U.K. government launches consultation on same-sex marriage

By Trevor Grundy
Posted Mar 15, 2012

[Ecumenical News International] The U.K. government on March 15 launched a 12-week consultation in England and Wales that is widely expected to lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage, despite strong opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and conservative elements within the Church of England.

“Should two people who care deeply for each other, who love each other and who want to spend the rest of their lives together be allowed to marry?” Home Secretary Theresa May asked in The Times on March 15.

“That is the essential question behind the debate over the government’s plans to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples,” she said.

The coalition government led by Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative) and his deputy, Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat) has made it clear that it wants to see a law which allows gays and lesbians to marry before the next general election in 2015. It is also supported by the opposition leader, Ed Milliband (Labour).

But the consultation also will include an option of retaining the status quo and that has met with the approval of senior church figures, as well as a number of Conservative Members of Parliament.

The plans for same-sex weddings only covers civil marriages for gay and lesbian couples. Religious buildings would only be used where church, temple, mosque or synagogue leaders wished to offer that ceremony.

If the reform goes ahead, it would only affect same-sex couples in England and Wales, not Northern Ireland or Scotland (which make up the rest of the U.K.). Last year, the Scottish Government held its own consultation process and received more than 50,000 responses.

The decision to go ahead with the consultation was taken despite fierce opposition from Christian church leaders. The Church of England on March 15 issued a statement saying that the Church of England/Archbishops’ Council will study the government’s consultation on whether to redefine marriage and respond in due course.

“The Church of England is committed to the traditional understanding of the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman,” a statement said.

On March 11, Roman Catholic priests read out a pastoral letter signed by two leading clerics, the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols and the Archbishop of Southwark Peter Smith.

It warned Britain’s estimated four million Roman Catholics that “changing the legal definition of marriage could be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously.” The letter was read by priests from 2,500 pulpits in churches across England and Wales.

Earlier, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of Scotland’s estimated 500,000 Roman Catholics, described as “grotesque” plans for same-sex weddings. He said if a law was passed making same-sex weddings legal it would “shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the 77-million strong worldwide Anglican Communion, Rowan Williams, has cautioned that the law should not be used as a tool to bring about social changes, such as gay marriage.

But other religious groups, including Quakers, Reform Jews and Unitarians, have welcomed it.

Several countries recognize same-sex marriage, including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, and South Africa. In the U.S., same-sex marriage is legal in eight states.

Civil partnerships were introduced in the United Kingdom in 2005. They gave same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples. Those in favor of same-sex marriage say it would lift another barrier to equality and give gays and lesbians the same rights as those enjoyed by heterosexual couples.


Comments (8)

  1. Paul Lewis says:

    On a factual note the suggested change in the law would not allow any religious buildings to be used for same sex marriage. The intention is to apply it to civil marriage only (hotels, town halls etc) as the article states. It does not allow for a religious same sex marriage in a designated place of worship even if groups wish to hold them. One or two MPs have suggested they might put forward an amendment to provide that facility for those groups mentioned in the article who may wish to offer this service to people.

  2. ken blackwell says:

    I am strongly opposed to the government plans to bring about same sex “marriage”. My reasons are:-
    1. It is not a marriage since procreation would not be involved.
    2. It is unnatural since we are clearly male and female and hetersexual relations are natural and others are not.
    3. It is the opposite of the teaching of the Bible on which this nation has for centuries based its` laws.
    4. It will bring confusion in future generations.
    5. It is wanted by a small group of militant people and not by the majority in the UK.
    6. It will put Christian churches and leaders in a very difficult position in the future despite the supposed safeguards built in. I need to add that Christians have always been at the forefront of healthy social change but the one here suggested is not healthy or helpful to people in our country. I for one would be ashamed to be called British if thus goes through.

  3. Kurt H. Jacobs says:

    I would like to respond to Ken Blackwell’s comments to this article:
    1. Mr. Blackwell says “It is not marriage since procreation is not involved,” but heterosexual couples are married all the time when one or both are beyond the age of giving birth; younger heterosexual couples who do not intend to have children also marry each other; and heterosexual couples who cannot have children together nonetheless remain married and adopt children, or not, just as many same-sex couples adopt children. The love between two people goes well beyond, and indeed may include, procreation.
    2. Same-sex physical and romantic attraction clearly is quite “natural”; it is compelled by the same forces compelling different-sex attraction, which explains why it is found in all human societies, and throughout history.
    3. The concept homosexuality — that is, of having a sexual orientation towards one’s own, rather than the “opposite” sex — developed in the 1800s, which is why the word “homosexual” itself originates in the 1800s. Look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary. That is why there is absolutely no mention of a person having a same sex orientation in the Bible, just as there is no mention in the Bible of automobiles, or how to have a root canal, or a thousand other things. There is also no mention of DNA or genes or genetics in the Bible, so it does violence to the interpretation of scripture to suggest otherwise.
    4. Future generations will wonder why it took us so long to adopt same-sex marriage and what the fuss was about, just as we scratch our heads that it took our ancestors until 700 A.D. and 800 A.D. in some cases to conclude that in “trial by combat” the bigger guy usually won even he was the ne’er do well. Even then, “trial by combat” was replaced with an oath system that determined who was right or wrong by how many people one could get on one’s side to take an oath for you. It took many more centuries after that to come up with the idea of “witnesses” and “evidence” and impartial juries.
    5. Time will certainly tell whether it is wanted by a majority in the U.K. Since every citizen of the U.K. is related by blood to a gay man or gay woman, it is not hard to imagine that a majority of citizens in the U.K. may favor permitting gay marriages.
    6. Permitting gay marriage is “healthy social change” and should, after prayerful consideration, be supported by Christians, just as many Christians, though not all, supported an end to slavery, an end to child labor, permitting blacks and whites to marry, etc. It is unhealthy to discriminate against gay people and prevent them from enjoying the blessings of love set out in Corinthians.

  4. John Warfel says:

    As regards Mr. Blackwell’s reason number one:
    Does this mean that heterosexual couples should be denied the right to marry if the bride is a post-menopausal woman?

  5. Robert Ian Williams says:

    The Anglican communion unwittingly changed its view of marriage when it accepted contraception at its 1930 Lambeth Conference., having previously condemned it. from 1930 onwards Anglicanism saw sexual love within marriage as primarily recreational and procreation as optional. Most Protestant churches and the Orthodox churches followed and only the Roman Catholic Church has remained consistent.

    Please also observe that the so-called “conservative” elements within the Church of England opposing gay marriage are liberal on divorce and re-marriage. Lord Carey, who has called gay marriage “vandalism,” introduced divorce and re-marriage to the Church of England, and now it is a free for all, dependent on the whim of the officiating cleric.

  6. Christine Marland says:

    I am a Conservative and CofE church goer. I had a civil marriage but not a church marriage. I feel marriage is a word that has been used for committment between a man and a woman, and that it includes a possibility of children from that marriage and this is how the word has been used for centuries by society. Today civil partnerships give same sex couples the rights they need in law. In my view this is sufficient. Society across the world and historically recognises men and women together in marriage provide the stabiity and the model of male and female behaviour that gives their offspring the easiest route in today’s world to a happy, non-confrontational adulthood in society.
    Like unmarried mums, same sex couples bringing up children have a harder path to bringing up children who are at ease with the general rules of society. If society has too many unmarried mums and too many same sex couples bringing up children – it could cause distress and confusion to young minds who might think that it was a route they should take lightly and not realise that it can have many disadvantages. I understand that people do not choose to be homosexual and also that they can have committed lives to members of the same sex. I also believe society in general should not automatically think that two women or two men who have lived together for many years have automatically a sexual relationship with each other. They could be together for the very real needs of security and companionship.

  7. Johannes Oesch says:

    “Should two people who care deeply for each other, who love each other and who want to spend the rest of their lives together be allowed to marry?” Home Secretary Theresa May asked in The Times on March 15.
    If this to set the new rule, it makes me think about the new German Federal President. He is married, but lives separated from his – as yet still – official wife. On the other hand he brings along into the office a First Lady, to whom he is related in love for more than a decade, caring for each other, wanting to spend the rest of their lives together. Shouldn’t these two people be allowed to marry? without any prejudice to the former wife?

  8. Benita Ann says:

    I think Kurt H. Jacobs said it well, when he pointed out the change that society has experienced in terms of scientific and sociological awareness of various developments. Too often we forget that culture is not static, and neither is the realm of ethics when we are faced with new and complex problems as greater knowledge emerges. I support any inspiration that people can extract from the Bible, or any religious source, so long as that inspiration is aligned with the fundamental values that all religions preach: love, acceptance, mutual understanding, respect, peace.

    We should also remember that being a highly intelligent species, human behaviour moves far beyond instinctual needs of survival and procreation. So much of what we do is for mental challenge, “order,” pleasure. To conclude that sex was only meant for producing offspring is to undermine the ability that humans have to feel and enjoy such exchanges while taking active measures to reduce the likelihood of pregnancy. Furthermore, as John Warfel joked, if we are to presume that marriage is for the possibility of procreation, that should therefore shut out all post-menopausal women, and anyone sterile. Excluding people from enjoining in a legal and socially recognized union of marriage should raise the question of how alienating a world that would be.

    In response to Christine Marland’s concern for confusing children, who witness or grow up in same-sex environments, about their sexuality, let us also consider that humans are both physiologically and sociologically shaped. Perhaps the real reason there seem to be fewer gay or lesbian, or bisexually self-identified persons is not because humans lack the capacity to desire and form meaningful relationships with persons of the same sex, but because it has been shunned for so many centuries, and thus, humans have not explored their fullest capacity for love. I hear your concern that being anything but purely “straight” (if there really is such a thing…I have my doubts) can bring undue hardship, and to that I agree. But I agree only to the fault of our own for the practice of social discrimination by choice. If more people opened their hearts and minds to the positive effect same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships can have, acknowledging the idea that they have the capacity to be long-lasting, unselfish, and meaningful on multiple levels, we would no longer need to worry about this so-called hardship self-imposed.

    The biggest thing we need to overcome is the idea that we are incapable of greater awareness of ourselves and of others. If we accept this, it all of a sudden becomes fathomable that the past is not necessarily “better” in all respects, and that the law must respond to our advances if it is to stay in tune with the needs of its communities and attempt to be “just.”

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