Wednesday, 12 December 2012

England and marriage equality

England - or possibly Britain, I'm not quite clear on that point - is working towards something that ought to be a no-brainer; the introduction of equal marriage. There is, of course, opposition, mostly from the religious. This is neither unexpected nor surprising. I have at times commented that Church and state should remain as separate as possible. I feel that this should go both ways; religion has no place in deciding the laws of government, and government has no place in deciding religious proscriptions, except obviously where such proscriptions would egregiously violate civil rights or protections. So in terms of marriage, I feel that the government needs to work to treat all its citizens equally - thus, marriage equality - while churches ought to be allowed to discriminate. They're private institutions, and cannot be compelled to offer their services against their will. Don't want to marry gay people? Unfortunate, but I wouldn't legislate against it. I feel it's to their detriment in the long run anyway. This all seems simple enough to me. Marriage equality is in, add a clause that you can refuse to perform the ceremonies, or refuse to allow your premises to be used for the ceremonies, and we're all done. Right? Nope. It seems this is insufficient for some religious organizations - in this specific case, the Church of England and the Church of Wales.
  • No religious organization or individual minister will be compelled to marry same-sex couples or permit the marriages to happen on their premises
  • It would be illegal for religious organizations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their governing bodies have expressly opted in to provisions for doing so
  • The 2010 Equality Act will be amended to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organizations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple
  • The legislation explicitly states that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples, and that Canon Law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply
The first and third points, as I've outlined above, seem like all we should really need. The second and fourth seem insane. This is also a breach of church and state separation, though in the opposite direction than we're used to. This is a government body legislating what churches can and cannot do - at the insistence of the religious. That it's aimed at individual churches, rather than church bodies, makes no difference. Do they not feel this sets a bad precedent? Since when do they want government telling their members what they can and cannot do? The reasons for it are immediately obvious, of course. The church bodies are afraid that their more liberal congregations will decide to start performing gay weddings against the express policy of the body. They're probably correct that it would happen. But that's an internal church matter. That's for the religious body to deal with and settle on its own terms. Expel the churches that disobey. Censure them. Have a schism. Something. But to make it illegal for an individual church to disobey the central body verges on the insane. I maintain the position that I've held a long, long time now - church and state need to remain as separate as possible, and this needs to go both ways. The collective people - all of them - have needs that must be met, and the churches can do their own thing on the side. That's how it should be.