Civil partnerships were introduced with almost no fuss, bringing to proper culmination a process that extended from the decriminalisation of homosexual relations, through equalisation of the age of consent, to civil partnership – a state form of gay marriage. Almost everyone was content with that. Male civil partners routinely spoke of their "husbands", invitations to civil partnership ceremonies invited attendance at "our wedding", and nobody minded. Those that thought civil partnerships morally wrong were not threatened by their existence – they could say "We believe that the morally proper thing to do is to marry."
There were, arguably, a couple of minor loose ends. Civil partnerships did not include any regulation of sexual activitiy – betrayed civil partners could not have their partnerships dissolved on the grounds of adultery, nor annulled on the grounds of non-consummation. How material either of these points was, it's tricky to say. Do we, for example, suppose there has ever been a civil partnership of an unconsummated relationship? What force is there, really, to adultery provisions (e.g. what difference do they make to the post-divorce allocation of property) even for heterosexual couples?
But, be that as it may, in political terms there would have been little or no resistance to amending civil partnerships to include the regulation of sexual activity – most people probably thought they always did do so, and my guess is that such amendments would have passed almost unanimously without even a public debate.
That was the way to introduce the regulation of homosexual sexual activity in the context of state partnership contracts – by saying: "Here's a minor measure I'm sure we can all agree on. Passed? Passed. Next business." And if anyone said: "Does this mean everyone has will be forced to morally approve of civil partnerships?" we could reply: "The law allows suppliers of Halal products to form contracts with each other – buying those products and selling them on. Does that mean everyone has to approve of Halal? Of course not."
Here's the recipe for how not to do it:
- Go around saying: "The problem with this country is that there are still far too many people that disapprove of homosexual sexual relations. Something must be done about that."
- Say: "The fact that heterosexuals get "married" whilst homosexuals get "civilly partnered" enshrines in law a moral inequality. That is a terrible thing, and that difference must be removed."
- Say: "Anyone who wants to use a different word for heterosexual partnerships from homosexual partnerships is, by definition, a homophobe and a bigot."
- Say: "The central purpose of this new law is twofold. First, it aims to deprive opponents of homosexuality a language in which to express their dissent – we shall take their central moral terms, the thing they say is the ideal and what is right and any deviation from which they regard as wrong, and change its meaning. Furthermore, we shall do so in the context of the widespread use of equalities legislation to crush dissent to modern moral norms. Second, it aims to demonstrate to the country that the Conservative Party is in a process of unceasing revolution, rooting out anyone with old-fashioned socially conservative opinions, because we don't want their sort as our members even if we have to tolerate them amongst our voters."
- Finally, having done all the above, just to emphasize to everyone that our purpose had nothing whatever to do with allowing homosexuals access to legal partnerships that regulate sexual activity and, instead, everything to do with crushing moral dissent, the law we shall actually introduce to Parliament will explicitly exclude homosexual adultery and homosexual non-consummation (see p26 here, noting that Section 12 paragraphs (a) and (b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 are the non-consummation provisions).
Now, Dear Reader, would you like to guess which of these two paths the Conservative Party leadership and government chose? Did they make this a morally neutral measure, adding to available contracting opportunities for law-abiding and peaceable people in a liberal way? Or did they make this a morally censorious measure, aimed at depriving their moral opponents of a language (or even in some arenas, potentially, a legal right) to express their dissent, without even adding to the legal opportunities for homosexuals? Have a wild guess.
I've always been in favour of having a state form of gay marriage. I've campaigned for it for 20 years. When I thought the point of the current bill was to introduce the legal regulation of homosexual adultery and consummation I thought that pretty pointless and potentially tricky to define, but was happy enough with the principle. But why would anyone be in favour of a "gay marriage" bill that doesn't even extend to homosexuals any legal protections against adultery or non-consummation?
If the only purpose of this measure is to impose the moral norms of the majority on those of the minority, attacking their most sacred moral terms and exposing them to later legal risk of even further oppression than they already face, with a heavy heart I must urge MPs to vote against. I'd be in favour of a civil gay marriage bill. This isn't one.