Who is Harmed by Same-Sex Marriage?

Imagine that the law was changed tomorrow. Instead of  the law defining marriage as being a union between a man and a woman, the law changed its definition of marriage to being a union between two adults. The rules regarding everything else—age, degree of consanguinity, and so on—remain as they are now. The only change is that now two people of the same sex can get married, not just two people of the opposite sex.

Now, ask yourself this question: who is actually harmed by this?

Every existing marriage continues as it was before. Nobody’s relationship is harmed. Nobody’s family is harmed.  No religious group is harmed: those religions that had been allowed to perform marriages on behalf of the state (as long as the couple meets the religion’s requirements for marriage) will still be able to perform marriages on behalf of the state (as long as the couple meets the religion’s requirements for marriage).

Sure, some people may feel uncomfortable at the thought, but am I harmed because you make me feel uncomfortable? True, there will be some people who hold a religious objection to same-sex marriage, but not allowing me to impose my religious views on you is not harming me. Yes, it might become harder to discriminate against same-sex couples, but making it more difficult for me to be prejudiced is not harming me.

So, who is harmed by same-sex marriage?

Marriage and Civil Partnerships

There has been a lot of talk about the dangers of gay marriage over the past few weeks. Allowing gay people to get married would, it is alleged, damage society and harm families. Not only that, but gay people themselves don’t want to get married, as shown by the low take up rates of gay marriage where it is available.

In the UK, we don’t have gay marriage, at least not at the moment. We do have a very similar institution: civil partnerships. These have been around since late 2005, and the statistics are interesting. In England and Wales between 2006 and 2010, there were 40,921 civil partnerships. Over the same period there were 1,184,158 marriages.

In other words, 3.34% of all legal unions in England and Wales were civil partnerships, and the rest   (96.66%) were marriages. The figures, broken down by year, are shown in the following table and graph.

Year Marriages Civil Partnerships Total % Civil Partnerships
2006 239,454 14,943 254,397 5.87
2007 235,367 7,929 243,296 3.26
2008 235,794 6,558 242,352 2.71
2009 232,443 5,687 238,130 2.39
2010 241,100 5,804 246,904 2.35
Total 1,184,158 40,921 1,225,079 3.34

When you look at the graph, you can see that civil partnerships are a small proportion of legal unions. So small, in fact, that it seems pretty incredible to think that they are destroying, or even significantly harming ‘traditional’ marriage. If the 3.34% of civil partnerships are destroying the 96.66% of marriages, then marriage must have been pretty weak to begin with. If you argue that gay marriage somehow debases, changes or harms straight marriage, then you are actually arguing that straight marriage is a very weak institution.

When you look at the figures, you can see how important civil partnerships are. In England and Wales there are nearly 82 thousand people who have had their relationships recognised by the state. That’s 82 thousand people who don’t have to worry about things like next-of-kin visiting rights in hospital. 82 thousand people whose lives have been improved. Has anyone actually been harmed by civil partnerships?

There is a third significant observation about these figures, which we can only see when we look at additional data. According to Sexual Behaviour in Britain, 90.2% of men and 92.4% of women report exclusively heterosexual experience and attraction. If the scope is widened to include people who have experienced mostly heterosexual attraction or experience, the figures are 96.0% and 97% respectively1. You would expect that the gender you are mostly or exclusively attracted to would be the gender you end up marrying. Roughly 96% to 97% of people are mostly or exclusively heterosexual and roughly 97% of legal unions are (heterosexual) marriages. Gay people (or people in gay relationships) are availing themselves of civil partnerships at the same rate that straight people (or people in straight relationships) are availing themselves of marriage. It would seem that gay people want to get married just as much as straight people.

These figures show that marriage equality can’t hurt ‘traditional’ marriage, and gay people are just as keen to have their relationships recognised by the state as straight people are. People already see civil partnerships as the same as marriage. The time has come for legislation to catch up. The time has come for equal marriage.

1 Wellings et al, Sexual Behaviour in Britain, Penguin Books, 1994, p183

Language and Equal Marriage

One year ago today Michael and I formed our civil partnership – that is to day we went through a process of signing paperwork in the presence of witnesses that made our relationship official in the eyes of the law. Had we been an opposite-sex couple, it would have been a civil wedding.

Being a loving and dutiful civil partner, I got Michael an anniversary card. I looked in various shops, and I saw cards that cost 50p and cards that cost £5. I saw cards with romantic designs, and cards with cartoons. I saw cards the size of your hand, and I saw cards the size of a small child. There was one thing I didn’t see. There were plenty of anniversary cards for husbands, and plenty of anniversary cards for wives, but I didn’t see any for civil partners.

“Civil partner” is a very peculiar  term, in my opinion. If you didn’t know what it meant you could be forgiven for thinking that it was something to do with a business relationship, perhaps something that lies between being a sole trader and setting up a limited company. The Belfast city council  advice and guidance for Marriages and Civil Partnerships has this as the declaration for a civil marriage:

I call upon these persons here present and to witness that I [name] do take you [name] to be my lawful wedded wife/husband

And it has this as the declaration for a civil partnership:

I understand that on signing the civil partnership Schedule I [name] will be forming a civil partnership with [name]

You have to admit that the latter is a little bit cold.

What does any of this have to do with anniversary cards? Civil partnerships have been around since 2005, and there have been roughly 40,000 since then. That’s a lot of anniversaries. That’s a lot of people who should be buying “Happy Anniversary, Civil Partner” cards. Yet those cards are pretty thin on the ground—I can’t even find any on

The greeting card industry is famous for producing cards for every occasion. Why isn’t it meeting this demand? It couldn’t be homophobia, because there are already plenty of cards that show two brides or two grooms. The greetings card industry isn’t meeting this demand because the demand does not exist. And why doesn’t it exist?

It doesn’t exist because, in popular usage, the word “husband” now also applies to a man in a civil partnership, and likewise the word “wife” now also applies to a woman in a civil partnership; the term “civil partner” just isn’t one that is used in daily conversation. Despite the language used by official documents, the definition of “husband” and “wife” has already been extended, not by an act of fiat by some out-of-touch liberal government, not in some conspiracy to change the nature of Christianity and its institutions, but because society is increasingly viewing same-sex relationships as being equal to opposite-sex relationships.

And if society views them that way, then surely the politicians should listen and the time for equal marriage has come.

What was Christ’s Creed?

A creed, or statement of faith, or confession of faith, is a statement of beliefs shared by a religious community. Christian examples include the Nicene Creed, the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, and the Westminster Confession of Faith. Individual Christians may also have their own creeds. It is not that long ago that I had one.

Creeds are useful in religion in the same way that Newton’s Laws of Motion are useful in physics. They are handy reminders of the fundamentals of a particular field. Just as a physicist doesn’t have to derive the fundamental laws of mechanics every time he works on a new problem, so a theologian doesn’t have to derive the fundamentals of his beliefs every time he approaches a new question.

Creeds are also used in a different way. Some Christian communities require all members to adhere to or subscribe to a particular creed. That is something that I am uncomfortable with, particularly when there is a long and detailed creed that can be used in witch hunts for heretics.

The important question for me is What was Christ’s creed? What did Jesus put in his statement of faith? The simple answer is we don’t know. It isn’t recorded anywhere. If he did tell his disciples what the fifteen key points of Christianity were, none of the New Testament writers bothered to write it down. That speaks volumes to me. If Christ had shared his personal creed with anyone then that would have been so important, so significant, that someone would surely have made a record of it.

In my opinion the closest that Christ got to making a creed-like statement is in Matthew 22:37-40

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

That is all the creed I need.