The person identified as Salford Conservative in this article would like it to be known that he did not appreciate in the recorded conversation below that I was making a distinction between “gay” and “equal” marriage, as he was using them interchangeably, and that he will avoid this conflation in future. He further states that he does not believe that the Conservative Party is legislating for religious same sex marriage and his comments at no point implied that they were.
So, I got into a rather bizarre dispute over same sex marriage the other day with a Salford Conservative and one of his friends who it turns out is actually the Deputy Chairman of a Manchester Conservative local party. They were mocking the fact that a local Labour activist had told one of them that the Tories didn’t support equal marriage. I pointed out that this was true, as the Conservative Party policy is to support civil, and not religious, same sex marriage (the Labour Party support both, btw. So do the Lib Dems. Interestingly, the Green Party doesn’t. What an odd pairing).
But they wouldn’t believe me, and said that the Tories would support same sex religious marriage the same they would civil partnerships.
I pointed out, again, that the Tories have proposed same sex civil marriage, which the Church of England claimed would fall over immediately at the European Court. And noted that the Lib Dems are running a campaign to include same sex religious marriage in the upcoming bill. They would hardly be campaigning for something that is already happening.
They wouldn’t believe me. Indeed, Mr Deputy Chairman said “we do not oppose same-sex marriage. Any suggestion to the contrary is utter nonsense.”
So I quoted David Cameron, you know, the Tory Prime Minister, stating his proposals affect “what happens in a register office, not what happens in a church“, and the Conservative Party website, which describes its policy on marriage as “We are allowing those religious premises that wish to do so to register civil partnerships and we will consult next year on how to introduce same-sex civil marriage.” [emphasis mine]
They wouldn’t believe me. I was accused of trying to force churches to perform same sex marriages, and “all we are saying is that we will enable churches to decide for themselves.”
I tried to explain marriage law. Allowing religious same sex marriage simply means that churches who want to perform same sex marriages will be able to – specifically the Quakers, the Unitarians, and Liberal and Reform Judaism. The situation in 2015, if the proposed legislation becomes law, is that those denominations will not be able to perform same sex religious marriages, even though they want to and are specifically lobbying the government for this. Religious same sex marriage will still be illegal, for everyone, whether they want to perform them or not.
They wouldn’t believe me.
I explained marriage law some more. There’s two types of marriage law. Civil marriage, which is performed by registrars. And religious marriage, which is performed by “authorised celebrants” in venues recognised by the approved denominations, which are Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Free Churches, and the United Synagogue, the Orthodox Jewish organisation (which for the purposes of marriage includes Masorti Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Liberal Judaism). Everyone else, the Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims etc, have to have a registrar present at their wedding ceremonies, or hold a private civil wedding beforehand.
Civil marriage is regulated by the state, and is open to everyone over the age of 18 of sound mind. Religious marriage is open to the rules set by the denomination which performs them. So Catholics can turn down divorcees, and rabbis can refuse to perform interfaith weddings.
What the current Conservative Party proposals regard, is civil marriage. Just civil marriage. So registrars will be able to marry anyone of any gender to anyone else of any gender in 2015. But authorised celebrants will continue to be bound by the current rules, which only recognise opposite sex marriage. So in 2015, I will only be able to marry a Jewish man in my local synagogue. Not a Jewish woman. This will not be legal, even if I want to marry them, they want to marry me, my rabbi wants to perform the ceremony, and my synagogue wants to hold it. This will not be allowed, legal, acceptable, or permissible under the current Conservative proposals.
Now, this is absolutely fine by the Catholic and Anglican Churches, and the United Synagogue, but this isn’t ok with Reform Judaism, Liberal Judaism, and the Quakers. They are actively lobbying Nick Clegg to support same sex religious marriage because the Tory party isn’t legalising same sex religious marriage. Now, religious LGBT people can have religious civil partnerships, that became legal in 2011 (courtesy of the Conservative Party). But it’s not religious same sex marriage. The Tory party does not support religious same sex marriage.
They still wouldn’t believe me. Actually, that’s not true, the Salford Conservative, to his credit, checked out of the conversation and I assume it was him that posted this on the LGBTory Twitter five seconds later:
But the other guy kept going, and said that the Tory party proposals would mean that people would be able to have same sex civil weddings in religious venues as some kind of interim step to total equality. I pointed out that this was insane, because civil weddings in religious venues full stop are not legal.
At which point, this guy said we would have to agree to disagree. Which might well suit him given his evident lack of knowledge of his own party’s policies, but this is an important point that has repercussions on thousands of devout gay couples who may or may not be getting misled by LGBT members of the nation’s governing party. You can’t subjectively have your own opinions about the contents of government legislation when said government has made it very clear, in all the examples I’ve just recounted, that they are not, in fact, supporting religious same sex marriage.
So, as I was starting to doubt myself in the face of such implacable ignorance, I wrote to my local Conservative MP, Simon Burns, who also happened to be Minister of State for Transport. I figured that even if minor party officials didn’t know the score, a minister would. Mr Burns’ assistant wrote back to tell me that he was absolutely in support of the government’s proposals for civil same sex marriage:
Now, being as apparently several members of the Conservative Party can’t comprehend the idea that their party isn’t actually in favour of full marriage equality, I thought that the slight ambiguity over “religious organisations will have the freedom to decide whether or not they would want to marry same sex couples” warranted full clarification. So I wrote back to Mr Burns asking specifically if religious marriage was on the cards. However, the resulting letter, presumably written by a different assistant, ignored the question completely and stated that Simon Burns, from religious conviction, would vote against same sex marriage full stop:
(I should point out that if Simon Burns genuinely believed that he couldn’t support religious same sex marriage on religious grounds, I wouldn’t be upset about that. But that’s not the point.)
So it seemed that it’s not just northern Conservatives who aren’t sure. Fortunately, after calling the Home Office, I found absolute clarification on page 4 of their report summarising its consultation on same sex marriage:
So, that’s that. I hope that the LGBT Tories who have ended up reading this are now clear on their own party policy. Equal marriage isn’t hard, the SNP have already started the ball rolling in Scotland (and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives has said she will vote for it). I do hope the Conservative Party moves to include religious same sex marriage in the upcoming bill, but I think they’ve probably had enough of their own backbenchers moaning about same sex civil marriage to go that step further. I’d love it if they did though. That would be awesome. Perhaps LGBTory could take the lead on making equal marriage a reality?
Finally, here is the Equalities Minister affirming her support for same sex civil marriage.