UKIP is opposed to the Government's proposals to legislate to extend the definition of Marriage to include
same-sex couples. Here is our submission to the Government's consultation on the subject, which explains why.
The UK Independence Party's position on this issue may be stated simply: while UKIP fully supports the concept of civil partnerships, it opposes the move to legislate for same-sex marriage.
As a democratic libertarian Party, we believe that The State should play only a minimal role in the lives of the people of the United Kingdom; more particularly, given the scope of this consultation, in the lives of the people of England and Wales. As such we support the concept of civil partnerships.
Civil partnerships represent an entirely common sense way of allowing gay men and women in our country to register in a formal way their longterm commitment to one another and to take advantage of various laws relating to, for example, succession and financial planning in the same way as heterosexual couples.
Civil partnerships in no way impinge upon the lives, beliefs, conscience and faith of other people. And the experience of our nation since the introduction of civil partnerships has been one of tolerant acceptance of them as a sensible way forward in adapting our society to meet changed attitudes of the 21st Century.
The UK Independence Party has many in its ranks who are gay men or women who have, without fuss or ostentation, taken advantage of the new arrangements. As a libertarian party, we are entirely at ease with their choice and wish all of them well.
Gay marriage is an entirely different thing altogether.
The Home Office Equal Civil Marriage Consultation paper states that in respect of four categories of marriage no changes to the law are proposed.
• A marriage according to the rites of the Church of England or Church in Wales;
• A marriage according to the usages of the Society of Friends (the Quakers) ;
• A marriage according to the usages of the Jewish religion;
• A marriage conducted by some other Faith in a registered building in the presence of an authorised person (a marriage conducted through a religious ceremony and on registered religious premises).
On the other hand changes are proposed for the following categories:
• A marriage in a register office conducted by a superintendent registrar and registered by a registrar. This ceremony cannot contain any religious elements e.g. hymns (it is proposed that this is open to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples).
• A marriage on approved premises (e.g. a hotel) conducted by a superintendent registrar and registered by a registrar. This ceremony also cannot contain any religious elements e.g. hymns (it is proposed that this is open to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples).
• A marriage for the housebound or detained. There is also the facility for marriage by Registrar Generals licence for "death bed" marriages (it is proposed that this is open to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples).
It may well be that that is all that the Government are currently proposing.
But it is noticeable that the Consultation document is singularly bereft of any or any realistic attention as to what are very likely to be, in the circumstances set out above, the unintended consequences of introducing , to use a popular shorthand, gay civil marriage that is entirely on a par with heterosexual civil marriage.
There are many gay and lesbian people in England and Wales who are persons of deep religious faith. It is inevitable that some (though by no means all) such people would wish to have the right to have a religious marriage celebrated in a Church or other such place according to the rites and rituals of their particular religion.
The problem is that many Churches are, by reason of their religious faith, principles and conviction, deeply opposed to the concept of permitting gay couples to marry in their Church. It is thus equally inevitable that gay couples will seek the right to marry in Church and that Churches will refuse to permit them to do so.
We are quite sure that, whatever the Government's worthy declaration that it proposes no change to the duties of the Church in relation to the estate of marriage, there will,very soon after the introduction of gay civil marriage, be a challenge in first the domestic courts of England and Wales and then in the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the exclusion of gay people from the right to have a religious ceremony of marriage is unlawful discrimination against them on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
We believe that, given the current nature of the European Court of Human Rights' attitude to such matters, there is a very strong likelihood that the Court at Strasbourg will agree that it is an unlawful discrimination on those grounds and order the United Kingdom to introduce laws which will force Churches to marry gay people according to their rites, rituals and customs.
This conviction is supported by the statement of the Justice Minister, Mr Blunt who is quoted in the Daily Mail of 13th June 2012 saying, "It would be hard to guarantee that clergy would not face court challenges if they refused to preside over same-sex unions.
'We're seeking to protect, indeed, proscribe religious organisations from offering gay marriage,' said Mr Blunt, who announced two years ago that he is gay.
Crispin Blunt said it would be difficult to guarantee that clergy would not face court challenges if they refused to preside over gay marriages
'That may be problematic legally, but the proposal the Government are putting forward is that marriage should be equal in the eyes of the state whether it's between a same-sex couple or between a man and a woman. We'll have to see what happens with that.
One is unsure what the Minister meant by the word 'proscribe'. If the Government has it in mind to forbid Churches from marrying gay people, that would be a monstrous piece of tyranny: let Churches and faiths decide for themselves.
We are also sure that, if that were to take place, the Government would swiftly bend the knee to such a ruling and introduce such legislation.
Were Churches to be forced to marry gay people, it would be no more and no less than a piece of tyranny by which the rights of hundreds of thousands, millions even, of people of faith who hold true to the fundamental tenets of t heir religion will be ruthlessly trampled upon.
If that were to happen, it would be a profoundly illiberal course to pursue and perhaps the most intolerant State act against religion and Faith since the Reformation. The right of a vast number of ordinary people to manifest their religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance would be struck down upon the Altar of Equality.
We strongly fear - as do most of the Churches and Faiths of our country - that, whatever the intentions of the Government are in this regard, such an illiberal step will be forced on them by the Strasbourg Court - a court which has a well-established track record of forcing the United Kingdom to adopt positions, such as votes for prisoners, which are anathema to our people. We believe that this case will be no different.
We believe that the Government must not take this step to far and risk the grave harm of undermining the rights of Churches and Faiths to decide for themselves who they will and will not marry.
We make a number of further observations.
Firstly that, however they may have dressed it up, this is not a consultation at all. The Consultation document makes it plain that the Government has made up its mind to legislate for same-sex civil marriage regardless of any dissenting views. This is thus an entirely bogus exercise. We suspect very strongly that it is intended as a distraction from the grave difficulties that the Government currently finds itself on a series of fronts such as the economy and Europe.
Secondly, we strongly suspect that the sudden desire of the Government to "consult" upon the matter of same-sex civil marriage is entirely driven by the fear that a case lodged in the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the UK's laws on marriage and civil partnerships are discriminatory of gay people and heterosexuals respectively* will lead to those laws being declared to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
There is, thus, a strong fear that the case will go against the UK and that the Government will suffer serious political damage when it is seen to be forced to act to change the law at the behest of the Strasbourg Court.
Given the current difficulties that the Government faces over such issues as votes for prisoners, it has concluded, we believe, that it cannot in this instance yet again be seen to be forced to act by the Strasbourg Court and is thus unwilling to take the political hit attendant upon that event.
Thirdly we must express our deep concern that, were Churches and Faiths to be forced to accept having to marry gay couples, that would, in the case of the Church of England, represent a threat to its position as the Established Church. The very act of having the Queen-in-Parliament pass laws that would utterly subvert the strongly-held beliefs of the Church of England would in turn risk destroying its position as The Established Church with Her Majesty the Queen as its Supreme Governor.
We cannot believe that to risk doing that is in the interests of the United Kingdom.
Finally we pose this question: why now?
This is not a burning issue. It is not a matter which animates the daily discourse of our Nation. There is, apart from a small but noisy minority within the gay community, no strong demand for this. This is therefore not vital to the life and well-being of our Nation and, given the risks attendant upon it, should not be proceeded with.
* sub nominee Ferguson, Strletzel, French, Green, Hun, Watters, Maloney, Toresen, Doyle, Freeman, Garrett, Hilken, Goggin, Skarshoult, Munro and O'Netu v. The United Kingdom