Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Draft same sex marriage bill abolishes the terms ‘husband and wife’

Fifteen months ago Gay Rights activist group Stonewall did not have a position on same sex marriage but this week they have published a bill calling for its full legalisation just weeks before the government issues a consultation paper on how it should be done.

The two-page bill lists five legislative steps it says are necessary and Stonewall is calling upon the government to publish a White Paper, consulting on the detail of how to implement its proposal, and not a Green Paper which would simply consult on the wider principle.

The draft bill (see full text) includes exemptions for religious institutions, and seeks to retain civil partnerships for same sex couples, but not to introduce them for heterosexual couples. This would leave same sex couples with two options - civil partnership or marriage - but opposite sex couples with only one - marriage.

This places Stonewall at loggerheads with gay rights activist Peter Tatchell whose ‘Valentine’s Day wish’ is for ‘Equal Love’: that is an end to what he calls the ‘twin legal bans’ on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships.

The Stonewall draft bill also amends the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 to remove the terms ‘husband and wife’ and replace them with ‘parties to a marriage’.

It amends the Marriage Act 1949 to stipulate that ‘a clergyman is not obliged to solemnise a marriage between two persons of the same sex’ and that the ‘Registrar General must provide a system for parties to a valid civil partnership to have their civil partnership registered as a marriage where both parties to the civil partnership consent’.

Finally it contains a clause allowing government ministers to extend its provisions at a later date, suggesting that these initial proposals are simply a first step towards more radical changes later on.

The bill also does not address the legal difficulties of how consummation and adultery are to be legally defined.

Meanwhile the battle lines over same sex marriage have become more tightly drawn in the last week.

Tory MP, David Burrowes, is facing an ‘intolerant’ campaign against him because of his opposition to homosexual marriage. The campaign is led by the treasurer of his local Conservative association, Phillip Dawson, who is homosexual.

Dawson says it is not acceptable for David Burrowes to vote against same-sex marriage and lead MPs in an effort to retain traditional marriage.and has launched a campaign on Facebook and Twitter against him.

David Burrowes, the Tory MP for Enfield, Southgate and head of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, is the latest of a number of public figures who have recently faced intolerance because of their support for traditional marriage.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, received racist hate mail following his comments that marriage is between one man and one woman. Police are investigating the incidents.

Meanwhile, a Roman Catholic Bishop has urged MPs ‘of Christian conscience’ to rebel against their party leaderships and vote down plans to legalise same-sex marriage.

The Rt Rev Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, who is thus far the most senior Roman Catholic figure in England and Wales to speak out, has urged politicians to help protect the ‘God-given meaning of marriage for the sake of all generations to come’.

The Bishop’s intervention comes just weeks after reports that more than 100 Conservative MPs could vote against David Cameron’s proposals on same-sex unions.

Marriage is a human institution recognized by virtually all societies and bound by legal contract – with a specific legal definition, ‘the voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others for life’ (Hyde vs Hyde;1866).

Calling something ‘marriage’ that is not marriage, in order to appease a vocal minority, does not make any sense, and as we have seen above, cannot be done without changing the nature of marriage itself.

Equality under the law does not mean uniformity and same sex couples already have the legal option of forming civil partnerships which grant them virtually all the rights of married couples. A same sex relationship, however committed or permanent, is not marriage and should not be called marriage.

It is not up to governments to redefine marriage – but simply to recognise it, to accept that it is not open to everybody, and to seek to protect it and promote it as the bedrock of society that it is.


  1. I think it is important to note that the Stonewall proposed Bill removes the term 'husband and wife' in one place and one place only. The conclusion that this is aboloshing the terms from the marriage act is quite a leap, in fact it is very close to being misleading.

  2. It is true that the proposed Stonewall bill only makes one replacement of 'husband and wife' from the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 but I think you will find that this is as a result of sloppy drafting.

    They appear only to have scrolled down to section 2 (6) of an Act which has 55 sections and two schedules and missed several other occurrences but if you look at the act it is clear that unless these are amended too it will not make sense when applied to same sex couples.

    I am not a lawyer but I suspect that there are literally hundreds of other pieces of legislation that would have to be similarly amended to accommodate same sex marriage on the statute books.

  3. If it is true that they didn't scroll down past Section 2 of 55 then that is hilarious. But given the contents of your comment above, the headline for this article seems equally sloppy as no-one is abolishing anything, you are presuming that is their intention.

  4. It’s all rather curious. I am not making a judgement about their intention – just saying that the bill as drafted has removed the terms husband and wife from section 2 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and replaced them with the gender-neutral term ‘marriage parties’.

    However they will now I think have to make similar changes throughout the rest of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (and I suspect a whole raft of other existing legislation) or it will simply not make sense when applied to same sex couples.

    The problem they have is that husband and wife are sex-linked words. They either have to redefine them – which is rather more difficult – or replace them, which is what they appear to have opted for.

    Maybe they got to section 2 and realised what a big job it was and were in a hurry to get their draft bill out so just posted it anyway.

    It is odd that that the Pink News piece doesn’t even mention the change. I wonder why. Did they not think through the implications or were they deliberately trying to hide what they were doing? In other words were they being devious or are they just incompetent?

    I am not making a judgement but just highlighting the problem.

    The mystery to me with this whole thing is why they want same sex marriage when civil partnerships gives same sex couples virtually all the rights of married couples anyway.

    It seems to be something about the word marriage that is driving them.

  5. Marriage is the joining together of a man and a woman. This is a historical reality as well as spiritual reality. If the gay community want to marry they will have to find a member of the opposite sex to be joined to. This would of course cancel out their crusade for change. Why does a community that feels it is different from want to become like that which it feels is its opposite. Marriage is not for homosexuals never has been. The law does not need to be changed. The homosexual community need to move on. If the government change the law it will be a laughing stock, like the king who was in the all together naked as the day that he was born, even though he believed he had clothes on. Some things are oviously plain for all to see and this is one of them. M.C

  6. ". A same sex relationship, however committed or permanent, is not marriage and should not be called marriage." - so your whole objection is based on the word 'marriage'? You genuinely think your own heterosexual marriage will have its existence undermined by the fact that same-sex couples can now get 'married' as well? What?

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