David Cameron must have expected some kind of backlash when he announced at last years’ Conservative party conference that he was in support of gay marriage. The law relating to homosexual relationships and ‘behaviour’ has been a constant source of division and bitter argument in both society and Government. It would now seem as though he is now heading for the Governments biggest clash with Church leaders for decades.
Dozens of MPs and six Bishops signed a petition against allowing homosexuals to marry in civil ceremonies, at present they are restricted to celebrating civil partnerships.
Marriage is a concept in common law defined by Lord Penzance in the 1866 case of Hyde v Hyde in which he said “I conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may … be defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”
This definition of marriage which has been in place for almost 150 years would have to change. I am not sure that such a change will have the same ground breaking civil rights measure as the Civil Partnership Act 2004. This came into force on 5th December 2005 and comprised an incredible 264 sections not to mention 30 detailed schedules. But the rules governing marriage were used as a template for that Act in an attempt to certify that a civil partnership is, in most ways, akin to marriage. The rights and responsibilities that are created by a civil partnership will not change but it will give a choice for all same-sex couples as to how they choose to celebrate their relationship. The law has changed so much in the past 50 years from when homosexuality was a criminal offence and with Human Rights a major driving force in practically everything happening these days, I would have to question whether the Church’s views are outdated?
The debate has covered many newspaper column inches in the past and with the Times just one of newspapers backing legislation I think we will all need to watch this space over the coming months as Mr Cameron will have a major battle on his hands to change the thinking that has been in place for decades!