When news broke last week that, according to Christian Concern, the Government was expected “to announce legislation for “Equal Civil Marriage” this week, I thought the timing quite deliberate. The run-up to Christmas would seem a good time, not exactly to “bury bad news” from the Government’s perspective, but to push this highly controversial piece of legislation past the public consciousness when most people’s minds are on the coming festivities.
Surely any debate on an “Equal Civil Marriage” Bill is too important to attempt to slide under the radar in this way? A cartoon by Adams in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, 9th December, summed up the mood surrounding it in graphic fashion: on the left was a caricature of David Cameron in the House of Commons intoning the words, “If any of you here know of cause or just impediment…”.On the right was a series of bubbles deafening him with their adversarial fury.
In the same newspaper came news that some senior Conservatives, including Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Alastair Burt and Patrick McLoughlin (a Catholic), have set up a group, called “Freedom to Marry”, “to campaign for same-sex couples to be allowed to get married in church.” This runs counter to what David Cameron originally proposed. I have before me a letter from my MP, John Bercow of 1 May 2012, in response to a letter I had sent him on the subject, which states “I strongly support the Government’s intention to legalise gay marriage, believing it to be right in principle and in practice.” He enclosed a letter sent to him by David Cameron, dated 26th March 2012, in which Cameron had written, “As you are aware, the proposal the Government is consulting on, which I personally support, is to lift the ban on same-sex couples marrying in a civil ceremony.” There is no mention or suggestion here of a church wedding.
But the issue runs much deeper than disputes as to where same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. The argument is not about venues (though the Churches have a legitimate concern that their authority to ban such events will be compromised); it is about the very nature of marriage. Former minister Nick Herbert, who is organising “Freedom to Marry”, shows some acknowledgment of this in his article in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, when he writes, “I appreciate that there are some who take a different view, including many who are not homophobic but have a profound religious conviction about the nature of marriage. We must conduct this debate in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding, and with regard to the special value for religious institutions.”
Those who oppose the proposed new legislation would say that there has been no real “debate” on the subject at all and that the Government is determined (with the tacitly approved help of a Labour and Lib Dem three-line whip) to get a majority vote in the Commons when the issue is raised early in the new year. They seem not to realise the gravity of what is likely to be forced on the country. Anne Widdecombe has pointed out, in her very courageous speech at the last Conservative Party Conference, that the word “marriage” “appears over 3,000 times in UK legislation, the word “husband” 1,000 times, “wife” about 900 times and the phrase “husband and wife” 350 times. “ She comments, “So any change is unlikely to be a simple matter.” She also points out that legislation will not give “a single extra right to anybody.”
Charles Moore, in an article in the Telegraph on Saturday, 8th December which discusses the Prime Minister’s determination to be “modern”, reinforces Anne Widdecombe’s speech with his own argument: “Gay marriage may sound like an extension of general modern niceness, but roughly 98% of the population are straight: how, in hard times, does the Government support their marriages? How does gay marriage sound to the ethnic groups?…Indeed, is “modernity” a sort of code-word for being quite southern, quite posh and quite little affected by recession?” He adds, “Being modern is essentially a matter of style rather than content, so it does not provide detailed answers to difficult questions. The latest, on gay marriage, are “What counts as consummation in gay relationships?” (This has to be established in order to make it the grounds for gay divorce, as it is for straight) and “Should gay people be allowed to marry in church?”…Yesterday he decreed that churches should, indeed, go gay.”
Today’s Telegraph reports that former premier Sir John Major is also “modern”; he has told Conservative critics and Church leaders that “they must move on” because “we live in the 21st century.”
Would it be possible to organise mass rallies in this country as occurred in France on November 17th? Sandro Magister of chiesa.expressonline.it, describes what happened in France as a result of their government’s similar proposed legislation: “In Paris and in a dozen other cities, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets.” The demonstrations were organised by Frigide Barjot, pseudonym for the spokeswoman of the “Collectif pour l’humanite durable”, the socialist Laurence Tcheng of the association “La gauche pour le marriage republicaine” and Xavier Bongibault, an atheist and homosexual founder of “Plus gay sans marriage.” Only Barjot is a Catholic and “no Church association hoisted its banners.” This was a civil and secular demonstration in defence of an ancient and natural institution.
Is it possible to mobilise the same kind of peaceful protest over here?