November 21, 2012

IconReligious people can be gay – get over it!

Talking about gay marriage is all the rage at the moment, as one of the last legal barriers towards full equality. There’s other things that we need to talk about, like hate crime, and homophobia in schools, but same sex marriage being the very last form of obvious legal inequality between LGBT people and heterosexuals, it’s important. And it’s about to topple.

Or is it?

It is a fact rarely acknowledged, but the Conservative Party policy is to support civil, and not religious, same sex marriage.  This was noted in the consultation document that they published, in which they said:

“Marriages solemnized through a religious ceremony and on religious premises would still only be legally possible between a man and a woman. The Government is not seeking to change how religious organisations define religious marriage and any subsequent legislation would be clear that no religious organisation could conduct a religious marriage ceremony on religious premises for same sex couples.”

Presumably this policy was formed with the intention of heading off objections from the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church; if so, it failed miserably.

In the meantime, this policy actively discriminates, not only against the LGBT people who wish to marry in a place of worship, but against the places of worship which wish to admit them.

Religious people can be gay – get over it!

Allowing religious same sex marriage simply means that churches who want to perform same sex marriages will be able to – specifically the Quakers, the Unitarians, and Liberal and Reform Judaism.

The situation in 2015, if the proposed legislation becomes law, is that those denominations will not be able to perform same sex religious marriages, even though they want to and are specifically lobbying the government for this. Religious same sex marriage will still be illegal, for everyone, whether they want to perform them or not.

There are fears that same sex religious marriage will result in lawsuits against churches which refuse to perform same sex marriages. A poorly worded law might result in that happening, but otherwise it’s hard to see how these fears could otherwise be realised.

Types of marriage

There are two types of marriage law. Civil marriage, which is performed by registrars. And religious marriage, which is performed by “authorised celebrants” in venues recognised by the approved denominations, which are Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Non-Conforming Churches, and the United Synagogue, the Orthodox Jewish organisation (which for the purposes of marriage includes Masorti Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Liberal Judaism).

Everyone else, the Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims etc, have to have a registrar present at their wedding ceremonies, or hold a private civil wedding beforehand.

Civil marriage is regulated by the state, and is open to everyone over the age of 18 of sound mind.

Religious marriage is open to the rules set by the denomination which performs them. Catholics can turn down divorcees, and rabbis can refuse to perform interfaith weddings.

So if your church, synagogue, mosque or temple wants to refuse to let gay people marry, or rich people marry, or adulterers marry, then they can. But allowing gay people to marry? Out of the question.

The Conservative Party’s heart isn’t in it

It is a disappointing law that will be coming in then, if only because, as one of the only pieces of LGBT legislation that has been put forward by the Conservative Party and they haven’t even managed to bring themselves to embrace it wholeheartedly.

The Labour Party support both religious and civil same sex marriage, by the way. So do the Lib Dems. (Interestingly, the Green Party doesn’t. What an odd pairing.)

In Scotland, where the SNP is currently legislating for same sex marriage, they have not sought to make such a distinction, and the leaders of the Scottish Conservatives, who is herself lesbian, has promised to vote for it.

LGBTory, the pressure group within the Conservatives, has already submitted a consultation response to the government calling for religious same sex marriage to be permitted on the same basis as civil.

So, with Labour already committed to religious same sex marriage and likely to form the next government, it seems like a wasted opportunity for the Conservatives to actually do something right by the LGBT community.

But the real losers will be the thousands of LGBT couples who want to be married in their own communities who are stuck waiting for a government willing to make our marriage laws make sense.

Comments are closed.

Sarah McCulloch

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