The myths in the Government's gay marriage 'Mythbusters'
CARE’s public affairs team has produced a response to the Government’s Mythbusters document on same-sex marriage - you know, the one that listed all the panicky rumour and unfounded conjecture ('Myths'), and then patronisingly - not to say deceptively - set out the 'Reality'. CARE's response to each 'Reality' may be seen to establish the veracity of the 'Myth', which are not actually myths at all. The full list of ripostes may be found HERE. His Grace reproduces just three:
MYTH: Allowing same-sex couples to marry will destroy the institution of marriage.
REALITY: Marriage is a hugely important institution in this country. The principles of long-term commitment and responsibility which underpin it bind society together and make it stronger. The Government believes that we should not prevent people getting married unless there are very good reasons – and loving someone of the same sex is not one of them.
CARE’s RESPONSE: Commitment and responsibility are key components of marriage. For years the law has recognised this by making adultery a ground for divorce. According to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, adultery does not apply to marriages between two people of the same sex. Lawyers have already said that this situation is unsustainable and that, in time, adultery will in practice be removed as a basis for divorce altogether. In light of these things, the Government cannot claim that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will promote commitment and responsibility. In reality it will have quite the opposite effect.
MYTH: Teachers will have to promote same-sex marriage to pupils in sex and relationships education.
REALITY: This is not true. No teacher will be required to promote or endorse views which go against their beliefs. As with any other area of the curriculum teachers will of course be required to teach the factual position, that under the law marriage can be between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples. There are many areas within teaching, particularly within faith schools, where this type of issue already arises and where subjects such as divorce are taught with sensitivity. The guidance governing these issues is the same guidance that will govern how same-sex marriage in the classroom will be approached. Sex and relationships education is categorically not about the promotion of a particular sexual orientation - that would be inappropriate teaching.
CARE’s RESPONSE: It is not at all clear that teachers will be given the option of teaching about the new definition of marriage in the purely factual way suggested. Suppose a primary school teacher is required to use the book King and King which tells the story of two Princes who fall in love and marry. Most Christians would feel unable to use such a resource because it does not simply deal with facts but seeks to promote same sex relationships. A Christian teacher with orthodox views about same sex marriage could not use this resource without acting in violation of their faith. Aidan O’Neill advises that teachers in this situation would have no chance of success in court. Additionally, with regard to sex and relationships education, under the terms of Section 403 of the Education Act 1996, there is an explicit duty to 'encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life', an arguably implicit duty to promote marriage under S.403 (1A, a) and an explicit duty to have ‘regard to the age and the religious background of the pupils concerned'. It is difficult to see how redefining marriage will not bring teachers into conflict with the law and perhaps stigmatise children from religious backgrounds who themselves do not want (or whose parents do not want them) to learn about same-sex marriage.
MYTH: You did not take into account the large number of petitions received opposing a change in the law.
REALITY: 228,000 individuals and organisations responded to the consultation on how to open up marriage to same-sex couples. Additionally there were petitions for and against equal marriage. The largest was from the Coalition for Marriage against the proposals which contained over 500,000 signatures opposed to the proposals. The views expressed in the petitions were considered along with all the other responses received. However, the Government have always been clear that the consultation was focussed on how to implement a change in the law, rather than whether to change the law.
CARE’s RESPONSE: Civil servants suggested that signatories to the Coalition for Marriage petition, which indicate a clear answer to question 1 of the consultation, would be counted as consultation submissions. Later the Government backtracked on this assurance and said that whilst they had regard to the petition, they would not count signatories as submissions. On this basis they could claim that 53% of submissions were in favour of redefining marriage. If the Government had honoured their original undertaking, then a staggering 83% of submissions would have been against their proposals. Many people who would have made a separate submission had they not been misled now feel cheated and deceived. The Government’s line that the consultation was only concerned with how and not whether marriage should be redefined is completely unsustainable given that the first two questions of the consultation were explicitly about whether marriage should be redefined.
2 Hyde v Hyde and Woodmansee (1866) LR 1 P&D 130
5 http://www.itn.co.uk/UK/63995/church-of-england-says-lack-of-consultation-on-gay-marriage paras 7.1–7.9