Great Debate - Gay Marriage
GAY marriage is a step nearer to becoming legal after the majority of MPs voted for it in the House of Commons last week. Here, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Right Reverend Michael Perham, and the chairman of the Gloucestershire Gay and Lesbian Community, Michael Charlton-Hubble, give their views.
For many, gay marriage simply seems natural, just and fair. But I believe the issues are more complex.
Constraints of space mean I must leave on one side the whole debate in the Christian Church about gay relationships and go straight to the issue of civil marriage for gay and lesbian people.
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The difficulty for me lies first with the speed of the present legislation. I don't understand this haste, though I do understand the impatience of gay people who want to "marry".
Marriage as something between a man and a woman is so fundamental to human society that to change it requires, in my view, very careful thought, with a concern for what unforeseen consequences there might be.
I would have expected something like a Royal Commission set up, with a membership of politicians, faith leaders, academics, lawyers and members of the pressure groups, to explore so fundamental a change and to make recommendations.
Instead, we have a quick bill brought to the Commons, without manifesto commitment or meaningful consultation. I would still like to see such a commission set up before the bill goes any further.
But another difficulty is in whether gay marriage can be "equal" marriage. First, one of the purposes of marriage has always been to be the setting in which children are conceived, born and brought up.
Not every marriage is, of course, blessed with children, but that doesn't stop the gift of children, from the sexual union of the couple, being at the heart of marriage. Gay marriage cannot be that, so it cannot be "equal" to heterosexual marriage.
Second, there is nothing in the legislation that is equivalent to either non-consummation or adultery in marriage.
The lawyers have failed to find adequate wording in an area that is fundamental in defining what makes and what legitimately ends a marriage. And that is storing up problems for the future. Again, gay marriage would not be "equal" marriage, whatever the Prime Minister says.
So I'm left feeling the bill is at best premature and at worst wrong.
My sense is that we need another word. For what gay people are entitled to is something akin to marriage, but not quite marriage itself. Maybe as beautiful and life-enhancing, but not marriage itself.
The debates were interesting but upsetting.
People of faith, no faith, straight, homosexual, man and woman were subjected to vitriolic debate and threats.
We heard all the same objections to civil partnerships and gays in the military. What was the big deal? The military continued as before and no-one was hurt by equality.
Gay marriage should be equal marriage by now and I blame the Government.
This was an opportunity to separate Church and State and for the Church to relinquish Canon Marriage Law.
Marriage should be a legally binding contract as defined by our legislators, who we elect. Every marriage would be a civil one.
Legal formalities complete, the couple proceed to a religious or other blessing, if they wish, to whatever church that welcomes them. The result would be equality and choice for all. It is one thing our European counterparts have got right.
If churches want to opt out, that's okay.
Before Christianity arrived, non-related couples, opposite and same sex, committed themselves to each other – 'jumping the brush', 'hand fasting' etc.
No one 'owns' marriage. Forget how it became part of society but reinforce what it is about – two people caring, supporting, loving each other.
By tradition, a family is one that rears a child – does it matter how the child got there or who its biological parents are?
Let's face it, Jesus was born out of wedlock but no one is bothered.
It has been proven that gay couples are less likely to divorce and are excellent at raising children.
The Book of Common Prayer supports and promotes marriages "for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity".
It turns out we both want the same thing. Civil partnerships are great. It gives couples legal rights but does not remove inequality in the constitution of marriage.
The Commons represents the people. Our MPs voted overwhelming for "marriage for all". Now let's move forward and let all loving couples share in the status, rights and responsibilities that marriage brings.