Monday, 4 February 2013

Gay Marriage. Civil Rights, Semantics or the Politics of Distraction?

Open Letter By Revd. Andrew Smith

Dear Mr Cameron
I am writing to you to urge you to vote against any forthcoming legislation which seeks to redefine marriage. As an ordained minister in the Church of England, I am coming at this from two points of view. As a Christian I firmly believe that marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, and would argue that any move to re-define it undermines this. As a minister in the Church of England, I am aware that although there appears to be the desire to build in safeguards that I will not be  ‘forced’ to undertake a same sex marriage service, I am extremely doubtful that this safeguard will stand up to the scrutiny of the British or European courts. I have already raised this with my constituency MP, Mr Norman Baker. My main arguments against this proposal are:
Mandate or otherwise for redefining marriage
I acknowledge that you have recently championed the cause of same-sex marriage (although noting that on the 3 May 2010, just three days before the last general election, I understand that you said publically on TV that you were “not planning” to change the definition of marriage). I believe that Nick Clegg and George Osborne have at various times spoken in favour of it,  and that all three major parties in the House of Commons are now seeking to redefine marriage in such a way as to allow same sex marriage to take place. Notwithstanding this, none of the above gives the coalition government the right to proceed with a substantial piece of legislation that will fundamentally alter a significant pillar of our society, namely that marriage is understood as the union of one man and one woman for life, without first testing this with the electorate, via the ballot box. Pronouncements from politicians, however senior, do not of themselves set policy. Within the British democratic system, major legislation initiatives are set out in the party manifesto before an election in order that the electorate know for what basket of policies they are voting. I would contend ‘redefining marriage’ would fit into such a classification. Although clearly not an identical situation, a good case in point for this is the British relationship with and within the European Union. I understand that you are seeking to get a re-negotiated position in the EU which you can then (quite correctly in my view) put before the electorate at the next general election, with the view to testing this by way of a subsequent referendum. There is no reason why legislation allowing same-sex marriage should be rushed through this parliament. If the major parties are so sure that this would be the will of the people, then they should clearly articulate the policy in their next election manifestos in order that the electorate can make an informed decision, and adjust their voting behaviour accordingly. As you are well aware, underpinning the fundamentals of British Law is the Judeo-Christian heritage and tradition, from which the major planks of the law are derived. Neither Jewish nor Christian scripture or doctrine, understood in an orthodox manner, would support any attempt to redefine marriage.
The campaign against discrimination
I am a firm believer in the freedom of expression and, “a fair, free and open society…… in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” as the Lib-Dem party (your coalition partners) constitution so eloquently puts it. However I do not see how re-defining marriage accomplishes this. Equality under the law for either hetero- or homosexual couples is provided for within the remit of a civil partnership and does not require a re-defining of marriage to achieve this. I am sure that you must appreciate that one must make sure that one persons ‘freedom’ does not then become another’s ‘infringement’. My concern is that, in order to appease a tiny minority of the population who will avail themselves of a same-sex marriage, if offered, a significant number of others may be adversely affected. I attend to the matter of the “quadruple lock” below, but would say that I would not be prepared to undertake a same-sex marriage (which is my ‘freedom’) in order to satisfy the perceived freedom for another. This is a matter of conscience above all. If one were to extend this argument further then Muslims (a significant religious minority) in this country would have a case for including sharia law into British law, or to take an absurd and ludicrous example, those in prison could argue that their imprisonment infringed their personal freedoms.
The ‘protection’ of the quadruple lock
Unfortunately I do not believe that the proposed ‘quadruple lock’ will provide any protection to me as a minister in the Church of England. As you know very well, an incoming government of any political hue could repeal this protection if ‘encouraged’ so to do by the attentions of a minority but vociferous pressure group. The ‘security’ of the quadruple lock has not been tested in the British courts nor indeed can we guess what the result might be should an appeal be made to the European Courts. I believe that this protection is vacuous and that should the proposed legislation to ‘redefine marriage’ be passed, in the fullness of time ministers within the Church of England will be forced into a position where they will have to face the choice of undertaking same-sex marriages or the consequences of prosecution under the law.
I have been a lifelong supporter of the Conservative party, via the ballot box, and by membership of the Federation of Conservative Students when at University. This proposed legislation is challenging me to change my party allegiance to one that supports religious freedoms and the traditional role of marriage. Although the three main parties do not offer me thisopportunity, it would appear that the United Kingdom Independence Party will do so, and so I am minded to give UKIP my vote at the next electoral opportunity.
Yours sincerely.
Revd. Andrew L. Smith