I voted against the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill today with considerable sadness. Some things have been said with which I do not wish to be associated.
My strong view has long been that the government should get out of marriage. I am not alone. In December, Matthew Parris set out essentially the same view in The Spectator and showed that it works in South Africa: Gay marriage the easy way. For The Telegraph, J P Floru explained that one “can quite easily defend the position that the state ought not to be involved in marriage at all” before dealing with the fact that it is involved. The Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman replied in support, concluding, “the next push has to be for true freedom for everybody: for the state to get out of marriage altogether.” Today, I found a good number of colleagues who agreed.
That is what ought to be done. The state should confine itself to providing one secular relationship which deals with the traditional property rights issues and leave private institutions to define marriage on top. That is how to deliver equality before the law, freedom to marry and tolerance for diverse views.
Instead, what we have is a mess, which my predecessor Paul Goodman describes well here. The relevant section is Schedule 4 Part 3. It turns out the Bill does not even, for all the trouble it has caused, deliver equal marriage. It provides two relationships with the same name: one subject to consummation and adultery and one not. And it still leaves in place civil partnerships which are not open to heterosexual couples, something which would probably not stand up if tested.
Furthermore, the use of state power without any meaningful democratic mandate to reform so fundamental an institution is wrong — indeed David Cameron said he had no plans to redefine marriage just three days before the election. Believers in traditional marriage have just cause for complaint in these circumstances. It is not as if the measure is a response to some emergency.
As a Christian, I am well aware of the Biblical view of marriage and I support it. However, I do not think it is right for a view based only on faith to be placed in law. If the Bill were merely about whether gay people should be allowed to get married or whether contemporary society accepts homosexuality, then it would be simple. Along with, I think, most people my age and younger, I am relaxed about other adults’ loves and consenting sexual relationships. However, I am not relaxed about muddled law, democratic consent or freedom of religion — whose protection is by no means certain — and I believe strongly that defining marriage is no business of the legislature.
That is why I voted against second reading and why I expect to vote against third reading too.