Gay Marriage and the Clash of Fundamental Values

New Statesman (1996), June 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

Gay Marriage and the Clash of Fundamental Values


Contrary to reports, gay marriage is one policy on which David Cameron has not changed course. There was never any intention to include legislation in the Queen's Speech last month, which predated the end of the government's consultation. Now, the consultation has ended and the coalition has pledged to legislate before 2015.

There are strong political reasons for Mr Cameron's commitment to the policy. He is determined for his government to be remembered for more than austerity and has also argued persuasively that same-sex marriage can be reconciled with Conservative philosophy. If marriage, as Conservatives believe, is the foundation of a successful society, then it should surely be offered to the greatest number of people possible. Mr Cameron says he doesn't support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative but because he is one.

On this issue, the Prime Minister is right. The value of marriage would be increased, not diminished, through its extension to same-sex couples. Some may question whether the introduction of gay marriage is necessary when the Civil Partnership Act 2004 already allows couples access to almost all of the legal rights . enjoyed by heterosexuals. Yet this two-tier system implicitly condones the belief that same-sex relationships are inferior to others. Gay couples are rightly aggrieved that they are unable legally to refer to themselves as "married". Nor is the distinction merely a semantic one: while a civil marriage is formed when the couple exchange spoken words, a civil partnership is, rather less romantically, formed when the second civil partner signs the register.

Long before its consultation began, the government indicated that no religious organisation would be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. The principle of religious freedom demands as much. Indeed, it went further by ruling that those religious groups that wish to officiate gay marriages, such as Reform Jews and Quakers, would be barred from doing so, even though they can now legally host civil partnerships.

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