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The UK Government's consultation on equal civil marriage

Summary

28 April 2012

In his closing speech to the 2011 Conservative Party Conference, Prime Minister David Cameron promised that the Government would consult on replacing civil partnerships for same-sex couples with civil marriage.

“But we're also doing something else. I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn't matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. You applauded me for that. Five years on, we're consulting on legalising gay marriage.

And to anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it's about equality, but it's also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative.”

That consultation document was issued in March 2012 and is open for responses with a deadline of 14 June 2012. Since marriage is a devolved matter, the consultation only applies to the law in England & Wales. The governments of Scotland and of Northern Ireland are responsible for civil marriage in those countries.

Many religious groups have already objected to the proposed change.

My views on the relationship between civil marriage and religious marriage were set out on my page "Why the state should exit the marriage business". Fundamentally I believe that confusion is caused by using the single word "marriage" to cover two distinct relationships.

  1. A relationship which gives rise to legal rights and responsibilities, such as the right to maintenance and inheritance and the legal status of next of kin.
  2. A relationship which is defined by one's religious beliefs in the case of people who have a religion. Where people do not have a religion, the relationship is defined by whatever custom and practice they regard as socially appropriate.

In my opinion the state only has a legitimate power to regulate relationships of the first type. The state needs to know when a relationship of this type exists, and since the state is expected to enforce the rights and responsibilities arising, the state has the right to determine when and how relationships of this type come into being and end.

The state has no legitimate interest in relationships of the second type. Indeed in modern British society the state does not attempt to regulate how adults enter into sexual relationships with each other, and any type of household can be formed by mutually consenting adults.

The consultation document half recognises the distinction since it only addresses the regulation of "civil marriage" and does not propose any changes to what it calls "religious marriage." Indeed apart from the possible exception of the Anglican Church (which is established by the state) I do not see how the Government could possibly claim the power to regulate the meaning of marriage as understood by Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus etc.

My response to the consultation document

I have sent in a personal response to the consultation document, and have reproduced the response below. The consultation asks 16 specific questions.

Question 1: Do you agree or disagree with enabling all couples, regardless of their gender to have a civil marriage ceremony? Agree Disagree Don’t know

Disagree.

Question 2: Please explain the reasons for your answer. Please respond within 1,225 characters (approx 200 words).

A civil partnership gives essentially the same legal rights and responsibilities as a civil wedding. To the extent that it does not, the civil partnerships law should be amended.

The word marriage derives its meaning from religion and from social custom. Although the state regulates civil marriage, the concept of marriage is not the property of the state, and the attempt to re-define it is improper. If the state wishes to enforce identical rules on gay and straight couples, it should stop having a civil marriage system and instead offer civil partnerships for all.

Question 3: If you identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual would you wish to have a civil marriage ceremony? Yes No Don’t know This question doesn’t apply to me

This question doesn’t apply to me.

Question 4: If you represent a group of individuals who identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual would those you represent wish to have a civil marriage ceremony? Yes No Don’t know This question doesn’t apply to me

This question doesn’t apply to me.

Question 5: The Government does not propose to open up religious marriage to same-sex couples. Do you agree or disagree? Agree – religious marriage should not be opened up to same-sex couples Disagree – religious marriage should be opened up to same-sex couples Don’t know

Agree – religious marriage should not be opened up to same-sex couples.

Question 6: Do you agree or disagree with keeping the option of civil partnerships once civil marriage is available to same-sex couples? Agree Disagree Don’t know

Disagree; it would be otiose. However as explained at question 1, I disagree entirely with the proposed extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.

Question 7: If you identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual and were considering making a legal commitment to your partner would you prefer to have a civil partnership or a civil marriage? Civil partnership Civil marriage No preference Don’t know This question doesn’t apply to me

This question doesn’t apply to me.

Question 8: The Government is not considering opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. Do you agree or disagree with this proposal? Agree – civil partnerships should not be opened up to opposite-sex couples Disagree – civil partnerships should be opened up to opposite-sex couples Don’t know

 Disagree – civil partnerships should be opened up to opposite-sex couples. That should be combined with the abolition of civil marriage if the government regards the status quo as unacceptably unequal.

Question 9: If you are in a civil partnership would you wish to take advantage of this policy and convert your civil partnership into a marriage? Yes No Don’t know This question doesn’t apply to me

This question doesn’t apply to me.

Question 10: Do you agree or disagree that there should be a time limit on the ability to convert a civil partnership into a marriage? Agree – there shouldn’t be a time limit Disagree – there should be a time limit Don’t know

Disagree – there should be a time limit.

Question 11: Do you agree or disagree that there should be the choice to have a civil ceremony on conversion of a civil partnership into a marriage? Yes, there should be an option No, there shouldn’t be an option Don’t know

 No, there shouldn’t be an option.

Question 12: If you are a married transsexual person would you want to take advantage of this policy and remain in your marriage while obtaining a full Gender Recognition Certificate? Yes No Don’t know This question doesn’t apply to me

 This question doesn’t apply to me.

Question 13: If you are the spouse of a transsexual person, would you want to take advantage of this policy and remain in your marriage whilst your spouse obtained a full Gender Recognition Certificate? Yes No Don’t know This question doesn’t apply to me

This question doesn’t apply to me.

Question 14: Do you have any comments on the assumptions or issues outlined in this chapter on consequential impacts? Please respond within 1,225 characters (approx 200 words).

The administrative process for a civil marriage and a civil partnership should be harmonised as far as possible. There is no logic in requiring civil partners to specify both parents while participants in a civil wedding are only required to specify fathers.

Question 15: Are you aware of any costs or benefits? that exist to either the public or private sector, or individuals that we have not accounted for? Please respond within 1,225 characters (approx 200 words).

 No.

Question 16: Do you have any other comments on the proposals within this consultation? Please respond within 1,225 characters (approx 200 words).

The consultation is seeking to address a problem that does not exist. To the extent that there are remaining differences between a civil marriage and a civil partnership, they can be eliminated by legislation to ensure that civil partners have identical legal rights to a married couple.

At the same time the historical baggage within civil marriage (such as the legal implications of consummation or adultery) should be removed.

What the state should not be trying to do is to appropriate to itself the right to redefine the meaning of marriage.

Is objecting to the change discriminatory?

I have no wish to treat same-sex couples any worse than mixed-sex couples.

The consultation document mentions in a few cases where civil partnerships appear to have less favourable treatment than civil marriages. If that is the case the Government can eliminate the inequality by making legal amendments to the law for either civil partnerships or civil marriages (or both).

If the government wishes to use the same terminology for the legal relationship between a same-sex couple and a mixed-sex couple, the most appropriate way to do this is to use the term "civil partnership" for both relationships, since we are talking about a relationship which is manufactured and controlled by the state. The word "marriage" refers to a relationship which is manufactured and controlled by God (in the eyes of religious people) or by society (in the eyes of people without a religion) and in neither case is it the business of the state.

I encourage readers who live within England and Wales to submit their own response to the consultation.

 

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