It pains me to say it, but it seems that this government might have had an unexpected bout of common sense over its consultation on Equal Civil Marriage.
Behind that common sense sounding title lurks the issue that has had some religious leaders up in arms, of course, that of same-sex marriage and whether the proposals somehow undermine the entire fabric of society.
But when the announcement finally came from Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, this week seem eminently sensible. The key points are:
- to allow same-sex couples to marry in a register office or other civil ceremony
- to retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples and allow couples already in a civil partnership to convert it into a marriage
- to allow people to stay married and legally change their gender
- to maintain the legal ban on same-sex couples marrying in a religious service
My main reservation is on the last point. Is it right for any government to ban any religious practice?
I don’t believe that any religion should be forced by law to recognise same-sex marriage, but I also don’t believe they should be prevented from doing so if that is what they want to do. The state has no part to play in religion and vice versa.
Where the state does play a part is in the legal implications of the proposals. A same-sex couple should have the same rights and responsibilities in law as any other couple when it comes to divorce, inheritance etc, but that throws up other issues.
For example, what about siblings who choose to live together? Should they enjoy similar protection, tax allowances etc?
Any that brings me to my final concern – is this the final destination? I suspect not.
We’ve seen it in the past with things like the ban on smoking in public places. Sensible demands, the politicians and campaigners told us, but flushed with success, they now want to outlaw smoking in personal space and point of sale tobacco displays in shops.
Both might be ‘sensible’ in the same that the ban in public places was, but you have to ask yourself if this was always the agenda, but the state didn’t think we were grown-up enough to swallow their plan at one sitting.
And that brings me back to the present proposals and the fourth bullet point above. Is the end game to force different faiths to accept and perform same-sex marriages whether they like it or not in the name of equality? That would be a mistake.