The United Kingdom is one step closer to marriage equality for same-sex couples. BBC News reports that on February 5th, the House of Commons voted in favor of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill by 400 to 175. If passed, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in England and Wales. The bill still has to pass through the House of Lords, but Prime Minister David Cameron hopes to enact the bill into law later this year, reports the New York Times.
The bill was a point of contention among Conservatives, with 127 Conservative MPs voting in favor of the bill and 136 voting against. The majority of MPs from the Liberal Democrats and Labour parties voted in favor of the bill, reports BBC.
David Cameron called the vote "an important step forward". Labour Party leader Ed Miliband cheered the decision, asserting in a February 5th statement that "This is a proud day and an important step forward in the fight for equality in Britain." Before the vote, Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee for Home Affairs, Justice and Equality, Julian Huppert asserted that same-sex marriage would strengthen the institution of marriage.
"Equal marriage will strengthen the important tradition of marriage in our society, ensuring it remains a vibrant institution well into the 21st century and beyond ... The state should not bar a couple who want to marry just because of their gender and the state should not bar a religious body that wishes to do so from conducting same-sex marriages.”The February 5th vote demonstrates that MPs are increasingly embracing LGBTQ equality, a positive sign for LGBTQ rights in the UK. Predictably, the UK's Religious Right is livid, with several Religious Right groups slamming the vote. For example, in a February 6th press release, London-based Christian Concern voiced its disappointment. Christian Concern chief executive Andrea Minichiello Williams lamented that the UK's elected officials were "prepared to overturn centuries of legislation on marriage'. (See www[dot]christianconcern[dot]com/press-release/mps-responsible-for-%E2%80%9Cneedless-and-reckless-change%E2%80%9D-in-same-sex-marriage-vote)
"This is a sad day for Britain, when our elected representatives are prepared to overturn centuries of legislation on marriage. The essence off marriage has always been the union of one man and one woman. The vote today not only has the potential to overturn historic legislation but also centuries of a common understanding of marriage. No longer will a common understanding exist. There are many people – Christians and non-Christians – who will never accept that marriage can ever be anything other than between a man and a woman."Like voices from the American Religious Right, Williams claimed that legalization of same-sex marriage would lead to religious persecution.
"We have seen Catholic adoption agencies close because of their views on marriage. We have seen employees demoted for commenting privately about their Christian views of marriage. We have seen civil registrars penalised for their views on marriage. All this has happened before any change to marriage laws. With the passing of this Bill, the trajectory is frightening. Freedoms we have valued for so long are set to diminish."A UK evangelical group, the Evangelical Alliance, also made its displeasure known. In a February 6th statement, Evangelical Alliance director of advocacy David Landrum blasted the UK government for allegedly trivializing marriage as a "lifestyle choice". He accused the government of succumbing to "free market thinking" on the issue of marriage. (See www[dot]eauk[dot]org/current-affairs/politics/david-cameron-accused-of-privatising-marriage.cfm)
"The government wants to reduce marriage to just another lifestyle choice – like fashion or joining a club. They want minority groups to define it for themselves. But the problem with introducing free market thinking to marriage is that it is changed from a unique social institution that is primarily about children to just another contractual agreement between consenting adults. The government has no right and no mandate to privatise marriage."Archbishop Peter Smith, vice president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, expressed disapproval of the vote in a February 5th statement. (See www[dot]catholicnews[dot]org[dot]uk/Home/News-Releases/Marriage-Comment)
"The Catholic Church continues to support marriage understood by society for centuries as the significant and unique lifelong commitment between a man and a woman for their mutual well-being and open to the procreation and education of children.Finally, Christian Action Research Education (CARE) is a London-based Religious Right organization opposed to same-sex marriage. CARE defends its position with familiar rhetoric against same-sex marriage, calling it "an unproven and experimental social model" that could lead to "faith-based discrimination" against religious groups. CARE insists that opposite-sex marriage has always been "the natural context in which to raise children". (See www[dot]care[dot]org[dot]uk/marriage)
Marriage is rooted in the complementarity of man and woman. For these reasons the Church opposes the Government’s Bill to re-define marriage. Despite claims by supporters of the Bill that the central issue is one of equality, the Bill actually seeks to re-define marriage and will have consequences for society at large."
The UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport recent posted Myths About Equal Marriage: Setting Out the Truth, defending same-sex marriage and addressing religious and legal concerns surrounding the issue. On February 5th, CARE responded by posting its rebuttal, The Real Mythbusters: Setting Out the Truth. CARE provides commentary on arguments for same-sex marriage, arguing that legalization of same-sex marriage could have detrimental effects. For example, the document uses the familiar scare-tactic that marriage equality could open the door to polygamy. (See www[dot]care[dot]org[dot]uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/CARE-The-REAL-Mythbusters-Feb-2013.pdf)
"No one is suggesting that the Government intends to further redefine marriage. The point is simply that once you have redefined something that has never before been redefined, an important precedent is set, opening the door for further redefinition. During a Bow Group meeting in Parliament last year, a proponent for redefining marriage, Andrew Lilico, argued that the Government should not just legalise marriage between two people of the same sex but should allow polygamous marriages also. In Canada and in some US states, where same-sex marriage has been legalised, attempts are now being made to legalise polygamy. In the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage was legalised in 2001, three-way relationships have been given legal recognition through a “cohabitation agreement."None of this should surprise observers of the American Religious Right, for whom this anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is all too familiar. The weak arguments against LGBTQ equality are the same, no matter what side of the Atlantic they come from. As public opinion shifts and the LGBTQ community demands equality, the Religious Right in both the UK and the United States will watch in disgust as their worlds evolve for the better.