Thursday, 7 February 2013

Other Liberal views on marriage from Southport

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
 It is always good to talk. This week there has been a lot of talking about marriage. Most of it has been done honestly and respectfully. Overwhelmingly Lib Dems have welcomed the proposals for equal marriage and a higher proportion of our MPs supported the Bill than in other parties. Lauren Keith (pictured on the left  below taking part in the 'Breakthrough Breast Cancer' charity Crocus walk in Hesketh Park) has written a guest posting on the issue.

I’m proud to be a Liberal Democrat this week. Our action in Government, led by Lynne Featherstone MP in her previous role as Equalities Minister, means that more people will now be able to enjoy comfort, stability, love and the odd argument within marriage.

Marriage has constantly been redefined, and it is this adaptability that has kept it relevant. The whole purpose of marriage was to secure land and power through marital union and the children (well, sons..) that this produced. In fact it was only the social mobility of the nineteenth century that occurred as a result of the emergence of the middle class that really changed the concept of marriage from something strategic based on consolidating and expanding land, possessions and wealth into a romantic partnership. The idea of marriage as a ‘partnership,’ based not just on procreation but companionship and mutual support is new. Marital rape was only outlawed in 1991 and it is of course still accepted for a woman to take her husband’s name.

The description of marriage as an ‘institution’ is also misleading. It is not a homogenous concept: some couples choose to marry in a religious ceremony, others choose a civil service. Within religions there are also varying attitudes to, for instance, the importance of procreation in a marriage. Catholicism teaches that procreation is its main purpose, whereas Anglicanism is more circumspect and in the 1930s teaching was reversed to allow contraception, although not ‘from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience’. Couples also go into marriage with varying attitudes. Some may see it as a commitment for life, some may not. Some enter into it after a few months, others after a few years.

A person’s sexuality is just one facet of themselves. I am heterosexual, but it does not mean that I necessarily want marriage and stability or a conventional personal life. Similarly, just because the person next to me is gay, it doesn’t mean that they will not want a wedding and a life of commitment to one person. Marriage rates were at their lowest since records began in 2011. One of the arguments against allowing gay marriage is that it may undermine an institution that needs to be protected. Surely, the best way of promoting and protecting it is to allow those who want to partake in it the opportunity to do so. If we can’t promote love, the world will be a dull, dreary and colder place.

At the same time, this was essentially a vote of conscience. Each MPs postbag has been groaning with letters and emails from either side of the debate citing religious, moral and social reasons both for and against. In the voting chamber they had to go with what their principles told them It is important that religious freedom is protected and any compulsion on religious institutions to perform marriage would be wrong and illiberal. Those religious organisations who wish to opt-in to providing ceremonies can, and the Bill protects those that do not. It also allows married people who change legal gender to remain in their marriages without going through the process of divorce.

The debate showed the House of Commons at its best: Limited political point scoring and interesting debate . I’ll end on the apt words of Stephen Gilbert, Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay:

“We know that marriage is an important institution that delivers many benefits, including stability, health and happiness. If we recognise those benefits, why would we keep them from some of our neighbours who seek to enjoy them and whose faith allows them to do so?”


  1. "Love my kids attitude towards equality! When i told my 10 year old daughter about the gay marriage issues her response "but gay people are the same as everyone else just they fancy someone of the same sex, why can't they get married the same as a man and woman?" if only others took the same view eh?" so true.

  2. and via twitter
    @SarahAHarding: Birkdale focus: Other Liberal views on marriage from Southport Great article from @LaurenPK

  3. Your postings on the Gay Marriage issue , was just brilliant , the Desmond Tutu and west wing pieces , I hope as many people as possible can read .
    They were also very moving .



  4. "The idea of marriage as a ‘partnership,’ based not just on procreation but companionship and mutual support is new."

    It's not, though. The Book of Common Prayer gave three reasons for the institution of marriage. One of them was procreation, but another was for "the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other".

  5. Indeed-civil and church marriage have for long time been open to people who don't want/cannot have children. Ruth Gledhill of the Times rehearses the issues here:

    Personally I think that the church will embrace equal marriage in time much as they have embraced the re-marriage of divorcees and civil partnerships. In the meantime I think the advice of the Dean of Durham should be followed when writing in his blog he asserted that:

    'Some of the rhetoric of church leaders has been little short of hysterical. To call gay marriage a ‘catastrophe’ or hammering the final nail in the coffin of marriage is not the measured language of responsible debate. In a recent tweet, I urged that Christian leaders should turn the volume down'

    But I also think that we are not primarily talking about church weddings here. The civil institution of marriage has and will continue to evolve and this legislation is about the law catching up with the settled view of the its citizens

  6. Southport Lib Dem James King has a posting on Lib Dem Voice
    James writes: 'I enthusiastically support equal marriage. The ability of two people who love each other to marry regardless of their gender is a blessing, Tuesday’s vote was a victory for liberalism, and despite its flaws the Bill is a big step forward to a fairer society. I found the explanations made by those Lib Dem MPs who opposed the bill to be intellectually unconvincing, sometimes evasive, and fundamentally illiberal.' Nevertheless the burden of James's post was that he was very uncomfortable who the reaction towards some of our MP's who did follow the majority. That is a sentiment I certainly share we want MP's with independence of judgement who can withstand the pressure of the prevailing opinion.

  7. If your words, Lauren, had been in the debate in Parliament, they would raise the average standard of the debate significantly.
    Your broad picture of history sets a propitious framework within which to think how marriage continues to develop. Your willingness to allow religions to debate express their own definition of marriage is admirable. Like you, I think that a commitment by two persons to live in an enduring union is something to treasure. I agree that marriage has declined in popularity in the past decades and there is a case for revising the state’s encouragement of marriage as the favoured way to rear children. Certainly we need to take into account the imperative of stabilising the population of our planet, as does China, though I think we can learn from, not copy, its example. I am pleased that in Parliament it was essentially a vote of conscience.
    The bill as it stands will leave us with two types of enduring union, a homosexual, civil partnership one, and a heterosexual, traditional marriage one. Just calling each of them a marriage obviously doesn’t make them equal though comparing them in detail may bring us to that conclusion. The comparison, however, adduces serious differences. They are not the same and that brings some problems.
    There are many details in common. Both marriages are enclosed within the same legal framework: how they are entered into (registered location, words, registrar, freely accepted and according to rules of consanguinity etc), how they are exited (divorce, distribution of assets etc). There are some differences in these details but, barring adultery, these are marginal.
    A fundamental difference is the status of sexuality: for heterosexual marriage consummation is essential to avoid it being adjudged null; in homosexual marriage the state is not concerned about its sexual content, consummation is not a requirement. In consequence, homosexual marriage is given a legal support by the state because it is a laudable commitment of two persons to provide enduring mutual care. Romance and celebration are eagerly desired but are not legally required.
    The 2004 Act and this Bill offer legal support for homosexual partnerships, soon to be named marriage, of two persons who satisfy the rules of consanguinity. However, there is no rationale for same sex marriages to conform to the rules of number and consanguinity that apply to heterosexual marriage. Any committed union whose goal is enduring mutual care can have admirable qualities that are worthy of the support of a legal framework. Three men or women could join to take care of each other; two close relatives may wish to be married for their mutual care. The state’s preference for types of union is arbitrary, and the way is open for the evolution of new types of marriage, and partnerships.
    Nevertheless, as the state is indifferent to the sexual content of these unions, movement to give some new types marriages legal support would provoke disquiet in contemporary UK society that has not yet developed its understanding of marriage to be at ease with unions of close relatives. I hope that as the bill passes though Parliament it will receive a coherent underlying rationale for choosing legal support for some types of unions and not others, but I am not optimistic.
    By deciding to use the word marriage for civil partnerships the Bill raises acute questions about tolerance in society of members of faiths who wish to refrain in conscience from supporting same-sex marriage. You suggest that these religious scruples should be respected and I agree. Some MP's have expressed their laudable intention to make amendments in the committee stage so that conscience is respected and that a law to remove one type of discrimination, against same sex marriage, will not provoke other type of discrimination, against people who do not agree with same sex marriages, as has happened in the UK and more so, it is reported, in Canada. I hope the MP’s succeed.


I am happy to address most contributions, even the drunken ones if they are coherent, but I am not going to engage with negative sniping from those who do not have the guts to add their names or a consistent on-line identity to their comments. Such postings will not be published.

Anonymous comments with a constructive contribution to make to the discussion, even if it is critical will continue to be posted. Libellous comments or remarks I think may be libellous will not be published.

I will also not tolerate personation so please do not add comments in the name of real people unless you are that person. If you do not like these rules then start your own blog.

Oh, and if you persist in repeating yourself despite the fact I have addressed your point I may get bored and reject your comment.

The views expressed in comments are those of the poster, not me.