Yesterday, Tuesday, February 5, 2013, was D-Day for marriage in the United Kingdom – well, in the England and Wales segment of it anyway. Yesterday evening (British time) Marriage was redefined in a fairly massive vote in Britain’s House of Commons after six hours of debate. The vote was 400-175. More than 70 members spoke.
Unlike America, the conservative party pushed through conservative PM David Cameron’s legislation. In the new legal definition of marriage it is no longer a bond formed by a man and a woman but can be formed by two men or two women. The Scottish political establishment has stated its intentions very clearly that it is going to go down the redefinition route as well, but the Northern Ireland Assembly will be a tougher challenge for the gay lobby to win. The Republic of Ireland, the neighbouring jurisdiction, probably has a majority of its populist parliament in favour but there they have a written constitution which has a definition of marriage enshrined in it which would not encompass this redefinition. That means it people will have to be consulted directly on any change.
The vote in Britain has split the Conservative party and the vast majority of those who voted against the legislation are members of Cameron’s own party. However, he permitted a free vote on the issue so there will be no immediate political fall-out. However, members of the party throughout the country are deeply unhappy with the decision and this may cause big trouble for the Tories in the run-up to the next general election.
The Anglican Church and the Catholic Church leadership opposed the legislation, with the new Archbishop of Canterbury indicating his disapproval in the past few days. Daily Telegraph blogger Damian Thompson, however, sees the entire episode and being much more serious in its implications for the Anglican Church than it is for the Tory party.
“I don’t think he (Cameron) will inflict permanent damage on his party, in which the division of opinion is mainly along generational lines and will shift with time,” Thompson said. “For the Church of England, however, tonight’s overwhelming vote was a disaster: it will be forbidden by law to conduct same-sex weddings that many of its clergy would like to see written into their prayer books. The House of Bishops’ already wobbly consensus on this issue will fall apart once some prelates start turning a blind eye to gay church wedding ceremonies disguised as ‘blessings’.
“The legislation will set diocese against diocese and parish against parish; the “lock” banning gay weddings in the C of E will not survive changes to the demography of congregations, in which age will count for more than churchmanship. Many young Anglican evangelicals either support gay marriage or are lukewarm in their opposition to it – as the new Archbishop of Canterbury is no doubt well aware. Yet, even far into the future, there will be a solid rump of Anglicans fervently opposed to homosexual marriage on theological grounds. If you thought the battle over women priests and bishops was nasty, wait until this one begins.”
A selection of the contributions of MPs opposing the legislation has been posted on the blog of the media response group, Catholic Voices.