I see that you abstained at the second reading of this Bill on Tuesday. Although I am a strong supporter of the idea that same-sex couples should be able to claim the same rights and privileges as married heterosexual couples, I think I might have been tempted to do the same.
I am writing to ask for your advice and help as the Bill enters its revising phase. I don't know whom I should be writing to at this point. Is the matter now out of your hands until it returns for its third reading, or are you able to have any input to committee considerations?
Hugh Robertson, in his brief summing up at the end of the debate, asserted that
This Bill simply allows people to get married who are currently excluded from doing so purely because they are of the same sex.If that were true, I would have little difficulty with it, but it isn't true. Schedule 4 Part 3 includes a couple of key exemptions from existing marriage law — exemptions which, to my mind, have the effect of changing the whole understanding of what marriage is (at least, for same-sex couples). I find it hard to imagine why any same-sex couples would object if this small part of the bill were struck out. I can't understand why it has been inserted in the first place.
The exemptions concern grounds for annulment and divorce on the grounds of non-consummation and adultery respectively. By removing adultery as grounds for divorce (only for same-sex couples, not heterosexual couples) the Bill is effectively an Adulterer's Charter, and undermines same-sex marriage.
Eight MPs pointed to this mysterious deficiency, but Hugh Robertson had either not heard or chose to ignore the point : Stewart Jackson, Craig Whittaker, Jim Dobbin, Nadine Dorries, Helen Goodman, Fiona Bruce, David Burrowes and Geraint Davies. Stewart Jackson quoted the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey on this point, so we can be fairly sure Schedule 4 Part 3 will get a tough scrutiny in the House of Lords. Maria Miller's reply was quite obtuse, arguing that adultery would be considered 'unreasonable behaviour' and so effectively comes under that heading.
But why should adultery be automatically regarded as 'unreasonable behaviour' as she assumes? She seemed to be making the assumption that sexual relations outside the marriage would be unreasonable — but in that case, why not say so?
There is something going on here, and my view is that what is going on is the beginning of the removal of sexual relations from the concept of marriage altogether.
I do not subscribe to the view that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation (as a number of speakers argued). I do believe, however, that marriage law is one of the key ways in which we locate (what we might better call) 'one-to-one erotic relationships' within British society. The laws of marriage provide the model for the expression of erotic relationships, steering them towards long-term, committed, loving relationships. Even if this ideal is often observed in the breach, I reckon that the vast majority of people accept that marriage (one sexual partner for life, 'forsaking all others') is the goal. We Britons may more commonly practice serial monogamy; young people may (as young people always have) feel the need to practice erotic relationships without commitment before finding a life partner; many couples choose not to formalise their marriage legally; others, through human weakness, fail to live up to the ideal, but I see little evidence of interest in polygamy or 'open marriage'. Marriage, as a sexual relationship 'forsaking all others', is clearly the model, and it is not right that LGBT people should be excluded from it. I could add the importance of marriage as providing a secure and stable environment for the raising of children. Although at one time I was a little queasy about children being raised in a same-sex household, I have come to realise that this was an incoherent position to take, given that I did not see anything intrinsically wrong with same-sex relationships per se.
One possible reason for this peculiar attempt, in Schedule 4, to remove sex itself from marriage is that the drafters of the Bill failed to recognise the nature and importance of erotic love in human relationships. The debate seemed to veer between (on the one hand) sex as leading to childbirth and (one the other) loving and caring for your partner. But one-to-one erotic behaviour is enormously important to human beings. In order to avoid a lot of confusion, misunderstanding and hurt (in people's lives, but also in the divorce courts) it needs to be located in a widely-understood social and legal framework, and the vast majority would agree that marriage is that model framework — even if not all choose to formalise it for themselves, and even if not all agree that same-sex couples belong in that framework (as I do).
I append a short paper about the blessings and dangers of one-to-one erotic behaviour, describing why it should be located within a social structure of committed loving relationships 'forsaking all others' (this being an edited-down version of yesterday's blog).
Despite the worthy sentiments from many speakers avowing their desire to affirm loving — and implicitly, sexual — same-sex relationships, that is precisely what the Bill doesn't do! I wish it did, so that it was affirming the erotic component of same-sex relationships and not pretending they're not there. It is simply done, by striking out Schedule 4 Part 3, and I can see no earthly reason why that should not be done during the revising phase. How can I best lobby for this to happen?