So it’s official; after winning a majority of 225 votes in the House of Commons, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill looks set to become passed into law. It will, undoubtedly, face further complications of more parliamentary scrutiny as well as a House of Lords reading, but, for simplicity’s sake, let’s just say gay people will now be able to get married.
At last. Ever since the bill was first muted last year, there has been a unquantifiable amount of fiery debate and controversy on the topic. Of course, such a response is to be expected; to change the definition of a traditionally and exclusively heterosexual legal contract – one steeped in human history – is bound to upset the apple cart somewhat.
None more so than that of the Conservatives. Despite the fact that the proposal is backed by a plurality of the public, the Lib Dems and the Labour Party – even some members of the church are open to it – the issue has remained a contentious one in the Tory Party.
Indeed, generally the response from the more traditional Tories has been, shall we say, lukewarm: more Conservative MPs opposed the bill than those who voted in favour of it whilst Owen Paterson, who led this unofficial rebellion, explained his opposition to equal marriage with the phrase “biddies don’t like botties”.
As eloquent as the argument is, the Conservatives – and others who are opposed to gay marriage – seem to missing something. Same-sex ‘marriage’ already exists. Civil partnerships, which became legal in 2005, give same-sex couples exactly the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples. Indeed, the change is one that is entirely cosmetic – all about that one word of ‘marriage’.
Why then all the hoo-ha? Well, there are two sides to that question.
Firstly, why are same-sex couples so keen to be allowed to ‘marry’ rather just get a civil partnership? Easy; while civil partnerships have all the substance of marriage, it doesn’t have the name. That missing word creates a purposeful divide – a clear distinction between the relationship of a heterosexual couple and of a homosexual couple. It creates the impression that heterosexual marriage is somehow superior to that of a homosexual civil partnerships – perhaps even that heterosexuals themselves are morally superior compared to their homosexual counterparts. It isn’t full equality essentially.
This is a proud day and an important step forward in the fight for equality in BritainEd Miliband
This is just plain wrong. Marriage, at its core, is an expression and symbol of love, commitment and so much more; one that all members of the world should be allowed to enjoy, with the word fully attached. (Whether marriage really symbolises that anymore is a whole other story)
In reality, I can’t properly give a voice to what same-sex marriage really means to those who seek it. Instead, I’ll turn to Alice Arnold, partner of the national treasure Claire Balding, who stated the word is crucial as “it is the way we see ourselves and the way we want others to see us”.
Yet, if the gay marriage change is entirely cometic in nature – and as seen, also so important to the gay community and for equality – why oppose it?
One of the most common arguments is that the bill will weaken marriage in its current traditional format. Devaluing and undermining heterosexual marriage?! How?! Will straight married couples wake up with aghast on the day the bill becomes law, believing their own marriage is worth less because – in the words of one MP – “Sir Elton John has just got married to David Furnish”? No, of course not.
And surely there are bigger issues at stake for those who argue this case? Marriage breakdown, for example, with divorce rates at all-time high. Ironically, 19 of the MPs who voted against the Bill have been divorced – with two of those divorced twice. We cannot assess the grounds on why they rejected the same-sex marriages bill, but if it based on the sanctity of marriage, it is hypocrisy at it highest.
Christianity is no defence either. Like or not, Britain is no longer a Christian country – UK Censuses may indicate that it still is, but in the numbers practicing religion, it is more secular than ever before. We live in an age where our morals are not governed by Christianity, but of living in a free, liberal democracy. Moreover, the Bill clearly states that religious organisations nor individual ministers will be forced to marry same-sex couples. Freedom of religion is thus not in any danger.
Indeed, the claim that the ‘quadruple lock’ in the legislation is too weak to protect the religion institutions from being persecuted for refusing to marry a same-sex couple misses one major point; why would a same-sex couple wish to be blessed by an unwilling church? There is also a precedent with a similar case – the Catholic Church is currently allowed to refuse marriage to divorcees and such a rule has never been threatened.
Marriage is the union between a man and a woman – has been historically, remains so. It is Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian almost, for any government of any political persuasion to seek to come along and try to rewrite the political lexicon.Sir Roger GaleTory MP for Thanet North
Other religious claims – that marriage is about a social union bounded around the procreation of children is also flawed. What about those that cannot have children or those that choose to get married beyond a child-bearing age? Indeed, it is more than likely that there will continue to be more childless marriages than same-sex ones. This limited definition of marriage is thus extremely outdated.
The fact remains, however, that most of the Labour and Lib Dem dissenters were those with a strong religious affiliation; with a majority of them being Catholics. Undoubtedly, the talk of “Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve” is the main rhetoric here, but it wrong to dismiss such bigotry as okay because it is religion. It is unsurprising Britain is rejecting religion with archaic ideas like that.
All in all, these are arguments I have no time for; most make no logical sense considering civil partnerships already exist and the measures in the bill to protect religious freedom.
Instead, my conclusion has to be that many of those they oppose the bill remain somewhat prejudice against homosexuals; this last symbolic move of equality removes any shred of difference between the relationships of these men and women and same-sex couples, and this is something they cannot deal with. Legalising gay ‘marriage’ will not end homophobia in Britain, but it removes the last refuge for those that seek a distinction between them and homosexuals.
The fact is that marriage is not an absolute; it is a ever-changing, modernising social concept that has evolved and progressed with the times. To think differently than that is wrong; after all, religion used to be key to marriage, but no longer. Rape too used to be part-and-parcel of marriage; nowadays it is an abhorrent crime akin to murder. It could even be argued that marriage itself, or at least as we know it, is becoming an outdated practice.
So forget the hoo-ha, and celebrate the change; this move to a fairer, more equal Britain. In five years time, same-sex marriage won’t even cause a stir.