We have taken this institution for granted for too long. Now the Coalition is showing how vital and precious it is

It cannot have escaped readers’ attention that the Coalition plans to start a consultation process in March with a view to bringing in legislation by 2015 that will redefine marriage to enable those in same-sex partnerships to marry. Lynne Featherstone MP, the Lib Dem Equalities Minister, has announced this in a speech last month in which she stated that “marriage is a rite of passage for couples who want to show they are in a committed relationship” and that the intended legislation is about “the underlying principles of family, society and personal freedoms”. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has made it clear that he regards this proposed legislation as a key part of his future legacy as premier.

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has responded to Ms Featherstone’s announcement with a call for the public to support a “Coalition for Marriage” (C4M). As I write this it has so far attracted 60,862 signatures. Since there are 24 million married people in the UK, it is to be hoped that many more will do so. The Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark, Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith, are encouraging Catholics to also support C4M’s campaign, while Rowan Williams, current Archbishop of Canterbury, has also come out in support of the status quo.

Mercatornet, an on-line magazine, has begun a new blog called “Conjugality” in order to defend traditional marriage. Edited by Michael Kirke, an Irish journalist writing from Dublin, the blog plans to be constructive in its criticism and to highlight “the dignity and joy of genuine marriage between one man and one woman”. Kirke comments: “There are many reasons why same-sex marriage has captured the imagination…but one is that respect for the traditional variety has been eroded by decades of divorce, infidelity and contraception.” There is much truth in this: if marriage can so easily be ended by divorce it ceases to be a seen as a permanent relationship; and if contraception is habitually practised, openness to new life ceases to be seen as an intrinsic part of the relationship.

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On my desk is the current edition of The Flock; this is the newsletter of “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” in support of the teachings of the Church, edited by that doughty and courageous Catholic and former head teacher, Daphne Mcleod. On the subject of the proposed consultation document she writes: “This is due to be debated in March and we need to let our representatives understand why [same-sex marriage] is a contradiction in terms. Marriage is defined in every dictionary I have seen as the lasting union of a man and a woman. Anyway, the Church also adds the stipulation that marriage must be open to new life. A couple who decide from the start never to have children are not married in the eyes of the Church even when they are male and female. “

Daphne adds: “Every society from time immemorial has reserved the term ‘marriage’ for the union of a man and a woman – even the ancient Greeks and Romans who had no problem with homosexuality… Once we start altering the meaning of such important words we are entering dangerous waters.”

One thing is clear: Ms Featherstone’s announcement means that supporters of marriage will never again be able to take this most ancient and fundamental of institutions for granted. Perhaps it takes this attack on marriage to show how vital and precious the institution is?

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