Throughout all the debates and controversies surrounding the same-sex marriage proposals, recognition of the purpose and values of marriage has been assumed rather than discussed. No real debate has taken place on the nature of marriage itself. Every e-mail and letter I have received in support of this Bill has mentioned the word “equal”. It is interesting to note that the Government have dropped that word from the title of the Bill. That is probably because it does not promote equality.
A Bill that keeps the traditional meaning of marriage for some sections of society, saying that marriage is between a man and a woman for the procreation of children, then gives others in society a different meaning of marriage, saying that marriage of same-sex couples is lawful, is not equal. The Bill also does not change the meaning of adultery: if a person in a same-sex marriage has an affair with someone from the opposite sex, that is deemed as adultery; but if they have an affair with someone of the same sex, it is not classed as adultery and is therefore not grounds for divorce. How is that equal?
A Bill that takes away the meaning of the purpose of marriage, whose intention is traditionally child-centred, and tailors it to become a partnership model changes the basic building block of society and makes it adult-centred. How is that equal for children? Why does this Bill not offer civil partnerships for heterosexual couples as well as for same-sex couples, or civil marriage for same-sex couples, too?
Marriage is clearly both a foundational and a progressive institution; it is both traditional and radical. It secures well-being and manifest advantage for children born under its auspices, and stability for men and for women. However, traditional marriage is under threat, and has been for many years. The steady erosion of marriage over the last few decades is a grave social and economic ill. Why, then, does the state want to undermine it even further? With about 50% of children in our society being born out of wedlock, the state should be looking at ways to strengthen the institution of marriage for the sake of children, rather than eroding the true purpose of marriage even further. There is a plethora of evidence to suggest that the best platform to address poverty, acceptance, socialisation and a place in society for children is parental sacrifice and the love of the children of their union—the traditional family unit, sealed by traditional marriage.
Those who advocate the extension of marriage to same-sex couples have been very strong on the value of equality, but at the same time almost silent on the specific nature of the concept of marriage they want equal access to. Rather than erode the traditional meaning of marriage for the majority, there is a simple solution to address the problems arising from this Bill, which, as it currently stands, is incredibly divisive, rather than inclusive. The Government should take a serious look at opening up civil partnerships to heterosexual couples and simply change the name to something like “state marriage”. In that way, those who want marriage so that they can be called married, get their way and those who want to maintain traditional marriage for its true intended purpose can keep it. In that way, those who do not want a traditional option of marriage can have marriage under a civil partnership, or state marriage, where they currently cannot and those who believe the Churches should decide on who they want to marry can allow them to do so. Let the Churches decide, not the state, and let them do so without fearing reprisals.
In the meantime, I will not support this Bill, and I urge any of my colleagues who are undecided or wavering to do the same.