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Same-sex civil partnerships & marriages in the UK

2013-FEB: SSM bill passes 2nd reading.
Public Bill Committee Proceedings.
Roman Catholic Archbishop accepts defeat.
Two archbishops write to the MPs.
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This is a continuation from an earlier essay.

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In this web site, the term "SSM" means "same-sex marriage.

We prefer this term over "gay marriage" because od inclusiveness and accuracy.
Some same-gender marriages involve one or two persons with a bisexual orientation.

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2013-FEB-05: Bill passes second reading by overwhelming vote in Parliament:

The Marriage (Same-sex couples) Bill was debated in Parliament for 6 hours. The final vote at the second reading was 400 to 175 -- overwhelmingly (70%) in favor.

Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) voted 136 against, 127 in favor and 35 abstentions. Many were critical of the bill, saying it was morally wrong, not a priority, and unnecessarily divisive.

  • MP Gerald Howarth said that the government does not have a mandate to create such a "massive social and cultural change."
  • MP Edward Leigh said: "This is not evolution, it's revolution. ... [marriage is] "by its nature a heterosexual union."

Prime Minister David Cameron described the vote as "an important step forward" that strengthens society. He also said:

"I'm a big believer in marriage. It helps people to commit to each other, and I think that's why gay people should be able to get married too."

Junior justice minister Helen Grant said:

"As Tories we do differ at times. We have squabbles - we're like any other family. ... [The legislation is] a major step forward for equality and justice."

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrats' leader Nick Clegg said:

"I genuinely believe that we will look back on today as a landmark for equality in Britain. Tonight's vote shows Parliament is very strongly in favor of equal marriage. No matter who you are and who you love, we are all equal. Marriage is about love and commitment, and it should no longer be denied to people just because they are gay. The Liberal Democrats have long fought for equal marriage. It is party policy and I am proud that the Liberal Democrats are part of the coalition government that are making it happen."

Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband said:

"This is a proud day and an important step forward in the fight for equality in Britain. The overwhelming majority of Labour MPs supported this change to make sure marriage reflects the value we place on long-term, loving relationships whoever you love. Equal marriage builds on Labour's successes in government which include the repeal of Section 28, equalizing the age of consent, the introduction of civil partnerships and changes to the rules governing adoption."

Conservative MP David Burrowes said:

"We do respect the equal value of men and women, but surely that doesn't avoid us looking and celebrating difference, and marriage is a great way of celebrating the difference between a man and a woman.

The nation is divided, we have shown ourselves as a party to be divided. ... We have been the ones showing ourselves to have a grown-up, free-vote, conscience issue debate, and we shouldn't hide behind the fact that we're going to be divided on this issue."

Passing the bill at second reading means that Parliament approves of bill in principle. It will now receive additional study by the Public Bill Committee -- a committee composed of 19 Members of Parliament. 1

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2013-FEB-12: The Public Bill Committee Proceedings - Sittings 1 to 4 :

Committee meetings were scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays from FEB-12 to MAR-12. A number of government representatives, faith groups, gay-positive groups, and individuals will give oral evidence to the committee, including:

  • Department for Culture, Media and Sport;
  • Department for Education;
  • The Church of England;
  • The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales;
  • The Church in Wales;
  • Lord Pannick QC;
  • Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws QC;
  • Stonewall;
  • Lesbian and Gay Foundation;
  • Gender Identity Research and Education Society;
  • Liberal Judaism;
  • Board of Deputies of British Jews;
  • Out4Marriage
  • Coalition for Marriage;
  • Professor Julian Rivers, University of Bristol Law School;
  • The Religious Society of Friends;
  • The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches;
  • The Methodist Church. The United Reformed Church;
  • Liberty;
  • Equality and Human Rights Commission;
  • The Co-operative Group'
  • Schools OUT;
  • PHSE Association'
  • The very Reverend Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Albans;
  • Alice Arnold, broadcaster;
  • Brendan O'Neill, journalist;
  • Mark Jones, solicitor. 2

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2013-FEB-13 (approx): Archbishop of Southwark accepts defeat on SSM:

During 2013-FEB-13, Peter Smith, the Archbishop of Southwark, and the vice-president of the Catholic Bishops‚€™ Conference of England and Wales, testified before the committee of 19 Members of Parliament who are working on the next stage of the Marriage (Same-sex Couples) bill. He said that while marriage equality may be an inevitability, "it does not mean we approve." He said:

"What we have been saying right from the start is that marriage, for millennia, has been between a man and a woman and it is about the complementary of the two sexes.

That is the key issue. We keep getting diverted onto questions of equality and religious freedom but the nub of the argument is who, by their natural being, can be married." 3

Archbishop Smith's "key issue" is consistent with the Catholic Church's policies on human sexuality and marriage. They regard the core purpose of marriage to be procreation. They prohibit artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization, and surrogate motherhood. At the same time, they declare that a child has the right to know that they were conceived in an act of love. From these restrictions, the only possible and allowable form of marriage within the Roman Catholic Church is one between a man and a woman. However, because they argue their position on the basis of their concept of Natural Law, they maintain that their conclusions apply to persons of all religions, and of none.

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2013-MAY-15: The Roman Catholic Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark urge Members of Parliament (MPs) to rethink SSM bill:

Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith said that the proposed law concerning SSM would make changes to marriage that are "far more profound than first appears." Further, if passed, the law would change the meaning of marriage so that openness to children "is no longer central."

They wrote the following note to the MPs:

"We urge members of the House of Commons to think again about the long term consequences of the 'Marriage (same sex couples) Bill' in deciding how to vote at the report stage and third reading debates next week.

Many people within and beyond the faith communities deeply believe that the state should not seek to change the fundamental meaning of marriage. This proposed change in the law is far more profound than first appears. Marriage will become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family, is no longer central to society‚€™s understanding of marriage. It is not too late for Parliament to think again and we urge MPs to do so.

Furthermore, the Bill as currently drafted poses grave risks to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If the Bill is to proceed through Parliament we urge members to ensure it is amended so that these fundamental freedoms we all cherish are clearly and demonstrably safeguarded." 4

Whenever legislation is proposed to expand marriage by allowing loving committed, same-sex couples to marry, questions arise about individual's and company's freedom of religion. There are generally few if any conflicts concerning religious freedom and liberty in the traditional meaning of that term. That is, it does not impact on a person's freedom of belief, freedom of assembly, freedom to proselytize, etc. However, it can impact people's religious freedom in the new, emerging meaning of that term, which is the freedom to use religious belief to take actions that denigrate, discriminate against, and oppress others. Conflicts can occur when:

  • Clergy sometimes refuse to marry a couple because of:
    • their race,
    • being an interracial couple,
    • being an interfaith couple,
    • being of the same gender,
    • where one partner is transgender or a transsexual,

and in some Catholic dioceses,

    • a physical disability by one of the partners.

  • Groups like Knights of Columbus refuse who rent their hall to the general public for a wedding or reception, but who refuse to rent it to a couple because of any of the above reasons.

  • Individuals in a wedding-related business, like wedding photographers, wedding cake bakers, wedding planners, florists, etc. who are set up to serve the general public, but who want to discriminate against some couples by refusing them service.

Depending upon the human rights legislation in the area, individuals and companies may not be allowed to discriminate against persons because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.

Thus, same-sex marriage laws in various political jurisdictions often have escape clauses written in to allow immunity from prosecution as the result of various forms of discrimination and denigration.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

  1. Cameron's party split as first gay marriage vote passes," Reuters, 2013-FEB-05, at:
  2. "Public bill committee proceedings: Marriage (same-sex couples) Bill," 2013-FEB-12, at:
  3. Joe Morgan, "Top Catholic accepts defeat, says gay marriage will be law," GayStarNews, 2013-FEB-13, at:
  4. "Archbishops say marriage Bill poses 'grave risks' to religious freedom," Catholic Herald (UK), 2013-MAY-15, at:

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Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-FEB-05
Latest update: 2013-JUN-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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