Equal Marriage

Over the last few days there has been a fair amount of heat and light coming out of the Tory party, generated by the discussion about equal marriage (or, as the tabloids like to describe it, “gay marriage”).

We’ve know for ages that David Cameron is in favour of it and that a lot of the Tory heartland isn’t. But at the end of last week Cameron said that he supported same-sex wedding ceremonies taking place in churches if (and that “if” is important here) the church is happy for them to take place. This hasn’t played well in the shires and various Tories have said a number of increasingly stupid things about it (for a particularly ridiculous example see Tim Fenton’s excellent piece on Nadine Dorries’ confusion over religious freedom and the ECHR).

The problem seems to be that all of the naysayers are illiterate. I said that the word “if” was important in what Cameron was proposes. To many of his critics it seems to be invisible. Where you and I are reading “churches may decide to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies if they want to”, Cameron’s critics are reading “churches will be forced against their will to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies”. They seem to be reading the story through some kind of middle-England auto-bigotry filter.

Some people on my side of the debate (in case that’s not clear, it’s the pro-equal-marriage side) have gone the other way – saying that churches should be forced to hold these ceremonies. I don’t want that at all. Here’s what I want.

I want churches to be stopped from marrying people.

Ok, that’s a deliberately attention-grabbing way of putting it. I should explain in more detail.

As I see it, there are two parts of a marriage. There’s the legal joining together of two people. And then, for some people, there’s a religious ceremony. What if those two parts were completely separated? What if churches lost the right to perform the legal part of the marriage ceremony?

This isn’t so strange. People do it all the time. If non-Christians want to get married, they have to do it in two stages. They go to the registry office to do the legal stuff and then they go to a mosque, temple or whatever to have a ceremony. What if all weddings worked like that?

So here’s what I propose:

  • In order to be legally married, you need to go through some process at a local registry office. This would be a purely legal thing. Bride and groom (or whichever permutation is appropriate) and a couple of witnesses. After this you would be legally married.
  • You then have the option to have some other kind of ceremony of any type you want. Many people would choose a church. Others would go to a mosque or a temple or whatever. You’d also have the option to do nothing else.

The advantage, as far as I see it, is that as the second part (the religious ceremony) now has no legal standing whatsoever, then the government would have no say at all about how it is run and whether or not churches or mosques or temples can run same-sex ceremonies. That decision would be unambiguously in the hands of the people running the organisation in question (but good luck getting a mosque to run a same-sex wedding!)

Of course, this is one of the areas where the religious playing field is uneven. Non-Christians are used to the set-up I describe above. The only reason that Christian churches get a special dispensation to carry out the legal part of a wedding is because they are the established church and therefore sometimes get to dabble in things that should completely off-limits to them.

All of which means that implementing my suggestion would be another step on the way to (or, at least, another very good argument for) disestablishment of the Church.

All in all, I can’t see the flaw in my suggestion. Can you?


    1. So I read your posts on marriage…& boy are you easily cowed..

      As you noted & tried vainly to dismiss…marriage as traditionally defined is a fundemental human right.. It is also a fundemental consitutional right.

      The totalitarian impulse is rooted in the belief that mankind can be remade…at the point of a gun if neccessary, because he is ultimently nothing more than a social construct… with no inaliable rights of his own.

      As old as Pericles, marriage and the family have been considered bulkwarks against state tyranny.

      Any authentic liberal social order supports and upholds the right to marriage and family.

      This transparent attempt to redifine a basic human right is by its very definition a totalitarian agenda.

      Limits to state power is the very point of fundemental human rights.

      Those who are intellectually capable of twisting a concept so self evident and rooted in historical and biological realities; simply reveal themselves to be tools of a totalitarian regime that philisophically incapable of respecting human dignity.

  1. Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs can get married in their own religious premises. And Christians of many varieties can get married in their churches too. The drift of the law since the abolition of discrimination against Catholics and non-conformists, and the changes in the 1995 act, has been to allow people of all religions and none to get married wherever they prefer, as long as the ceremony conforms to certain basic rules.

    Rather than make everyone have two ceremonies, I would rather see us continue down the current path to allow everyone to have an integrated celebration.

    It also has relatively little to do with the Church of England being the established church. If the Anglicans were disestablished they could still hold integrated ceremonies just as Catholics, for example, do today.

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