Writing in The Times, the Home Secretary and cabinet Minister for Equality, Theresa May, argues that marriage should be for everyone regardless of their sexuality. She strongly dismisses claims by the Church of England to determine who should be able to marry.
In a column timed to coincide with the publication of the Government’s plans for introducing same sex marriage, the Home Secretary asks: “Should two people who care deeply for each other, who love each other and who want to spend the rest of their lives together be allowed to marry?”
Mrs May, who was once questioned over her early voting record on LGBT rights answers: “My answer is that marriage should be for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. Society is stronger when people enter into a stable relationship; when they commit to each other; when they make binding vows to love, honour and cherish one another. That is a deeply conservative opinion — conservative with a big and a small ‘c’.”
Mrs May adds: “The introduction of civil partnerships in 2005 was a significant step forward for our society. For the first time, same-sex couples could make a public and legally recognised commitment to one another. That made relationships more enduring and our society more stable.” Mrs May voted to introduce civil partnerships.
The Church of England has argued that civil partnerships are ‘enough’, essentially the argument of the previous Labour Government, and indeed the position of gay rights charity Stonewall until recently. Mrs May says they are not : “Many people already refer to a civil partnership as a “gay marriage” and to civil partners as “married”. But the problem is that they’re not. Gay people can work where they want, go where they want, live where they want. They have equal rights — but they still can’t get married. I don’t believe the State should perpetuate discrimination and prejudice. I believe that in modern Britain we should seek to eliminate discrimination wherever we find it.”
Mrs May, clearly pointing the criticisms of the Catholic Church explains to readers that Catholic Spain, Portugal and Argentina have introduced gay marriage. She says: “I am worried that at times that debate is in danger of spilling over into hyperbole, with many myths prevailing on both sides. So I want to clear up once and for all what our proposals are about, and what they will and won’t do.
“I don’t usually talk about my own faith. In British politics we tend to feel uncomfortable about that sort of thing. But as an Anglican who attends church each Sunday and whose father was a vicar, I understand the Church of England. That’s why I want to emphasise that this has nothing to do with telling the Church — or any religious group — what to do.
“I want to be absolutely clear that we do not propose to touch religious marriage in any way. We are talking about civil marriage ceremonies — the sort currently conducted in register offices, country houses and hotels. Civil marriages can’t happen inside a church now and won’t under the proposals we are announcing today.”
“Under our plans no church, mosque, temple, synagogue or other religious premises will be forced to hold gay marriage ceremonies. — in fact, they won’t be allowed to even if they want to. Religious marriage between a gay couple will remain illegal.”
The latter point will upset Quakers, Unitarians, Liberal Judaism and just last week, Reform Judaism who wish to conduct religious same sex marriages. Lord Ali, the Labour peer has promised to introduce an amendment in the House of Lords to allow religious organisations that wish to conduct services to be allowed to. PinkNews.co.uk understands that many in Government support this desire too, but are keen to ensure that the civil marriage proposals pass without overwhelming objections in either the Commons or the Lords.
Mrs May writes: “Churches will continue to be able to teach, preach and practise their view that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, without fear of being sued. People of faith have nothing to fear from our proposals.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu has argued that the Church needs to approve changes to the definition to marriage as it stems from the 1662 Prayer Book. Mrs May quashes such suggestion writing: “The State clearly does have a role in defining what is and isn’t a legally recognised marriage. Polygamy is banned in this country by Act of Parliament, as is sibling marriage. Parliament first passed a law allowing civil marriage in 1837.” She adds the Church can only decide who marries within its own premises and who utilise its services.
Mrs May closes arguing: “Our proposals are motivated by the desire to strengthen our society by extending the right to marry. Marriage is one of the most important institutions we have. It binds us together, brings stability and makes us stronger. So I don’t believe that the State should stop people getting married unless there are very good reasons — and being gay isn’t one of them. If we believe that commitment, fidelity and marriage are good things then we should not restrict them, we should let them flourish.”
The Government will formally publish plans for same sex marriage tomorrow. The legislation to be proposed by the Coalition will be a Government sponsored bill tabled by Mrs May and the minister for equality, Lynne Featherstone.
Former Conservative Party chairman and current Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude last week warned that right wing Conservaitve Party must vote for gay couples to marry or the party will become “unelectable”.