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GORDON HENDERSON MP

FOR SITTINGBOURNE & SHEPPEY

Same-Sex Marriage

I consider myself a social liberal; in as much that I think consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want, with whomsoever they want, as long as it is lawful.

I believe that people should be able to live their lives without unnecessary interference from the state, as long as those people do not expect me, and other taxpayers, to subsidise their lifestyle.

So it might appear strange to some that I oppose the Government’s proposal to redefine marriage and allow same-sex partners to marry.

I have closed down my Twitter account, not because of the number of critical tweets I received, but because it is simply impossible to respond to those criticisms, or, to hold a meaningful debate, using just 140 characters.

But some of the comments that were posted on Twitter, highlight why I am taking my stand. They show a level of intolerance, towards anyone who does not support their opinion, that hints at the very prejudice that those tweeters claim is being perpetuated on the gay community.

A couple of tweets inferred that I would prove myself homophobic unless I support same-sex marriages. Of course, such accusations are designed to stifle debate, which is why I ignore them.

So why do I oppose same-sex marriages? It is because I am standing up on behalf of all those who have religious faith and who feel the very tenets of their religion is being attacked and undermined.

Many millions of people believe that marriage is the joining together of a man and a woman in holy matrimony, with the ultimate objective, where physically possible, of procreating. That belief is shared by many religions, including mainstream Christians, Muslims and Jews. Redefining marriage to include same-sex marriages denies them the right to that belief.

Some, including the Government, will say that the proposals protect the rights of those with a religious faith, because it bans same-sex marriages in the Church of England and the Church of Wales and enables other churches and individual ministers to opt out from performing same-sex marriages.

But does it reflect the rights of individuals to hold the same religious beliefs? For instance, will the law allow teachers in church aided schools to continue teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman? Will it allow a local registrar, who holds deeply held religious beliefs, the right to refuse to conduct a same-sex marriage without fear of being penalised or demonised?

Many claim that allowing same-sex marriage is about equality and that anybody who opposes is therefore against equality.
As it happens, I believe passionately in equality. I believe that every person should be equal before the law, irrespective of their colour, creed, religion, gender or sexuality.

But there are a number of points I would make about equality.

1. Equality cuts both ways, and those of faith must have an equal right to oppose same-sex marriage as those who advocate them.

2. Are those who advocate same-sex marriages doing so to promote equality? If so, how can they at the same time protect the right of religious institution to opt out from conducting same-sex marriages?

3. Same-sex partnerships can never be completely equal to heterosexual partnerships, for one good reason. Same-sex partners cannot naturally procreate.

I am forever an optimist and I very much hope that a solution can be found that will satisfy both sides of the argument.

In a sense the problem is in the definition of marriage. Those who promote same-sex marriage argue that the actual word can be redefined to allow same-sex marriage without undermining the meaning of the word to those with religious beliefs. Personally, I think that argument is disingenuous, not least for the reasons I have set out above.

It seems to me that a solution might be to not redefine marriage, but to redefine civil partnerships; allowing heterosexual couples to enter into them. If at the same time the Government set out in law that civil partnerships and marriages should be always equal in the eyes of civil and secular law, then the question of equality disappears.

Such a move, combined with the ability for people to change their surnames by deed poll (which already exists), would render the need for civil marriages irrelevant and such services would, in time, disappear, leaving only religious marriages for people with faith.

Problem solved!

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