Sunday, 18 September 2011

Putting Asunder

The statutory definition of marriage as only ever the union of one man and one woman goes back to the Attlee Government. Before that, it had always been presupposed. But its iron-cladding by means of the Statute Law was the work of the greatest Labour Government, and of the longest-serving Leader in the Labour Party's history. Now, though, from the Prime Minister who wanted to give Peter Tatchell a peerage, comes the proposal for "gay marriage". That proposal would be rejected by Barack Obama, and it was rejected by the voters of California and Florida on the same day as they gave their Electoral College votes to Obama.

Unlike a civil partnership, which therefore ought not to be restricted to unrelated same-sex couples, a marriage has to be consummated. The Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith (the present title is not the one conferred by the Pope on Henry VIII, but the one conferred by a Protestant Parliament on his son, Edward VI) could not have signed a Bill which, for the first time, actually required, in order to receive some legal benefit or privilege, engagement in sexual relations other than those between one man and one woman in marriage. The Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith still cannot do so.

Nevertheless, we should seize this opportunity to propose something better. The extension to relatives of the right to contract civil partnerships. The entitlement of each divorcing spouse to one per cent of the other's estate for each year of marriage, up to 50 per cent, and the disentitlement of the petitioning spouse unless fault be proved, thereby restoring the situation whereby, by recognising adultery and desertion as faults in divorce cases, society declared in law its disapproval of them even though they were not in themselves criminal offences.

The entitlement of any marrying couple to register their marriage as bound by the law prior to 1969 as regards grounds and procedures for divorce, and to enable any religious organisation to specify that any marriage which it conducts shall be so bound, requiring it to counsel couples accordingly. And the statutory specification that the Church of England be such a body unless the General Synod specifically resolve the contrary by a two-thirds majority in all three Houses, with something similar for the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, which also exist pursuant to Acts of Parliament, as well as by amendment to the legislation relating to the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy.

That would be a start, anyway. It is astonishing that no major party is opposed to same-sex "marriage", just as it is that no major party gives expression to all sorts of mainstream opinions in the country at large. Ed Miliband is, I suspect, in favour of it. A lot of people are. But by making the above his and his party's conditions for supporting it, then he would both be doing what was right, and, as in so many other ways of siding with Mail and Telegraph readers (even if not writers) against the Government, doing what was electorally opportune. So, Ed Miliband, over to you.


  1. Brilliant. You are one of the most important commentators in Britain today. As the comments on Thompson's own umpteenth piece of drivel about Johann Hari make clear, his site is haemorrhaging even bog standard rightist writers (no doubt to the higher-circulation, better-paid Heffington Post) as the quality of writing there goes down the toilet. But we can always come here and read material as good as this. Keep doing the Lord's work.

  2. As you know, you and he have mutual friends who would very much agree with this, one of them a significant intellectual influence on the Leader. So you never know. I like this one. "Your minority (gays) can have your special category of legal marriage if our minority (traditionalists) can also have ours."

  3. You're not fooling anyone, David ;)

  4. About what?

    Anonymous 20:26, he has been known to pass on my thoughts to the Prime Minister in Waiting, although how much has ever come of that, I do not know. I am but a simple semi-invalid in the sticks.

    Of course, our category of legal marriage used to be the only one. But if we could have it back, then perhaps we could accept something for our archest enemies as the quid pro quo. Better than nothing, these days.

  5. A simple semi-invalid in the sticks? Yeah, right! You are David Lindsay and you know it.

  6. Like you have nothing to do with the travails at the site that used to employ you. Next you'll be telling us that you had nothing to do with running its editor out of his very Catholic main job.

  7. On topic, please.

    And yes, I do indeed know that I am David Lindsay.

  8. A simple semi-invalid in the sticks? Many less worthy souls currently sit in positions of elected office without the intellect, ability to weave a rich tapestry of words or your integrity. You drive more power out of 26 letters of the alphabet than any of your enemies! Tomorrows posts cannot come soon enough!

  9. If only to keep occupied the authors of the unprintable comments on how no one reads me. Apart from them, of course. Dozens of times per day. Now, please, on topic.

  10. What really amuses you and me both is when they post fake parise comments and then think they are clever for getting them past you. You are wicked, do you know that? They are not as clever as you, but then very few people are. You shouldn't bait them like that.

    On-topic, I do hope that someone picks up on this proposal. We are moving a long way by showing willing on gay marriage. What we want in return would have no impact on anyone else, so who could object?

    And you are right, if Ed Miliband picked this one up and ran with it, he could reach deep into Toryland where gay marriage plays ever worse than closing libraries or scrapping most of the planning regulations.

  11. David, three points.

    First, of course Her Majesty will assent to the bill assimilating the names "marriage" and "civil partnership", just as She assented, and was obliged to consent, to the Civil Partnerships Bill and to the post 1969 divorce legislation. But you knew that of course.

    Secondly, I think most married gay people (please do not be offensive and put my marriage in inverted commas - I bet you don't do it to your divorced and remarried straight friends) would probably take your bargain, on the assumption that you are conceding gay civil marriage as a quid pro quo. All it would do is drastically reduce the number of religious marriages even below the minority (33%) which now take place. The Romans of course had a similar system of "religious" marriages: they were't that popular.

    Thirdly as to consummation. It is I agree strange that this distinction was created, one of the tiny number in the CP legislation (gay marriage without the name, as everyone realised at the time but we had to accept to allow the legislation to pass and get us our rights until a few more bigots died off). I understand from those who are preparing the legislation, which is inevitable as I trust even extreme social conservatives such as yourself realise, that the likely outcome is to drop the consummation requirement for straights as well. That makes sense as the bringing up of children is only one of the purposes of marriage.

    Lastly it is a great shame that you refer (18/9 20:25) to the whole gay population as your archest enemies. Is gay sex within the context of a committed relationship really such a deep danger to your faith and society?

  12. First, I have explained why civil partnerships, and even the post-1969 divorce arrangements, are qualitatively different from this.

    Secondly, a price worth paying. And I am not convinced that you know enough about heterosexual relations to realise quite how many women, even if not remotely religious, would insist on this more secure arrangement, if available, as the price of marrying at all. Many men would. But many more women would. They are just like that.

    Thirdly, I have also explained why there could not be a consummation requirement for civil partnerships (please do not attempt to answer this next question, but merely consider - what, specifically, would it be?), and why, therefore, civil partnerships ought not to be restricted to unrelated same-sex couples. Procreation is one of the purposes of sexual intercourse within marriage, but it is not the only one. Marriage without sexual intercourse, among other things but nevertheless including it, simply would not be marriage at all. That is why the lack of consummation is grounds, not for divorce, but for annulment.

    And fourthly, I have never said any such thing. I have been hanging around a university for a long time and around churches for even longer.