Update from Canon Chris Sugden, Church of England

The Same-Sex Couples bill is now under scrutiny at the committee stage in the House of Lords. The first of three days of debate Chris Sugdentook place on Monday. The second will be on Wednesday. No votes will be taken at this stage until the Third Reading of the Bill. A number of amendments have been tabled. Two diverging views are whether, on the one hand, there is some enhanced legal relationship for people in society, of any gender, but that the term marriage should be reserved for the man/woman monogamous relationship, or, on the other hand, that all people should have the same civil union, with additional religious extras for those who wish them. In the latter case, marriage would be abolished.

Christian and church teaching has always insisted that as a creation good there is only one kind of marriage. One challenge for the church is if marriage is changed to include two people of any gender, clergy would refuse to conduct any marriages as registrars on behalf of the state because of the penalties to be imposed if they refuse those of the same gender.

It has been reported that the Government is planning to respond to concerns about conscientious objection by changing the Public Order Act so that it would be clear that people will be protected who want to express their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But this only applies to the sort of Speakers’ Corner situation (where any views may be expressed) rather than institutional support.

A group of parents and professionals launched a new websitewith an advert in The Times on Monday to point out ten reasons why gay marriage would be particularly harmful to the wellbeing and rights of children. These are:

  1. Intact biological families provide the gold standard for the wellbeing of children.
  2. Children have a human right to be nurtured by both their biological parents.
  3. Gay parenting by definition denies the child from having one or both biological parents.
  4. Popular support for the Bill is based on the unfounded theory that people are ‘born gay’.
  5. All school children will be taught that as adults they can have marriage relationships with either men or women.
  6. Adolescents commonly experience temporary same-sex attraction: this does not mean they are gay.
  7. There is no evidence that SSM strengthens marriage. In Spain marriage rates fell precipitously.
  8. Behind this Bill is a militant move to deny gender difference.
  9. ‘Equal love’ leads to unequal marriage.
  10. Civil partnerships already provide all the legal and financial benefits of marriage for gay people.
Some listening to the debate in the Lords have noted that those arguing for traditional marriage tend to keep the debate at such an abstract, cerebral level that for many, nothing lands. When there is a comparison between the lovely gay couple next door and abstract notions of justice, the former wins, hands down. Concentrating upon the damage to children as in the concerns above gets attention!
There is increasing evidence of horror stories from children coming home saying they are gay, or being traumatized by sexual ‘health’ lessons in schools which have focused attention on gay erotica to such a degree that in one case, the 14 year old did not want to hug her mother or see her sister in the bath. In nurseries, even, children are being ‘gayified’. However, such evidence is dismissed as extreme, anecdotal and a one-off, while evidence of ‘gay bullying’ is used to demand a national campaign.

There have been sympathetic noises from the Prime Minister’s Office to the amendments being proposed to provide for protection for teachers, registrars (which obviously includes clergy) and others. There is a question however of the Parliamentary arithmetic as to whether Labour and Liberal Democrat peers will allow them through. If they do not, there is a potential for the Parliamentary Process to be drawn out beyond the Government’s planned timetable.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights which numbers some senior liberal legal Lords, has made a very critical report on the drafting of the bill. For example, the current drafting does not require those involved to be consensual. It would be unusual if such criticisms did not translate into further amendments.

Already, to avoid late-night ambushes when those voting purely at the Government’s behest might have gone home, the Government has extended the Committee stage to a third day onJune 24th.
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