Political Promise

Equal Love: An opportunity for all?

In Garry Lee on December 26, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Garry Lee discusses the Equal Love campaign to allow for same-sex civil partnerships and different-sex civil marriages.

The debate on whether Britain should extend full marriage rights to homosexual couples has been ongoing since the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act 2004. The Act outlined the guidelines for a civil partnership that many believe to be a second-class system to marriage itself. The inequality between the two systems was confirmed by Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, when he said that support should be given to both same-sex and homosexual couples who wanted a ‘civil marriage’ that would have the same legal status as a marriage in the ‘faith community’. The language being used in this process is the basis for this article. In Chapter 1:2 subsection 5 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, it states, “no religious service is to be used while the civil partnership registrar is officiating at the signing of a civil partnership document“. When this is coupled with the reluctance of politicians to simply use the word ‘marriage’ instead of ‘civil marriage’, it starts to makes you realise that this isn’t a debate about the law, it’s about trying to appease both sides by giving homosexuals the legal right while simultaneously retaining the Christian vote for your party. The issue raises the question of how important the Christian vote actually is?

According to the Office for National Statistics in 2001, 71.8% of the population of the UK is Christian in comparison with the 15.1% who consider themselves to be of no religion, and the 7.8% who did not state their religion. Even while discounting the additional 5.4%, the non-Christian religious sector, it’s clear that the Christian vote has the potential to be of great importance to the government. Elizabeth Berridge, who is the chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, told the BBC back in April 2010 that she believed Christians do play an important role in elections due to the fact that around 80% of that population is likely to vote, a very high figure for the UK.

Despite the large Christian population in the UK, a campaign under the title Equal Love plans to take this issue to the European Court of Human Rights today (21st). From the 2nd of November to the 14th of December, four heterosexual couples applied for civil partnerships and four homosexual couples applied for civil marriages; all applications were, as to be expected, denied. Peter Tatchell, the noted gay rights campaigner who is the co-ordinator for Equal Love claims on their website that “since there is no difference in the rights and responsibilities involved in gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships, there is no justification for having two mutually exclusive and discriminatory systems“.

The interesting thing about the decision to take this issue to the European level is that since European law is above national law, it would allow the European Court of Human Rights to impose their decision upon the national government. While this appears at first to be a problem for the Conservatives, if the European Court of Human Rights forces this decision upon the UK, it allows the Conservatives a way out of a potentially politically difficult decision. Rather than risk upsetting groups like the Conservative Christian Fellowship, they have the ability to still remain opposed to the issue while complying with the decision made from above, in the same way that they have dealt with the recent issue of prisoner’s voting rights. Instead of being viewed as a potential split between the coalition, it’s possible that out of this situation that both heterosexual and homosexual couples will have their rights upheld, the Liberal Democrats will be able to express their joy at the prospect of a more liberal society, and the Conservatives will not have to risk alienating their Christian voters and David Cameron can play down the decision as just another reason why he is a Eurosceptic.

A news conference is to take place today in which Peter Tatchell, Robert Wintemute (Professor of Human Rights Law), and representatives from the heterosexual and homosexual couples will appear on the panel.

  1. Good article, but the statistic on our Christian population is deceptive. That 71.8% comes from the 2001 census, which included asked ‘What is your religion?’ rather than ‘Are you religious?’ The result was that many people ticked ‘Christian’ having been led to, when all other significant polls show a far higher non-religious population. 65 percent of people ICM polled in 2006 said they weren’t religious (http://bit.ly/fQgmw1) and this year’s British Social Attitudes survey found 50% of people identified as Christian in 2008 compared with 43% who professed not to be religious.

    23 percent of in the same survey said they were are affiliated with the Church of England, 49 percent of whom never attend church services and only eight percent of whom attend weekly; the C of E’s own provisional figures from 2008 show an average weekly attendance of 919,000. (http://bit.ly/h9edjf).

    I think we should follow the American system, though, and separate ‘civic marriage’ (a legal act performed by a registrar) from ‘ceremonial marriage’ (a private act performed by a minister or celebrant). That would make people’s religious status irrelevant in the eyes of the law, so that same- and opposite-sex couples were still legally equal but religious institutions (Christian or otherwise) could still refuse to marry people.

  2. The European legal challenge is very interesting and I wonder how it will pan out. In any case, I am fairly certain that civil partnerships were always designed to be a stepping-stone to marriage, in the same way that the Lib Dems see AV as a stepping-stone to PR.

  3. As far as I am aware marriage is a very defined term and it involves a man and a woman. Marriage is also very much associated with religion. Since marriage is between a man and a woman it is by default a heterosexual affair. Why can’t we keep that as is? I do not understand why there is such a public agenda to have that altered. I also do not agree that such a definition of marriage is discriminatory.

    I think calling marriage discriminatory because it does not accommodate to homosexual couple is unjustified. I think discrimination here is being used very irresponsibly and randomly. It’s like accusing a unisex hairdresser being discriminatory to the other sex or a club devoted to bird watching being discriminatory to those who prefer to watch insects or paint dry. So looking at the issue through discrimination is unsatisfactory and maybe irrelevant.

    I think homosexual couples should and must enjoy similar rights and protection as married couples. This article touched on the legal accommodations in place for homosexual unions without the word marriage. What’s wrong with that? I think we should make use of what we have now. I do not understand why we are involving ourselves in this redefining marriage debate. Why create a one size fits all situation when we know that we are dealing with two separate forms of union? I suspect the answer is that the usual militant atheist crowds are behind it in their paranoid agenda of routing religion in all its form and the definition of marriage is one target.

    I do not agree that his is a human rights endeavor. Since marriage is more or less institutionalized with respective religions, I think this country seriously needs to hear the theological debate about it and less from that European Court on Human Rights. This issue is not to be framed within Human Rights exclusively, which is what is happening and I think it could yield a one-sided perspective. I believe this issue does not warrant the attention of human rights; it does not really qualify. I think mass rapes in the Congo and refugees in Chad from Darfur are the real human rights issues rather than the Equal Love Campaign.

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