The ‘Keep Marriage Special’ campaign have attracted publicity with their claims that the legalisation of same-sex marriage could lead to incest and illegal immigration. Their attitude makes the so-called “Coalition for Marriage” seem almost moderate by comparison.
The Coalition for Marriage (C4M) is the main umbrella body of groups opposed to same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Of course, they might more accurately be called the Coalition Against Marriage, given their enthusiasm for denying marriage to people who are not the same as them.
Keep Marriage Special (KMS) say they support the Coalition for Marriage but have set up their own group for the sake of having a specifically Christian campaign, because C4M is broader based. It’s true that C4M has non-Christian members, but it is clearly dominated by conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics. The Coalition’s main backers include groups such as Christian Concern and the Christian Institute.
Why then did Keep Marriage Special come about? There may be several reasons and I don’t claim to know the minds of its organisers. But it’s worth noting just who is involved in it.
Keep Marriage Special say they have MPs and bishops amongst their vice-presidents. This is true. However, the two MPs concerned both represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. There are no plans to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. So they are not MPs for places that will be affected by the proposed legislation.
The two bishops amongst the KMS vice-presidents include Michael Nazir-Ali, the Church of England’s former Bishop of Rochester. He is technically still a bishop (once ordained with that title, you generally keep it for life), but is no longer serving as one. The other bishop is David Samuels, leader of the so-called “Church of England (continuing)“, an ultra-conservative group with four congregations who have split from the Church of England. The “Church of England (continuing)” is the only denomination I know who dedicate most of the front page of their website to attacking same-sex relationships. They won’t, however, use the expression “same-sex relationships”, opting instead for the bizarre phrase “sodomitic union” (which sounds like some sort of complex economic arrangement designed by Eurozone finance ministers).
It would be a mistake, however, simply to see KMS as a more extreme form of the Coalition for Marriage. The Coalition’s backers are not averse to over-the-top rhetoric.Andrew Marsh of Christian Concern, when debating with me on Channel Five News, claimed that same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and implied (wrongly) that Jesus had criticised same-sex marriage.
Instead, there is another difference between the two-groups. It does not seem to have been much noticed. It concerns Catholics.
Despite claiming to include Christians from various traditions, there are no Catholics at the top of Keep Marriage Special. More than this, the list of vice-presidents and trustees includes a number of people known for their strongly anti-Catholic views: David Samuels (who, in addition to attacking “sodomy”, is head of the Protestant Reformation Society), Jeremy Brooks (of the Protestant Truth Society), Eileen Paisley (Ian’s wife). Several are members of the “Church Society“, a group of hardline anti-Catholic Anglicans. Indeed, the president of KMS is the Church’s Society’s president, Crispin Brentford (“Viscount Brentford” to those who accept the validity of such titles).
I am not suggesting that every supporter of Keep Marriage Special is anti-Catholic. Michael Nazir-Ali, despite his hostility to queers, Muslims and childless couples, is not known for prejudice against Catholics. Nonetheless, it is clear from even a fairly brief glance at the names on the group’s website that this is primarily a group for people who are not only opposed to gay and bisexual people, but who are not too keen to campaign on the issue alongside Catholics, let alone Muslims and Jews.
Some of KMS’ claims are particularly nasty. They have a publication declaring that illegal immigrants will use sham same-sex marriages to enter the UK. In addition to their anti-immigrant rhetoric, it’s worth noting that several of the groups involved also campaign against the ordination of women. It may be difficult to find a group of people who do not face prejudice from a significant number of the leading members of Keep Marriage Special.
In the light of this, Keep Marriage Special have little claim to be taken seriously on debates over same-sex marriage. Thankfully, they seem to be quite capable of undermining their own campaign with their absurd claims about incest and immigration.