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Archbishop Carey described opponents to the Same Sex Marriage Bill in Britain as being treated similarly to the Jewish population in Nazi Germany. Only when opponents of the Bill are imprisoned and executed will that be true, but what is certainly true is that as soon as one reveals opposition or even query to the Same Sex Marriage Bill, it becomes impossible to get across why before the debate is shut down under cries of homophobia and vitriolic and organised abuse.
The process, once sold as a wondrous progressive, detoxifying, and unifying measure, has been an appalling advert for debate and democracy in Britain.
Conservative Grassroots is an organisation that grew up around the concern over the disdain that had been shown to dissenting party members, and the perceived disconnect between the top and bottom of the party – a disconnect that is underlined almost perfectly by “loongate” and the reaction to it. A number of Conservative Grassroots members signed and delivered a series of letters outlining their reasons for opposition to the Same Sex Marriage Bill.
Despite reports to the contrary on Conservative Home, I didn’t sign those letters, because my reasons for opposing Same Sex Marriage were rather different to those who signed. And whilst I am in no doubt that the majority of the Conservative Party is opposed to Same Sex Marriage, I am equally sure we all have different reasons behind our opposition.
Iain Dale published an article shortly before the second reading of the Same Sex Marriage Bill, arrogantly assuming that anyone who is gay couldn’t possibly oppose same sex marriage, and vaguely threatening that if gay or bisexual Members who had kept their sexuality private did so, they would be publicly “outed”. The sexuality of Members of Parliament should bear no influence on their consideration of the merits of any legislation – legislation which in this case is porous and without consideration of the wider debate it will inevitably segway into.
Long before Tim Loughton was putting forward amendments to the Same Sex Marriage Bill regarding the extension of civil partnership to all, I was arguing for it, and Peter Tatchell has been making the same argument since 2010. On reflection it seems bizarre that this was not part of the Civil Partnership act in 2004. Many have argued that gay marriage is an unnecessary policy in light of the Civil Partnership Act, but if equality is the aim civil partnership has offered us nothing other than further segregation.
Marriage has always been a religious institution, whereas love and union of two people is of an entirely human foundation. Many atheists, and also those who wish to unionise in a purely platonic relationship, rightly believe that they should have the same rights as same sex couples to unionise and enjoy the resultant legal and tax privileges equivalent to marriage, without having to enter into the formal and traditional institution of (religious) marriage.
I have always found the state’s role in marriage at all to be rather bizarre. If you aren’t religious and you want to unionise with another person, why should the state’s role or approval of that be any greater than it is in the case of a religious marriage? Does anyone really have great enough reverence for the state that they feel in not believing in God or being of faith, the state is a surrogate for the same role? If I don’t marry in Church, the last institution I would wish to marry before is the state.
It should be clear now, from a Conservative Party point of view, that pursuing Same Sex Marriage at this time was a terrible idea. But if we are going to do it as a nation, rather than “whacking it through”,we may as well take the time to explore what the state’s role in the union and marriage of its citizens is.
The opposition to Tim Loughton’s amendment to extend civil partnership to all, rushed out by Maria Miller, was that it may cost the exchequer £4.5 billion. Whilst those figures are hotly disputed, the fundamental reasons behind them are that the resultant tax privileges would save those unionising in civil partnership that amount in tax. Rather than cause for concern, as a Conservative, that sounds like a very good thing.
In fact, delivering a legal framework and tax cuts for those who want to unionise and live together is the only role the state should have in forming unions between its citizens. Anything further should be up to the individuals in question.
In France the marriage ceremony is entirely separate from the state, but wherever or however citizens choose to mark their union, they are required to also register a document with the state that has a purely legal function.
Peter Tatchell has further made arguments in defence of “polygamous” civil partnership, and whilst I see significant problems with three or five people unionising in a Catholic Church or a Mosque and calling it marriage, I see nothing wrong with them having their own ceremony in which they call it what they like, and then formalising that arrangement before the state in what is simply a legal contract between any number of people.
The government has a problem with that, because it knows it will be granting tax privileges to an inordinate amount of people if they invest them all in civil union. But provided it was entirely separate from religious marriage, I doubt the general public would have. This debate around civil partnership will now come before Parliament, whatever happens to the Same Sex Marriage Bill, and I have no doubt that it will force us to explore more deeply what the state’s role in marriage should be.
Now is therefore as good a time as any for the state to leave marriage to religious institutions and individuals to decide how they want to unionise and marry, and take the step back from marriage that now seems inevitable.
The state’s interference and attempted re-definition of marriage appears to me to be nothing other than cultural Marxism and should be a source of shame for conservatives. The state’s divorce from the ceremony of marriage on the other hand is conservatism of the highest order.
Ben Harris-Quinney is Chairman of the Bow Group