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Shoddy and authoritarian: the Government's plans to overthrow marriage
The Government's consultation paper, published yesterday under the misleading title of Equal civil marriage: a consultation reveals both the shoddiness of its thinking and the extraordinary authoritarianism of a process which Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister, has repeatedly made clear has only one outcome.
The Government's proposal fundamentally to alter - and in the process radically redefine in such a way as to render it meaningless -- a major social public institution which has traditionally been protected by the state is one of the most audacious uses of unaccountable state power in more than a generation.
The proposal was in no party manifesto prior to the May 2010 general election. There has been no Green Paper or White Paper. Yet the Government makes clear that this is a consultation not on whether to introduce gay marriage but on how to. And they have also made clear that the strength of public opinion - manifest in the Coalition for Marriage's historically large petition in protest (now exceeding 200,000), as well as in the ComRes poll for Catholic Voices advertised in yesterday's Daily Telegraph showing 70% of British people in favour of retaining the current definition -- will simply be ignored. The Government's response to the consultation, they say on p. 2, "will be based on a consideration of the points made in consultation responses, not the number of responses received."
As Greg Daly points out, the Consultation continually confuses weddings and marriages, in such a way as to imply that civil and religious marriages are two separate legal realities. In fact, in law there is only marriage, with two ways into it -- via the state (civil ceremonies) or the Church (church weddings), with each (state and Church) recognising the other's ceremonies as valid. This is because both Church and state recognise the reality of marriage as an institution embedded in civil society which precedes and predates both state and Church -- and which lies beyond their control to redefine. The Government utterly fails to grasp this essential point, and appears baffled, therefore, at the Churches' vigorous opposition to the move.
The description of same-sex marriage as "equal" marriage is a naked attempt at hijacking the term; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights already makes clear that men and women have the an equal right to marriage. The notion that redefining marriage is for the sake of "equality" is nakedly absurd, as the Catholic Voices briefing paper (recently updated) makes clear.
The other massive flaw in the Consultation, one which exposes the poverty of the Government's thinking about marriage, is the complete absence from it of children. As the Archbishop of Westminster pointed out in last night's Newsnight (beginning at 11'40):
To me it is utterly astonishing that in the whole consultation document ... there is not one reference to a child. There is no reference to children at all. And I think that shows that the vision of marriage contained in the consultation document is reduced. It is excluding things that are of the very nature of marriage.
The Consultation lasts until June. At present, the debate is being cast as a disagreement between the entire political establishment and the Churches, almost alone in their organised opposition. The leaders of all three political parties, cowed by the efficient lobbying of Stonewall - whose £4m annual budget allows it to employ teams of lawyers and lobbyists -- are in favour of the proposal. Unless civil society organises, and a proper debate is enjoined, the state will be allowed to reshape society in a way that can only be described as totalitarian. The choice is ours.
(Hear CV coordinator Dr Austen Ivereigh on 'The Moral Maze' by clicking here. See also Peter D Williams, 'How to argue against same-sex marriage', in tomorrow's Catholic Herald.)