THE Government came under sustained attack this week from a coalition of Christian groups and individuals over its plans to legalise same-sex marriage.
The coalition’s petition attracted about 23,000 signatures within 48 hours of its launch, including those of the Bishops of Carlisle, Chester, Exeter, and Hereford.
The Coalition for Marriage, established by the Christian Institute, with signatories from senior officials of Care, the Evangelical Alliance, Christian Concern, and other organisations, accuses the Government of rewriting the legal definition of marriage without widespread public support for the change.
It commissioned a survey by ComRes, which reported that 51 per cent of those surveyed agreed that “no one has the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us.”
The campaign has won the support of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey. He told the Daily Mail that the Government’s plans “constitute one of the greatest political power grabs in history” and a “hostile strike” against traditional marriage.
Lord Carey described the plans as an act of “cultural and theological vandalism” against an institution dating back thousands of years.
Among the signatories to the petition are the Roman Catholic Labour peer Lord Brennan QC, the former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who is a Free Presbyterian, and a cross-party group of MPs. Prominent in the list are also Anglican clergy and General Synod members, many of them Evangelicals.
Lord Brennan said: “Same-sex couples have all the legal rights they need in the form of civil partnerships. But, if marriage is redefined, many others will begin to lose their rights, especially the Churches, who, whatever reassurances the Government may offer, will be challenged again and again in the courts for refusing to solemnise same-sex marriages.”
The Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, is due to publish a formal consultation document on how to legalise same-sex marriage by 2015; the issue is said to be regarded by the Prime Minister as a defining one for his leadership. His office said that Mr Cameron’s support for a change in the law was unwavering, despite the momentum of the petition.
He had hoped that insisting that there would be provision for Churches to opt out of solemnising marriages in their premises would prevent splits over the issue in the Commons and the Lords.
The director of the Christian Institute, Colin Hart, said: “The Home Secretary has made clear that the government consultation will be about ‘how’, not ‘whether’, to redefine marriage; and the Prime Minister says it is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. When will the 24 million married people in this country get to have their say? This is profoundly anti-democratic. The Government is running away from this public debate. They are bulldozing ahead without any thought for the consequences.
“The word ‘marriage’ appears 3258 times in UK legislation. It is woven into the fabric of our national laws. That can’t be just unpicked in a single stroke.”
The gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell said, however, that the Coalition for Marriage was “out of touch with public opinion”, and that the ban on same-sex marriage was “discrimination”.
Dr Sentamu, an alumnus and Hon. Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge, received a letter from current undergraduates there concerned about his recent comments in opposition to same-sex marriage (News, 3 February).
In its letter, the college’s Junior Common Room said that it was “surprised” by Dr Sentamu’s comments, given his support for the notion that homosexual relationships should not be treated as inferior to heterosexual relationships. His arguments comparing the Government’s proposal to legalise same-sex marriage to the actions of a dictator were “completely unfounded”, and he should “reconsider” his choice of words.
Dr Sentamu’s office said that he would respond to the students privately in due course.
An attempt by the gay-rights group Stonewall to have the words “husband” and “wife” wiped from the statute book and replaced with “parties to a marriage” has been separately condemned by the groups that make up the Coalition.
Stonewall released a draft Bill this week, intended as a “model” for the Marriage Bill due later this year, calling for spouses to be known as “parties to a marriage” to avoid confusion for homosexual couples.
The Government was urged to support marriage this week in its upcoming budget. A think tank, founded by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has reported that tax breaks for married couples would do more to fight poverty than Liberal Democrat plans to increase the income tax threshold.
The Chancellor, George Osborne, is reported to be considering a married couple’s tax allowance as a way of supporting families.
Is it right to use the word “marriage” for same-sex unions?