The Thirsty Gargoyle tears the Consultation Apart

An excellent preliminary analysis of the Government’s Consultation.

A Couple of Oft-Misunderstood Points
In reading it, it’s crucial to remember two things.
  • Weddings and marriages are not the same thing. A wedding — otherwise referred to as a marriage ceremony — is an event. This event gives access to marriage, that being an institution.
  • There is no legal distinction between civil and religious marriages. There are legal distinctions between civil and religious marriage ceremonies, but that’s it. It is legally meaningless to speak of either civil or religious marriage. In law there is only marriage. That’s it.
Bearing that in mind, you should realise that the document is misnamed. It’s impossible to speak of ‘equal civil marriage’ in a meaningful British context; one can only speak of ‘equal marriage’.
There’s a handy annex at the back, including all questions being asked, and it gets interesting if you edit them to reflect legal reality. Look at questions five and six, for instance.
  • Question 5: The Government does not propose to open up religious marriage to same-sex couples. Do you agree or disagree?
  • Question 6: Do you agree or disagree with keeping the option of civil partnerships once civilmarriage is available to same-sex couples?
Yep, utter gibberish. Questions five and six make no legal sense unless the Government is planning on legislating to create new institutions called ‘religious marriage’ and ‘civil marriage’. As it stands, there’s only the one institution, which we call marriage, and which has been defined, since at least 1662, as being the union of a man and a woman primarily for the purpose of bearing and rearing children.
Early Problems
Looking at the consultation, and bypassing the erroneous title, things get messy very quickly in the ministerial forward. Same-sex couples, we’re told, have access to the same civil rights as married ones, bar the ability to be married and the ability to say they’re married. It’s an odd sentence, and not merely because it wouldn’t take much to say ‘opposite-sex couples have access to the same civil rights as same-sex ones, bar the ability to enter into a civil partnership and the ability to say they’re civil partners’, which the government don’t see as an injustice in need of rectifying.No, as we all know, the Government’s claim is not quite true. I’m pretty sure ‘marriage’ isn’t a protected term in Britain. While they may not be able to say so for legal purposes, couples in civil partnerships regularly say that they’re married. What’s being proposed here is that others should be compelled to accept that same-sex couples are married. That’s a rather different thing.
And then, lest we think that that was just a slip, we see the false distinction between civil and religious marriage rearing its head before the page is out:

‘That is why we are, today, launching this consultation to seek your views on how we can remove the ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage in a way that works for everyone. We are clear that no changes will be made to how religious organisations define and solemnize religiousmarriages and we are clear that we will retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples.’

Obviously, I’ve tidied it up a bit. The ‘topic’ section on the next page, headed ‘About this consultation’, blurs issues in exactly the same way, making the law seem a lot simpler and more compartmentalised than it really is:

‘This consultation seeks your views on how to provide equal access to civil marriage for same-sex couples.

The Government is focused on looking at this specific issue and is not considering wider reforms to marriage. It is therefore not considering any reforms to religious marriage. Neither does this consultation look at opposite-sex civil partnerships.’

Never forget. The State, like the Church, says marriage is just one thing. There’s only one institution called marriage. It’s one house, entered by two doors, not two semi-detached ones with their doors side-by-side.

Go and read it all. Remember, these are arguments that are not about opposition to gender neutral marriage, they are simply about the Government’s fundamental misunderstanding of the current legal status of marriage and it’s solemnization.

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