David Burrowes is MP for Enfield Southgate. Follow David on Twitter.
So we're off! Not just at Cheltenham racecourse but now finally the consultation to redefine marriage has been published. It seems like we have already been around a few furlongs with this issue. Since I rose my head above the parapet to support the legal definition of marriage last month I was greeted with hostility, hate mail and even death threats. I have also received substantial support and been joined by 200,000 people signing the Coalition for Marriage petition in just 3 weeks.
I hope the consultation will provide:
- an opportunity to celebrate the equal value and difference of loving and committed relationships, whether gay or straight, in a civil partnership or married. The 2004 Civil Partnerships Act properly gave gay couples the same legal rights as those who are married and also recognised the intrinsic difference in law with a married union.
- an appreciation of the value of marriage to the State. Marriages are on the increase again and are generally good for relationships, between adults, children and good for families and social justice.
- a chance to have a reasoned debate about the purposes of marriage, the difficult challenges of changing the law, and how we secure equality and liberty in a modern society.
I fear the consultation will provide:
- an opportunity to drive a wedge between society – ‘civil’ and 'religious'. Already a new concept of separating 'civil' marriage and 'religious' marriage has been introduced. But the present day reality is that couples may enter marriage ceremonies through different doorways but leave the registry office or church under one concept of marriage.
- potential for more money for lawyers (I declare an interest!) to argue about discrimination for gay couples still barred from getting married in church or otherwise churches to argue that their right to not conduct a marriage service for gay couples has been breached.
- a further erosion of freedom of expression. I can put up with the intolerance and abuse sent my way for not just supporting marriage but daring to express my view on the subject! But I am concerned for the teacher who feels her conscience constrained by a change in the law when declaring her belief in 'traditional' marriage.
The finishing line for the consultation is just after celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Let's aim to cast aside prejudice, hatred, bigotry and also party politics, from both sides of the argument, and display something of the good grace, tolerance and dignity shown by Her Majesty these last 60 years.