a licence. Further, it stated that if you were under the age of 21 you had to have parental consent to be married by licence. Jews and Quakers didn’t have to get married in a CofE Church but if you were a non conformist or a Catholic (both sides of my family) and didn’t get married in a CoE Church, according to law you weren’t married.
- The Marriage Act of 1836, changed that though. This allowed for ministers belonging to non-Anglican churches to register marriages performed in their churches with the government, thus granting legal status to those marriages. From Wikipedia: One of the opponents of the bill was Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter. The Times of 13 October 1836 reports that he denounced the bill as being  “…a disgrace to British legislation. (It) is pretended to be called for to prevent clandestine marriages, but I think it will greatly facilitate such proceedings. Not solemnized by the church of England, may be celebrated without entering into a consecrated building, may be contracted by anybody, and will be equally valid, whether it takes place in the house of God, or in the house of a registering clerk, one of the lowest functionaries of the state. The parties may take one another for better and for worse, without calling God to witness their plighted troth. No blessing sought; no solemn vows of mutual fidelity; no religious solemnity whatever …”
- In 1907, the law on marriage changed to allow a man to marry his dead wife’s sister.
What marriage is, who may get married and what it means to be married. These things seem timeless but are in fact constantly changing and to say the State has never interfered is nonsense.
If you think that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry because it somehow diminishes marriage. Then admit that. I think that’s mad and I think deep down so do you, because straight people have been doing that for years and two people making a commitment to love and care for each other diminishes nothing.
But please don’t talk patent nonsense about marriage being unchanging and the State having no right to change the definition of marriage. It’s simply not true and an invalid argument.