Saturday, 5 November 2011

A response to 'The Registration of Civil Partnerships and Same-Sex Marriage'

This morning I submitted my response to the Scottish Government's consultation on 'The Registration of Civil Partnerships and Same-Sex Marriage'.

You can submit your response via the simple, one-page form here and your answers will be sent directly to the Scottish Government.

Here is what I said.

Do you agree that the law in Scotland should be changed to allow same-sex marriage?

The simple answer is that equal treatment should be the default state of the law.

But there is far more to it.

Prejudice against LGBT people in Scottish society results in lives blighted by low self-esteem, violence, victimhood, self-harm, murder and suicide. Changing social attitudes is a long process, but it is impossible to achieve until the law starts to treat everyone the same. Equality under the law is the first step towards ending unfair discrimination in society.

Marriage may just be a word, and the rights it affords may be exactly those of civil partnership, but while the law reinforces difference it excuses discrimination.

If we want a society free from anti-LGBT prejudice then marriage equality is a necessity.

Do you agree that same-sex couples should be able to get married through both civil ceremonies (conducted by a registrar) and religious ceremonies (conducted by those religious groups that want to)?

Religious groups hold an anachronistic position with regard to marriage.

The ability for a religious celebrant to confer a legal status on a couple blurs dangerously the line between church and state, and confuses the argument around marriage rights, giving, as it does, religious groups more say than others over how civil marriage is defined.

In my view, religious marriage and civil marriage should be entirely separate, as is the case in many European countries. Churches should be free to define their own rules over who they will and will not marry, and the state's definition of marriage should not be affected by that choice.

I would like to see that separation enshrined in legislation. If this is not possible under the proposed bill I would support as a fallback the right for same sex couples to be married in religious as well as civil ceremonies, by those churches who choose to define marriage on equal terms.

If Scotland should introduce same-sex marriage, do you consider that civil partnership should remain available?

Civil partnerships are distinct from marriage in several ways, but one of the key differences is that a CP is and always has been a partnership of equals.

Marriage, by contrast, has changed form dramatically over the centuries. For the vast proportion of its history, marriage constituted the ownership of a woman by a man, and had more to do with preservation of wealth and social order than mutually supportive relationships.

Marriage also remains an area of significant overlap between church and state, with lines of definition and control deliberately blurred in order to maintain an unsustainable dichotomy.

For all these reasons, some people do not wish to participate in the historical institution of marriage, and prefer the cleanly defined, secular partnership of equals represented by a civil partnership.

I believe this option should remain available, so I support the retention of civil partnerships should same-sex marriage be introduced.

Do you agree that legislation should be changed so that civil partnerships could be registered through religious ceremonies?

As discussed in my answer to question 2, I believe that civil and religious recognition of partnerships should be separate. This would render this question irrelevant.

However, while marriage can be registered through a religious ceremony, so should a civil partnership be able to be so registered.

Do you agree that religious bodies should not be required to conduct same-sex marriages or civil partnerships if it is against their wishes?

Just as some religious bodies refuse to marry divorcees, the freedom for religions to decide their own views on this is essential. This freedom does, however, underline the argument in my answer to question 2 that religious and civil registration of marriage should be separated. This would end any ambiguity on this issue once and for all.

Do you have any other comments? For example, do you have any comments on the potential implications of the proposals for transgender people?
I believe in freedom of religion. I find it ironic to the point of ridicule that certain religious organisations, in arguing against the state's recognition of gay marriage, are arguing against freedom of religion for others.

I am also greatly concerned by the prominence given to the offensive views of certain Catholic leaders in Scotland, when a majority of lay Catholics support marriage equality.

I trust the Scottish Government will not allow these voices to unduly influence Scotland's continuing path towards a fair and equal society.

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