For centuries, all over the world, marriage has been defined as the formal union of a man and a woman, has been held religiously as a sacred institution and recognised as such by law. Like the family, it has been held as a staunch backbone of civilisation, being intrinsic to procreation while establishing rights and obligations between spouses and their children.
However, this is now threatened by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill being fast tracked through Parliament with the support of all parties.
Coming just nine years after civil partnerships, it is indeed a mystery why Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been so intent on hastily redefining marriage, after Labour clarified in 2004 that civil partnerships are legally identical to same-sex marriage. Furthermore, if equality was the key argument, then why not civil partnership for heterosexual couples?
The Equality Act has to be amended to ensure that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual religious ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose.
There are also concerns regarding legal implications of the Bill. Despite the “quadruple lock” drawn by the Government to prevent gay marriages in places of worship, it could be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. But not everyone is convinced that the “quadruple lock” is sufficient to prevent challenges to religious institutions . The independent House of Commons Library notes that there is no “unanimous” legal opinion on the issue. Tory MP Sir Tony Baldry said there is a risk on this issue as “given that it would be ultimately for the courts and in particular the Strasbourg court, to decide whether the provisions in the legislation are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.”
In voting for the Bill, Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, argues that the Bill has “nothing to do with religious marriage”. “Religious marriage will continue to be a matter for religious organisations, and not for the state, to define,” he insists. But the Government is not proposing to create two separate legal regimes for civil and religious marriages, only that the law would make clear who would be eligible for each. The aim of the Bill is to ensure that same sex marriage is the same as and has the same rights as heterosexual marriage.
By redefining marriage, a whole minefield is being opened that can only be to the detriment of a healthy society. And for what purpose? Cameron seems intent on causing wide splinters in his party at the expense of trying to stave off defeat at the next election. But it is an ill thought-out step with a slippery slope of unknown consequence.
The vote for the Bill was a free vote, which allows each MP to vote according to his or her conscience without any negative backlash from the Party Whip. More than 50% of the Conservative MPs, voted against the Bill whilst majority of Labour and Lib Dem MPs voted for the Bill. What is interesting is that the majority of Muslim MPs, five out of eight voted for the Bill, with two not voting and only one voting against the Bill, Tory MP Rehman Chisty.
Unless there is yet another U-turn, the only hope seems to rest with opposition in the House of Lords delaying the bill being passed until the end of the current Parliament. The issue is not about discrimination against gay people but about the sanctity of marriage. The Bill will weaken the institution of marriage and will have negative implications on society.