The initial verdicts on British Government’s ambiguously entitled “consultation” on the  proposal to legislate for same-sex marriage in England and Wales is pretty negative, – not just on the substantive issue but on the very muddled presentation in the document itself. The “consultation” was issued on Thursday.

The Coalition for Marriage (C4M), which now has a quarter of a million signatures to its petition to save marriage, proclaimed the whole process to be a “sham” and profoundly undemocratic. “The institution of marriage is not the play thing of the state; it belongs to society and therefore cannot be redefined by a few politicians obsessed with appearing ‘trendy’ and ‘progressive’ C4M says.

After reading it he Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, told BBC Newsnight that it was “utterly astonishing  that the document made no reference to children throughout its 20 pages: “Marriage is about bringing difference together. Different sexes, sometimes different families, different tribes. It’s been used to bring kingdoms together. It’s about bringing difference together, out of which comes a new start and a new life.

“The gender difference is essential for its creativity and its complementarity.”

“It is excluding things that are of the very nature of marriage.

“What society says, I believe, is the best circumstances for conceiving and bringing up children is the partnership between two natural parents. That’s why the law is there to protect marriage and that’s why the change in the definition of marriage affects everybody” Dr. Nichals added.

The Coalition for Marriage accuses the government of not only “trying to change the meaning of ‘marriage’, now they’re trying to redefine the meaning of ‘consultation’.

“Consultation means listening to people before making up your mind. But Lynne Featherstone (Equalities Minister) has a new definition – she is going to bulldoze ahead with the plans whether the public like it or not. Some consultation. Yes, she’ll ask the public if they agree. But she says she’s already determined to push on. Asking isn’t the same as listening – unless the meaning of those words has been redefined too.”

Coalition for Marriage campaign director, Colin Hart, said:

“The Government has today launched a consultation on redefining marriage. After initially relenting and promising to include a question on the principle of introducing same sex marriage it is clear from the written statement given to both Houses of Parliament by the Equalities Minister that she will simply ignore any answers to this question.

 “I always thought that a consultation was about listening to people and asking them their views, before making a decision. Not only are they redefining the meaning of marriage, they’re redefining the meaning of consultation.

“This consultation is a sham. It is being pushed through despite the public never having a say on this change. None of the main political parties proposed redefining marriage in their manifestos and the impact assessment misses out many of the possible problems that could occur if this institution is redefined, for example how this change will affect our schools.

“The institution of marriage is not the play thing of the state; it belongs to society and therefore cannot be redefined by a few politicians obsessed with appearing ‘trendy’ and ‘progressive’.

“It is also bizarre that Lynne Featherstone says that she wants to end the current two tier system’, yet wants to replace this with an even more complicated system that has two options for gays, and only one for heterosexuals. That’s equality for you.

“The plain truth is marriage is marriage and should not be redefined by politicians.

“C4M and the people who have signed our petition believe that this change is profoundly undemocratic, will have massive consequences for society and is simply unnecessary as civil partnerships provide all the legal rights of marriage.”

Meanwhile the blogs are putting in their knives as well. “Regardless of where people stand on the issue, they should quickly realise that (this document) is a shoddy piece of work, undermined by the fact that its authors clearly don’t know what they’re dealing with” writes The Thirsty Gargoyle, one of the more incisive social values inhabitants of the blogosphere.

He begins at a very basic level pointing out that 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. In English law, it is legally meaningless to speak of either civil or religious marriage. 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’.

“Of course, those of us who subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are already signed up to the concept of equal marriage; men and women, it says, have the right to marry and found a family, with both men and women being entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage, and at its dissolution.  Calling ‘same-sex marriage’ ‘equal marriage’ is an Orwellian hijacking of an established term.”

Questions five and six in the annexe at the end of the document, he says, are an example of the nonsense which fills the document, 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 civil marriage 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.”

There is a great deal more in The Thirsty Gargoyle exposing what he – or is it she or it – sees as the folly of this whole project.

Michael Kirke was born in Ireland. In 1966 he graduated from University College Dublin (History and Politics). In that year he began working on the sub-editorial desk of The Evening...