Earlier this week, Maria Miller, the misogyny and discrimination – sorry, the Culture, Womens and Equalities – Minister, announced that legislation would be brought forward in January to allow same-sex marriage in some religious buildings in England and Wales. Now there a number of reasons the current government might be looking to distract from the financial situation we are in, the privatisation of the NHS, the demonisation of the disabled, the budget that ratcheted up the war on women, and equal marriage is a great way to distract, it might even get a few people thinking they are not the nasty party. Especially if these people are white middle class gay men, who by every other factor are a Tory voting demographic.
If the intention is to win a few votes and try to change voters’ perceptions of the Conservatives as a party of right-wing homophobic bigots though, then the equal marriage debate deserves much better than this back of an envelope omnishambles. The four locks that Miller announced instead show typical lack of thought, knowledge or understanding . So lets look at two of them more closely.
The legislation will explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples and that canon law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply.
Where shall we start ? Perhaps with the fact the Church in Wales is disestablished The Welsh Church Act of 1914, finally brought into law in 1920, broke the link between the Welsh Anglican Churches and the British State. That neither Miller nor any advisers knew this highlights this is not a policy based on deeply held convictions or beliefs, but a cynical headline grabbing stunt.
Which the attitude to the CofE also shows. There has not been an Act of Parliament that mandated behaviour in the Anglican Church since 1874. It was controversial then, and should still be now; the separation of Church and state is a grey enough area as it is. For the government to overturn tradition, and wisdom, and decide that religious policy can be determined by politicians is a step back in history that all, religious, agnostic or atheist, should resist. Miller is claiming that they are merely reflecting cannon law. Cannon law is set by the Synod though, not the government of the day.
This firsthand account here of the prosecution of Rev. R.W. Enraght shows the dangers of the state interfering in the consciences of people. Am I being fanciful in imagining there will be many more Enraghts should this law be passed? The issue of equal marriage is one that many Christians disagree on, there is no universal consensus. There are clergy who support widening who can get married in their churches. Defying a law imposed by government ministers may already be something they are praying about.
The failure to understand the theology, organisation and structures in the country she is supposedly legislating for is demonstrated by the next lock:
It will be unlawful for religious organisations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation’s governing body has expressly opted in to provisions for doing so;
In Miller’s land there are no Quakers,Unitarians, or Community Churches. The Baptist Church I attend has no governing body other than the Church membership. I suppose that might constitute an acceptable governing body, but the very phrasing of the provision shows just how little knowledge or understanding has been put into this announcement by Miller. Another point here is that true equal marriage could be brought in by extending the legal right to marry people, of whatever sexuality, to all non-Christian religions. That would be true equality. Yes, they might decide not to marry same sex couples, but currently an iman or pandit who wishes to conduct a wedding is a second class celebrant. That is discrimination that has to end.
The other two locks might be best left to someone who understands the law better than I do (*coughs*) . However this brief examination to me shows this is nothing about equality. There may even be an interpretation that Miller, who is not known for liberal views, has framed the debate this way so it fails. Or is that a conspiracy theory too far? This government has a history of ill thought out policies, often changed at the last minute. It demonstrated again its arrogance and refusal to consult with experts this week.
This blog post appeared originally on the blog It’s Just a Hobby. Many thanks to Jemima for permission to reproduce it.