On the rare occasion when I find myself reading, by mistake of course, the celebrity gossip pages, there always seems to be some Hollywood star, high on life and whatever else was in their VIP goodie bag, running off to Las Vegas to get married to someone they only just met at the after-party of their latest ‘rom-com’. The marriage seems always to end days after in tatters.
The short longevity of these marriages is down to the newly weds rushing into their marriage without consideration of all the facts. As Dave and Nick will testify it does not matter how much you may love someone, sometimes there are external factors you have to consider. Like marriage, the legislating on marriage cannot be rushed; it has to consider the problems which lay ahead so that we have a workable legislation on same sex marriage.
As I have argued previously, it is not only right to bring about legislation for same sex marriage, but the conservative thing to do too.
We will never be an equal nation nor have true religious freedom as long as we continue with different rules for people who, in every other area of the law are equal, by stopping a religion from acting within its own beliefs to marry two humans in love.
Unfortunately others who wish to legalise gay marriage are not debating or addressing the concerns of others. This is not only undermining our side of the debate but it could see a real split in the Conservative Party.
It seems anytime someone has a rational argument against gay marriage the people around Government through to the people on the national boards of both the senior and youth voluntary parties brush the argument away and resort to claiming the exponent to be ‘out of touch’ or a ‘homophobe’.
Much of the opposition to gay marriage has nothing to do with homophobia and comes from politicians who are very much in touch with people they represent and simply have concerns about the State’s inference with people’s religion.
These concerns are rooted in the details of statuary introduction of same sex marriage and the guarantees of safeguards to religions. Indeed, at times it seems the bill is being written in the back of the taxi – ‘The Thick of It’ style. The truth is there are some real legal issues to consider with the policy and with the safeguards.
Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary who is guiding this policy though the House, seems to fall apart whenever an MP asks her about the details of the bill which she has pledged will be law in by 2015. Her catchphrase in the house has become “it will be looked at further when the Bill is examined in Committee”.
Miller was completely torn apart by Eddie Mair on Radio 4’s PM Show before Christmas. Mair quizzed her on some of the legal issues such as whether the legal definition of sex would be changed so that adultery and consummation of a marriage can happen without heterosexual intercourse, and whether a gay male heir to the throne would be able to take someone of the same sex, and, if so, would the spouse be named King? To all these questions Mrs Miller used her catchphrase to avoid the detail of the bill.
But the biggest question which remains over any potential bill concerns the safeguards to freedom of religion. Many fear a Danish-style piece of legislation which forces religions to break their beliefs and marry same sex couples by the courts.
It is accepted that there will be a guarantee that religions will be safe from the UK courts but the elephant in the room is the European Charter of Human Rights (ECHR).
Currently the ECHR rules that it is an internal issue for states and there seems to be increasing case law to support this. But until we have our own British Bill of Rights we have to rely on the political nature of the people sitting on the bench of the ECHR.
The abolition of laws that do not give religion, or people, the freedom to marry who they want is needed. For this to happen we can’t rush into it, it has to be thought out and planned like the best weddings, to make sure we don’t end up with bad law. And we also need to listen to and engage in debate with all parties so we can form solid policy.
Last time a bill was rushed through without having a debate we were left with a ban on fox hunting; and we all know how effective that law that turned out to be.
Nic Conner is on the council of The Bow Group but writes independently. You can follow him on twitter @niconner