Same sex marriage: what’s all the fuss?

A bill to legalise gay marriage is going through the parliamentary process at the moment – it is being debated again on Monday as I write this – but the whole thing is causing so much uproar among politicians that some people are saying it could tear the Tory party in two. Why, and what makes this such a controversial issue?

The pro-same sex marriage lobby

As Britain’s home secretary Theresa May and equalities minister Lynne Featherstone argue: “Put simply, it’s not right that a couple who love each other and want to formalise a commitment to each other should be denied the right to marry.”

Same sex couples can already have a civil partnership, which basically carries all the same rights to pensions, next of kin etc that heterosexual marriage grants. But supporters of same sex marriage are riding a wave of similar bills across much of the developed democratic world, rather hoping that this will support gay rights everywhere too.

The anti-same sex marriage lobby

Much of it is religious. Christianity, for example, defines marriage as being between “one man and one woman”. That’s pretty plainspoken. Opponents of same sex marriage are worried that it is a slippery slope that will undermine a sacred and historical contract, undermine family, and over time religious ministers of any denomination may be coerced by public opinion into doing something they believe is unnatural.

But there are protections for religion, according to the government:

  • No religious organisation or individual minister will have to marry same-sex couples or allow this to happen on their premises
  • Religious ministers won’t be able marry same sex couples unless their governing body allows it
  • No discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple
  • The law will explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples

A lot of opponents of same sex marriage are wondering what right the government has to dictate how a person’s relationship works. Of course, the existence of any form of marriage kind of trumps that argument, but invasion of people’s personal lives by the state is a valid concern.

Finally the other argument people make (even if just in private) is that same sex marriage, or same sex anything, is just ikky. I’m afraid there is still a lot of prejudice around, particularly from people who believe that homosexuality is akin to pedophilia.

So why is this tearing up the Tories?

Because a whole bunch of them oppose same sex marriage (about half previously voted against it) and are rebelling against the prime minister. The controversy this week is about a proposed amendment to the legislation, which would allow heterosexual couples to have civil partnerships. Supporters say that if you are going to allow homosexual couples to get married, then it’s only fair to give heterosexual couples the right to have a civil partnership. Sure, but this would delay the progress of the bill for up to two years (until after the election when another government may not bother) because it would have to restart the whole process again.

Conclusion (ie my opinion, for what it’s worth)

Poll data is decidedly undecided on the matter of same sex marriage. It seems that the results are heavily dependent on how you ask the question. It strikes me, therefore, that either people are incapable of resisting a leading question, or they just don’t care enough / know enough to do so. In short: this is not a very important issue to the majority of the British public.

Having said that, it is very important to a small number of people. For the non-romantics among you (I’m one of them), marriage is not necessary to prove love and commitment to someone. For the rose-buyers, marriage is a chance for two people madly in love to express that love and celebrate it with those they care about.

Bottom line: in both cases, allowing same sex couples to marry is the right thing to do.

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