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Why the gay marriage consultation is a disgusting fudge


8:31 am - September 19th 2011

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contribution by Peter Tatchell

The Liberal Democrat Equality Minister, Lynne Featherstone, has announced another long delay in the government’s promised consultation on same-sex marriage. It was supposed to commence in June this year. Now it has been put off until March next year. Why can’t the consultation start now?

I am not persuaded that there needs to be any consultation at all. The ban on same-sex marriage is homophobic discrimination and should therefore be repealed immediately.

If black or Jewish people had been banned from marriage, the government would act swiftly to ensure marriage equality. There would be no long drawn out consultation period. Why the double standards?

No other government legislation is being subjected to such prolonged consultation and repeated postponements.

The Scottish government has not hesitated. It’s consultation on marriage equality was launched earlier this month. Why is the UK government dragging its feet and delaying its consultation until next spring? It doesn’t make sense.

Legislation may not be passed before the next election
The government has promised to legislate marriage equality before the date of the next election, due by May 2015 at the latest.

However, the delayed consultation could result in the measure not completing its parliamentary progress in time, especially if David Cameron calls an early election. Even if the government goes its full term, likely resistance by the House of Lords might result in its being timed out.

Public support for marriage equality
Ending sexual orientation discrimination in marriage law is not only the right thing to do,
it has majority public support. There is, therefore, no reason for the government to delay in bringing forward legislation to end this legal iniquity.

Nearly two-thirds of the public support marriage equality. According to a 2009 Populous opinion poll, 61% of the public say that lesbian and gay couples should be allowed to get married.

Bid to thwart European Court of Human Rights appeal
Lynne Featherstone’s gay marriage consultation announcement looks like an attempt to head off the Equal Love – www.equallove.org.uk –
legal case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR): http://tinyurl.com/5szeda3

Four gay couples and four heterosexual couples have filed an application in the ECHR to overturn sexual orientation discrimination in civil marriage and civil partnership law. Speaking as the appeal coordinator, I can say that we are quietly confident that the government’s decision to retain the prohibition on opposite-sex civil partnerships will be ruled illegal by the ECHR.

Ban on heterosexual civil partnerships will remain
The current ban on straight couples having a civil partnership is clear discrimination. The government’s commitment to maintain this inequality is both surprising and shocking. It is wrong for Lynne Featherstone to pre-empt the consultation by excluding in advance any discussion about opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. There are many heterosexuals who would like a civil partnership. To deny them this option is very unfair – and is illegal under human rights law. How can the Equality Minister support inequality?

The Netherlands has an equivalent to civil partnerships. Called registered partnerships, they are open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The vast majority of Dutch civil partnerships are heterosexual ones. They are hugely popular and would be equally popular in the UK, if the government allowed straight couples to have them. To deny British heterosexuals the option of a civil partnership is profoundly wrong and unjust.

Faith organisations prohibited from conducting gay marriages
The government has ruled that its consultation will not consider the option of ending the ban on religious marriages for lesbian and gay couples, even though some faith organisations – such as the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews – have requested that they should be allowed to marry same-sex partners. Lynne Featherstone says no.

This is a violation of religious freedom. While no religious body should be forced to perform same-sex marriages, those that support gay marriage should not be barred by law from doing so.

The government must rethink its proposals, to both ensure non-discrimination and avoid an embarrassing defeat in the European Court of Human Rights.

It is outrageous that the Equality Minister wants to maintain the unequal, discriminatory laws that bar gay religious marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships. Her stance is not compatible with her professed Liberal Democrat values.

—-
For more information about Peter Tatchell’s human rights campaigns: www.petertatchell.net

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Reader comments


Lynne Featherstone used the words “No excuses, no exceptions, no compromises.” to describe her position on LGBT rights in her speech leading up to this announcement. That she managed to do this without any evidence of sarcasm suggests her public commitment to LGBT rights isn’t as strong as she likes to claim.

This announcement is simply a pointless compromise that resolves few of the problems thrown up by the current system.

Full marriage equality and full civil partnership equality without compromise is the only sensible solution.

I’m glad we have Peter Tatchell standing up for the principled position.

The government shouldn’t be involved in religion at all.
It should only recognise civil partnerships, in which the person’s sex is irrelevant.

It’s a small-government issue for me.

I’ve been led to believe there are complications due to having a state religion, combined with religious equality law, equalities legislation and human rights law. Ie that if it’s not done properly we could end up with a situation like the Christian b&b but with places of worship. The obvious quick solution would be to make marriages entirely secular like in the US, and leave churches et al just for the show ceremonies.

4. Mike Killingworth

I can think of one reason in favour of the current legal situation. At present, it is unlawful for an employer to make it a sacking offence for an employee to have sex with someone they aren’t married to – it’s homophobic prima facie.

With the legal changes Tatchell wants to see, it would however become lawful for an employer to insist that staff only had sex inside marriage. I am not sure whether he recognises this or not. Part of me thinks that he probably does, since I find it hard to believe that he’d be entirely happy living in a society whose legislation on matters of sex was entirely to his liking 😉

The State should recognise all civil partnerships, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Their business is to represent the interests of those living here on Earth, not an All Powerful Sky Pixie presumably old enough and powerful enough to look after his own interests.

And those interests are weighted: the right of couples to determine their own lives trumps the ‘interests’ of those who find the lives of that couple ‘offensive’, even if their are millions of the whiny bigots.

I don’t quite understand this unbounded public enthusiasm for extending the marriage contract in all directions when half of all babies are born to unmarried couples and half marriages end in divorce.

The reason for the consultation is in order to appease right wing tory MPs by letting them feel they can have their say and in order to work out the details of how gay marriage would affect religious institutions (such as making sure churches aren’t required to perform marriages against their will).

The heterosexual civil partnership prospect should be looked at and that’s definitely disappointing. But, unless I am very much mistaken, gay marriage will be implemented by 2015 – if it isn’t then I will eat my hat. And in the meantime, Featherstone’s speech also committed the government to pressuring other countries, such as Kenya, to end discrimination against homosexuals. I can understand criticism on the grounds of it not going as fast as some would like, but this consultation is far from a disgusting fudge.

7 – I’m with PJ O’Rourke on the left/right element to gay marriage:

I’m so conservative that I approve of San Francisco City Hall marriages, adoption by same-sex couples, and New Hampshire’s recently ordained Episcopal bishop. Gays want to get married, have children, and go to church. Next they’ll be advocating school vouchers, boycotting HBO, and voting Republican.

http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/2004/07/orourke.htm

Lynne Featherstone is mean-spirited to rule out in advance any discussion on opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. I’ve always fought for equality and this includes equality for straight people too. It would be wrong for the LGBT community to ignore or accept the denial of equality to heterosexual people. In a democracy we should all be equal before the law. Lynne’s discriminatory stance is disappointing, given her otherwise good record on equality issues.

Legalising civil ceremonies for same-sex couples but not religious ceremonies really is a bizarre solution that no one should be happy about.

It’s taking the warped line on freedom of religion, that freedom means the right to impose ones religion on everyone else. No doubt some religions would not approve of same sex couple getting married in a church: they are free to hold that view, but why allow them to impose it on other religions?

On the other side, it’s also fundamentally saying that all religion is homophobic per se, which is offensive and wrong as Peter points out.

And it’s flat out illogical.

With the legal changes Tatchell wants to see, it would however become lawful for an employer to insist that staff only had sex inside marriage.

Why?

12. blackwillow1

The coalition as a whole, seems to be saying that gay couples should have marriage rights, eventually, but heterosexuals can only be recognised as a couple if they seek the approval of some religious group. This way, the gay couples are forced to declare a religious belief, which creates the dilemma of choosing faith over love, due to the fact that all mainstream religions are blatantly anti-gay. The heterosexuals are forced into the dilemma of choosing to stand by their non-religious beliefs, or having a legally recognised ceremony conducted in a way they do’nt actually agree with. They want the romance of a church wedding, but they have to subscribe to a set doctrine that says they accept the authority of a mythical being whose existence they deny. CRAFTY BASTARDS!!!!!

13. Mike Killingworth

[11] Lawful is the default position. Suppose you were acting on behalf of someone who had been fired for having sex outside marriage – because it was in the employer’s opinion contrary to some generalised undertaking to have regard to the employer’s image, reputation etc – how would you go about framing the defence? Arguing that the condition is itself unreasonable is probably your only line of approach, and if Tatchell has his way you won’t even have that.

There’s a very simple answer to Peter Tatchell’s questions: the large number of Conservative MPs who are hostile to any change.

If there was a Liberal Democrat majority that was not delivering on the issue, that would be worthy of criticism, but dragging the Conservative Party towards support for equality is not be a quick or easy process.

What a shame that rather than supporting people who are overcoming the opposition of Conservative MPs, Peter Tatchell’s choice is to oppose them.

@ 12:

“This way, the gay couples are forced to declare a religious belief,”

I don’t think that the proposal is to take away the option of having a civil partnership, just give the option of having a wedding. So gay people who don’t want to “declare a religious belief” can just choose to have a civil partnership. And even if civil partnerships are abolished in favour of marriage…

“The heterosexuals are forced into the dilemma of choosing to stand by their non-religious beliefs, or having a legally recognised ceremony conducted in a way they do’nt [sic] actually agree with.”

There’s still the option of conducting your wedding in a registry office, so they aren’t in any way forced to have a religious ceremony if they don’t want to.

“They want the romance of a church wedding, but they have to subscribe to a set doctrine that says they accept the authority of a mythical being whose existence they deny.”

Wait, what? Expecting people who want to get married in church subscribe to the doctrines of that Church? The horror!

16. Leon Wolfson

@14 – Well yes, that’s why taking religion out of it entirely is a nice sidestep in that direction as well.

In reply to Mark Pack and others:
Lynne Featherstone is wrong to rule out any discussion on gay religious marriages and straight civil partnerships. The consultation should be wide open and look at all options. Prejudging and precluding is not the way to go.
I believe that there are enough MPs who support marriage equality to get it through the Commons tomorrow. The Lords vote might be tougher and closer but equality is still likely to win. If not, the government could use the Parliament Act to over-rule the unelected Lords.

Another thing I can’t understand is why the continuing irrational ban on polygamous marriages, including polyandry, if all parties concur. Polygamy appears to work well in some countries so why not in Britain too?

What is the difference between a civil marriage and a heterosexual civil partnership?

Within a civil ceremony this should be a simple application of Occam’s razor of not multiplying entities unnecessarily.

If we state a definition of marriage as being a a formal ceremony between a man and a women to demonstrate their commitment to each other – there’s an unnecessary entity there. Redefine as a formal ceremony between two people to demonstrate their commitment to each other. But again another unnecessary entity. Redefine as a formal ceremony between people to demonstrate their commitment to each other.

Same-sex, polygamy etc. all covered by the reduced definition.

The flaw lies in the religious aspect (doesn’t it always seem that way?) Can we allow any religion to discriminate? If we allow a religion to refuse to officiate at a same-sex wedding; what’s stopping them from refusing a mixed-race wedding; or one where one (or both) of the participants are disabled?

One could state that a religion can choose to only officiate at a wedding in which one or all of the participants are adherents to that religion, but who gets to define who is and isn’t a member? We’re back to the flaw in that it is the religion who determines who is and isn’t a member, which allows them to discriminate.

@ 20:

“Within a civil ceremony this should be a simple application of Occam’s razor of not multiplying entities unnecessarily.”

No there shouldn’t, because Occam’s Razor refers to explaining phenomena, not how legal institutions such as marriage should be defined.

“The flaw lies in the religious aspect (doesn’t it always seem that way?) Can we allow any religion to discriminate? If we allow a religion to refuse to officiate at a same-sex wedding; what’s stopping them from refusing a mixed-race wedding; or one where one (or both) of the participants are disabled?”

If a religion decides that only certain types of people should be able to marry, what business is it of yours?

@21

No there shouldn’t, because Occam’s Razor refers to explaining phenomena, not how legal institutions such as marriage should be defined

No that’s merely how it is commonly used; its first use was in philosophy.

If a religion decides that only certain types of people should be able to marry, what business is it of yours?

If a golf club decides that only certain types of people should be able to join what business is it of mine?

@ 22:

“No that’s merely how it is commonly used; its first use was in philosophy.”

Its first use was in philosophy to determine which explanations of phenomena to choose.

“If a golf club decides that only certain types of people should be able to join what business is it of mine?”

I was under the impression that golf clubs do decide that only certain types of people should be able to join — i.e., people who like playing golf. I don’t think it unreasonable to suggest that Churches should be allowed to marry only people who agree with that Church’s teachings — teachings which might well include “marriage involves one man and one woman”.

24. Chaise Guevara

@ FlipC

My feeling on the whole issue of discrimination by religious groups is that we should probably put up with it if it doesn’t affect things outside of that religion. So if I believe in the great god Nubbet, who hates blond people, and declare that I will only allow people to be married in the sight of Nubbet if they do not have blond hair, that’s kinda my call. Why would a blond person want to be married by me anyway?

If, however, I deny someone a paid job due to their hair colour, or don’t let blond kids into my school, or if marriage by a Nubbetist priest is recognised by the state and thus confers legal benefits, blond people would have every right to sue me for discrimination if I denied them service.

25. Chaise Guevara

@ 23 XXX

You’re dodging the implied question there, and I suspect you know it: would you be ok with a golf club only granting entry to those who conformed to the club’s philosophy, assuming said philosophy was “we only want white people playing on our course”?

@ 25:

The situation isn’t really the same, because “No black people” isn’t a part of the rules of golf, whereas “Marriage = 1 man + 1 woman” is a part of quite a few religious rules. So forcing a golf club to accept black members isn’t going to get in the way of their playing golf, whereas forcing a Church to marry gay people is going to get in the way of their practising religion.

Occam’s Razor simply states that if you have two or more competing explanations for a phenomenon, it is sensible to assume that the simplest one is correct.

Please do not abuse the philosophical concepts.

28. Chaise Guevara

@ 26 XXX

I think you’re arbitrarily declaring what is and isn’t a valid component of a group’s outlook there. Preventing a racist golf club from discriminating means they can’t play golf in a racist way, which is what that golf club wants to do. Preventing a homophobic religious organisation from discriminating prevents them from celebrating their religion in a homophobic way, which is what they want to do.

You can’t just say to the golf club: “your primary function is golf, and no other facets of your organisation are valid for consideration”. Firstly, I’m sure the religious group would agree that their primary function was worship. Secondly, “primary” doesn’t mean much in this context, it changes depending on the beholder.

Do you remember that, back when we brought in the smoking ban, lots of pro-ban people defended the right of shisha cafes to exist, on the basis that a shisha cafe’s “primary” function is smoking, while a pub’s “primary” function is drinking? And that the same people strangely didn’t support the idea of setting up “tobacco smoking clubs” that happened to serve alcohol? I think that’s what you’re doing here:

But again another unnecessary entity. Redefine as a formal ceremony between people to demonstrate their commitment to each other.

Family members OK then? It seems that by refining the concept of marriage down to this point, you have rather lost sight of what marriage actually is.

To use the libertarian argument that government should get out of the marriage business, for a moment, I can see no problem whatsoever with letting any and all places do what they want in regards to marriage. Given that, in that situation, marriage will be about as legally binding as an engagement ring or changing your Facebook status.
Essentially, marriage is only worth a damn because the state explicitly pokes its nose into the matter, by recognising and rewarding it in law. To further complain that the government then changing/setting the rules of conduct is an unwelcome intrusion kinda misses the point.

@26 – Chaise@28 pretty much sums it up. If the original rules of golf included a “No black people” rule you’d just shrug and say “Them’s the rules”?

@27 Falco – Once again that’s the definition as commonly used. The original is “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”. For example if we start with a definition that law only applies to humans than there is no requirement to mention humans within any laws as that would be an unnecessary multiplication of that entity.

@29 Tim J – Why not? Are you equating marriage with procreation? That’s not in the definition.

@ 28:

“I think you’re arbitrarily declaring what is and isn’t a valid component of a group’s outlook there.”

I don’t think it’s arbitrary; there are bits of the Bible talking about marriage and saying what it’s for and what it ought to be like, whereas there isn’t any comparable parts in the rules of golf talking about who should and shouldn’t be allowed to play.

Are you equating marriage with procreation? That’s not in the definition.

Your definition is “a formal ceremony between people to demonstrate their commitment to each other”. There’s a perfectly good word for that in English already – a contract. And that’s what you’re describing. A marriage is, of course, a contract, but that isn’t all that it is.

34. Chaise Guevara

@ 32 XXX

I thought we were talking about religion in general, not Biblical literalists? Most if not all religious groups, including many homophobic ones, ignore some bits of the Bible. But in any case, perhaps the golf club isn’t appealing to the original rules of the game, it’s appealing to its charter – which happens to include the phrase “whites only”.

If the golf club’s characteristics are divisible, so are the religious group’s. You can’t have it both ways.

Also, bear in mind that people generally hold their religious beliefs more deeply than their preferences for golfing partners, so there should probably be a higher bar to forcing people to act against their religious beliefs than there should be to forcing them to play golf with somebody.

Also also, it’s not like gay people will be denied access to marriage just because they can’t get married in a particular church building. So FlipC’s proposal won’t actually get them access to a service they didn’t have before, but it will trample over people’s freedom of religion. (If there were plenty of government-run golf courses up and down the country which allowed anyone to play and didn’t discriminate, and some people decided to set up their own whites-only course, would you try and stop them, given that nobody’s going to be unable to play golf?)

@ 34:

“Not being a Biblical literalist” isn’t the same as “ignoring any bit of the Bible you choose”. So the fact that some people aren’t Bibilican literalists doesn’t mean that the government can order them to do anything and expect them to be fine with that.

37. Chaise Guevara

@ XXX

I know non-literalist Christians aren’t happy to dismiss whichever part of the Bible they’re told to. But you seemed to be following the logic of claiming that, if something’s in the Bible, like homophobia, it’s indivisible from Christianity (by way of comparison with your point that racism is not indivisible from golf). Hence my point that “Bible” =/= “all Christian belief”.

Agree with you RE people’s rights not necessarily being affected by the fact that a certain sect refuses to marry them, which is fine as far as it goes. Also agree in general that people feel more strongly about religious beliefs than their preferences for golfing partners – but I’m not sure how you could boil that down into a rule for deciding who should be granted special rights to discriminate and who shouldn’t.

@33 Tim J –

A marriage is, of course, a contract, but that isn’t all that it is.

Actually from a legal point of view that is all it is. Anything else ends up filed under religious expectations.

@35 XXX –

So FlipC’s proposal won’t actually get them access to a service they didn’t have before, but it will trample over people’s freedom of religion.

I suggest you re-read my point @20. I’m not trampling on freedom of religious. I’m asking why they should get special dispensations to be discriminatory and what’s to stop it being taking in all sorts of different directions. Simply stating it’s a deeply held belief is not a valid excuse.

Amusingly I’ve provided a way out on my own blog based on their special circumstances. Religions can refuse services to non-members at which point

we now have some logical fun – a religion can’t refuse a homosexual from becoming a member of that religion, however to become a member requires a profession of faith in the tenets laid down by that religion which may include a prohibition of homosexuality. Ergo all members are heterosexual and as such any member asking that religion to perform a same-sex marriage is therefore not a member (or a member under false pretences) and can be refused

Ta-da!

39. Chaise Guevara

* Apart from anything else, if you let group A discriminate based on their religious political belief of homophobia, but don’t let group B discriminate based on their non-religious political belief of racism, then group B has grounds for claiming that the law itself is prejudiced, as it gives greater freedom to religious people than non-religious people.

Actually from a legal point of view that is all it is. Anything else ends up filed under religious expectations.

Religious, social and cultural expectations. The legal element of marriage is about its least important aspect.

@ 38 FlipC

Actually from a legal point of view that {a contract} is all it {marriage} is. Anything else ends up filed under religious expectations.

Not really true.

The ‘expectations’ are not only religious. They might be social, psychological, cultural and so forth. Marriage is a very long standing social institution, therefore has a rather more complex root system in the community soil than can be contained in contract law.

The legal element of marriage is about its least important aspect.

Oddly enough not from the law’s perspective it isn’t. Everything else is subjective; if it wasn’t there wouldn’t be a discussion here to have.

@ Chaise:

“I know non-literalist Christians aren’t happy to dismiss whichever part of the Bible they’re told to. But you seemed to be following the logic of claiming that, if something’s in the Bible, like homophobia, it’s indivisible from Christianity (by way of comparison with your point that racism is not indivisible from golf). Hence my point that “Bible” =/= “all Christian belief”.”

I agree that not everything in the Bible is part of Christian belief, but a lot of people think it is, and I’d hesistate to legally over-ride these views unless there’s a compelling public interest argument. Given that gay people can currently have a civil partnership (really a marriage in all but name), and if the amendment mentioned in the OP is passed will be able to have a “proper” marriage in any Church that will let them, I don’t think that the public interest case is really strong enough in this situation.

“Apart from anything else, if you let group A discriminate based on their religious political belief of homophobia, but don’t let group B discriminate based on their non-religious political belief of racism, then group B has grounds for claiming that the law itself is prejudiced, as it gives greater freedom to religious people than non-religious people.”

If Group B want to start a whites-only political party, I think they should have the right to, just like Group A should be able to start a straights-only religious demonination if they so wish.

44. Chaise Guevara

@ 43 XXX

I can’t get comfortable with any position on the matter – I always feel I’m compromising some principle or other whatever I do – but I generally agree with your way of thinking when it comes to symbolic marriages (i.e. those with no legal benefits) and political parties.

What worries me is the fact that the line we’re drawing here is fuzzy, and hence potentially easy to abuse. I don’t want to see religions have to lie about their beliefs to be allowed to practice, and I REALLY don’t want to see political parties shut down for being deemed illegally offensive. On the other hand, I don’t like the idea of a B&B, for example, being able to rename itself a Christian boarding house simply so it can refuse service to gays.

So I think the general rule is that laws regarding discrimination should not apply insofar as it only relates to a group’s religious or political outlook, but if this is used as a cover to deny secular services or opportunities to outsiders, that should be illegal. It’s still really hard to create a concrete version of that rule, though.

I think the complications are:

(1) Because the church is established, people have a legal right to a CoE marriage in their parish church.

(2) There is a presumption of legitimacy within a marriage, but not in civil partnership. There are substantial implications regarding parental rights and support for children.

(3) It is impossible for gay couples to consumate a marriage, which makes the legal position of marriages uncertain.

Whatever your views, don’t these merit consultation? The first two in particular are substantial questions with serious implications regarding the establishment of the CoE and obligations and rights towards children.

Did he write the headline or did you?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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    http://t.co/O1qWT4hR – why the coalition platitudes on gay rights are bullshit.

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    Oh right, that's why – http://t.co/E1TK8AbV

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