Thursday, 31 January 2013

SPUC responds to the government's "Myths about Equal Marriage" document

David Cameron, the British prime minister
Will the government’s “equal marriage” proposals strengthen marriage or undermine the institution of marriage?

When it published the Marriage (same-sex couples) Bill, the government issued a document claiming that criticisms of the proposals were "myths".

Here, SPUC responds to the government’s attempts to rebut the arguments against redefining marriage:

The government’s assertions
"MYTH: Allowing same-sex couples to marry will destroy the institution of marriage.
REALITY: Marriage is a hugely important institution in this country. The principles of long-term commitment and responsibility which underpin it bind society together and make it stronger. The Government believes that we should not prevent people getting married unless there are very good reasons – and loving someone of the same sex is not one of them."

SPUC Comment:
SPUC’s leaflet on same-sex marriage urges people: “Don’t let politicians destroy real marriage.” What makes marriage special and unique is that a man and woman can form a special union suited to conceiving and raising children. The long-term commitment and responsibility of marriage are merely conditions of forming that special union. Children have a right to know and be cared for by their mother and father, hence the need for the permanent exclusive nature of marriage.

Historically, the State has recognised this. There is no rationale for a same-sex couples to ‘marry’ and no requirement for the State to recognise such a ‘marriage’ (and, of course, the Government does not say why polygamists or siblings are not included in ‘equal marriage’ if same-sex couples are). By re-defining marriage in the way proposed the Government is transforming civil marriage into a mere contract for cohabitation.

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: Marriage has not changed in hundreds of years.
REALITY: Marriage is not static. It has always been an evolving institution. In the 19th century inequalities prevented Catholics, atheists, Baptists and many others from marrying except in the Anglican Church. In the 20th century the law was changed to recognise married men and married women as equal before law. Opening up marriage to all couples will strengthen the vital institution of marriage, and help ensure that it remains an essential building block of society.”

SPUC Comment:
Legalising same-sex marriage radically alters the civil recognition of the essential nature of marriage – which is heterosexual. In contrast, the 19th and 20th century changes referred to did not radically undermine this essential nature.

The government says: “Opening up marriage to all couples will strengthen the vital institution of marriage.” But firstly, reducing all marriage to contractual cohabitation does nothing to strengthen it. Nor does it assist children because marriage, not contractual cohabitation, is their best protection. Secondly, there is no credible evidence that the decline in couples marrying can be slowed down or reversed by extending it to same-sex couples.

What we have seen around the world is same-sex marriage being introduced either as part of a general decline in marriage (which however could still decline much further) or where marriage is already in deep decline, in the context of a general libertarianism which trivialises and is fundamentally hostile to marriage. Marriage in Scandinavia, for example, is already in deep decline. There is not the slightest evidence that SSM has ‘strengthened’ real marriage.

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: Religious organisations or minister of religion will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages.
REALITY: This is not true. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill makes clear that no religious organisation or religious minister will be compelled to marry same-sex couples. A ‘quadruple lock’ of legal protections will ensure that all religious organisations are free to choose and can act according to their doctrines and beliefs.
MYTH: The European Court of Human Rights will force religious organisations to conduct same-sex marriages.
REALITY: The case law of the European Court of Human Rights makes it clear that same-sex marriage is a matter for individual states to decide. Any case before the Court would be brought against the UK Government, not a religious organisation. The Court would be bound to give priority to the rights of a religious organisation under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of religion.“

SPUC Comment:
A legal expert, Aidan O’Neill QC of Matrix Chambers, has produced the following Advice regarding the scenario of a same-sex couple refused a Church of England wedding who wish to sue the clergyman and church under the Equality Act 2010, alleging discrimination on grounds of sex and sexual orientation.

“In the scenario outlined above, given that sex/gender and sexual orientation are protected characteristics against discrimination recognised in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, a same sex couple would have a properly arguable claim before the Strasbourg Court that any national legislation which purports to allow to the established church a blanket exemption from any claims of discrimination (whether on grounds of the sexual orientation of the parties or the sex/gender of one of them) in the provision of (marriage) services which the established church is otherwise obliged by law to make available to the general public (regardless of whether those individuals are members of the established church) is Convention incompatible.” (See:

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: The Church of England and Church in Wales were not consulted properly.
REALITY: During the course of both the consultation and the drafting of the legislation, the Government has had numerous and detailed discussions with stakeholders about the provisions within the Bill. These discussions have included a number of religious organisations including the Church of England, the Catholic Church and the Church in Wales.”

SPUC Comment:
The only consultation has been of the meaningless type where the Government announces in advance that it will, whatever the cost to - or views of - the people, churches etc. push through same-sex marriage, though it will listen to views as to how to ‘implement’ this.

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: Teachers will have to promote same-sex marriage to pupils in sex and relationships education.
REALITY: This is not true. No teacher will be required to promote or endorse views which go against their beliefs. As with any other area of the curriculum teachers will of course be required to teach the factual position, that under the law marriage can be between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples. …… Sex and relationships education is categorically not about the promotion of a particular sexual orientation - that would be inappropriate teaching.”

SPUC Comment:
Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, has said, “Teachers will continue to be able to describe their own belief that marriage is between a man and a woman while, importantly, acknowledging that there can also be same-sex marriages.” Where does this leave a teacher who shares the conviction that same-sex ‘marriage’ really is not marriage? Can he or she tell pupils that although the law permits it, “same-sex marriage” is a counterfeit?

The Minister for Women and Equalities, Helen Grant, has spelt out the consequences for teachers (see following comment).

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: Teachers who oppose same-sex marriage will be sacked from their jobs.
REALITY: Teachers will continue to have the clear right to express their own beliefs, or that of their faith in a professional way, such as that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. No teacher will be required to promote or endorse views which go against their beliefs.”

SPUC Comment:
Helen Grant, Women and Equalities minister at the DCMS, in a letter dated 19th October 2012 concedes that “It will always be a matter for the head to determine what teachers under his control should be teaching and he/she will have a range of disciplinary measures at their disposal if they are needed including ultimately dismissal.”

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: This is the thin end of the wedge – further changes to the law to enable other groups to marry are likely.
REALITY: This is simply not the case - we have absolutely no plans to amend the law on marriage in any other area.”

SPUC Comment:
What the Government ‘plans’ (and they have been known to change plans!) is not the point. The rationale that justifies same-sex marriage can also justify other forms of ‘marriage’ and by legalising same–sex marriage one lays oneself open to reasonable objections from other groups with regard to discrimination. Having got rid of the rationale of marriage supported by the State – the life-giving, child-centred nature of the institution – how will the Government defend itself against the claims of other unions to be recognised?

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: You did not take into account the large number of petitions received opposing a change in the law.
REALITY: 228,000 individuals and organisations responded to the consultation on how to open up marriage to same-sex couples. Additionally there were petitions for and against equal marriage. The largest was from the Coalition for Marriage against the proposals which contained over 500,000 signatures opposed to the proposals. The views expressed in the petitions were considered along with all the other responses received. However, the Government have always been clear that the consultation was focused on how to implement a change in the law, rather than whether to change the law.”

SPUC Comment:
Note this last point – about the aim of the consultation – and compare the following -

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: The Government has no mandate to introduce same-sex marriage.
REALITY: The Conservative Party’s Contract for Equalities, published alongside its General Election Manifesto in 2010, set out clearly that we would consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage. Independent surveys, such as the one carried out by the Times in March 2012, show support by the general public with 65% thinking gay couples should have an equal right to marry, not just to have civil partnerships.”

SPUC Comment:
- the Government admit that their consultation exercise was about “how to implement a change in the law,” but the mandate they claim for doing so was to “consider the case for changing the law”. When did the idea of considering the case for changing the law become a matter of “how” (not whether) to do so?

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: People will be sacked if they criticise same-sex marriage at work.
REALITY: This is not true. We have always been absolutely clear that being able to follow your faith openly is a vital freedom that we will protect. Everyone is entitled to express their view about same-sex marriage, at work or elsewhere. No employee will be required to promote or endorse views about same-sex marriage which go against their conscience. But it is an entirely different matter to act in an offensive or discriminatory way because of someone’s sexual orientation and the two issues should not be confused.“
“MYTH: The four recent European Court cases show that people are not free to follow their beliefs at work.
REALITY: On the contrary, Ms Eweida won her right to wear a cross at work. These cases were not about same-sex marriage. However, we have always been absolutely clear that being able to follow your faith openly is a vital freedom that we will protect. We believe people should be able to wear discrete religious symbols, provided it doesn't hinder or physically get in the way of their job. In the other cases the Court found that the needs of health and safety and the requirement not to discriminate against customers were relevant considerations, on the facts of those particular cases – it is all about striking a sensible balance, which our legislation does.”

SPUC Comment:
One of the ‘other cases’ referred to relates to a registrar’s refusal to act as a ‘civil partnership registrar’ (a re-designation of her role forced upon her by Islington Council in light of the 2004 Civil Partnership Act). In other words, the case is highly relevant for what the Government says about same-sex marriage legislation (a Government that itself admits there is little difference between civil partnerships and marriage).
The lady in question, Lillian Ladele, has a well-grounded conscientious objection to performing civil partnership ceremonies but, in the words of the ECHR judges who disagreed the majority verdict in the case,

“a combination of back-stabbing and blinkered political correctness of the Borough of Islington (which clearly favoured ‘gay rights’ over fundamental human rights) eventually led to her dismissal.”

The dissenting judges go on to point out that:

“the issue in Ms Ladele’s case is not one of discrimination by an employer, a public authority or a public official vis-a-vis a service user of the Borough of Islington because of the said service-user’s sexual orientation. Indeed, no service user or prospective service user of the Borough seems to have ever complained (unlike some of her homosexual colleagues) about the third applicant [Ms Ladele]. The complainant is not a party or prospective party to a same-sex civil partnership...No balancing exercise can, therefore, be carried out between the third applicant’s concrete right to conscientious objection, which is one of the most fundamental rights inherent in the human person – a right which is not given by the Convention but is recognised and protected by it – and a legitimate State or public authority policy which seeks to protect rights in the abstract...Ms Ladele did not fail in her duty of discretion: she did not publicly express her beliefs to service users. Her beliefs had no impact on the content of her job, but only on its extent. She never attempted to impose her beliefs on others, nor was she in any way engaged, openly or surreptitiously, in subverting the rights of others.”

Nevertheless, this woman was sacked from her job, a job she took on before Civil Partnership legislation was even envisaged. The majority in the ECHR rejected her appeal and the Government say that her case had a reasonable outcome. This shows clearly that people are not free to follow their beliefs at work and that same-sex marriage legislation will lead to the persecution of those who object to it. See also Aidan O’Neill QC on related cases:

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: The Trafford Housing case with Adrian Smith shows that people can be sacked because of their religious beliefs.
REALITY: Adrian Smith actually won his case in the High Court, a judgment which shows that expressing views about this type of issue in a measured and non-offensive manner does not permit an employer to discipline an employee. Any such action by an employer would be unlawful.”

SPUC Comment:
Not mentioned is the fact that Mr Smith was reduced to penury and received almost no financial compensation (he had expressed what was at one time David Cameron’s opinion re gay weddings in church).

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: Local councils will stop giving religious groups contracts or letting them use their facilities if they refuse to conduct same-sex marriages.
REALITY: This is not true. The Equality Act 2010 protects people from being discriminated against because of religious belief. Treating someone in this way because of their religious opposition to same-sex marriage would be unlawful discrimination. It would also be a misuse of the council’s powers if it penalised a religious body for doing something which is lawful.”
“MYTH: This Bill is being rushed through Parliament and has not been properly thought through.
REALITY: This is untrue. The Government is committed to introducing same-sex marriage and published a consultation in March 2012 which resulted in the biggest ever response to a UK consultation. The Minister for Women and Equalities made a statement to the house in December 2012 announcing the Government’s intention to bring forward legislation.”

SPUC Comment:
The Government has expressed its determination to push this bill through Parliament, and all the signs (the ‘dodge’ with the manifesto, the ‘how not whether’ consultation, and the late publication of the bill) indicate that the government does not want to allow the host of objections to the proposals to stop it.

The government’s assertions:
“MYTH: Polling shows that the public is not supportive of this policy.
REALITY: This is untrue. Recent polling shows that there are a range of views on this subject. We know that there are many people who are in favour of and supportive of this policy, as shown by 53% of people who responded to our consultation.”

SPUC Comment:
The Government did not ensure that the consultation was strictly monitored, and therefore the consultation responses cannot be taken as representative. Furthermore, they do not count the C4M petition which has over 600,000 signatories: far more than any petition supporting the changes.

Comments on this blog? Email them to
Sign up for alerts to new blog-posts and/or for SPUC's other email services
Follow SPUC on Twitter
Like SPUC's Facebook Page
Please support SPUC. Please donate, join, and/or leave a legacy