Saturday, 25 February 2012

Letter to Lynne Featherstone MP

Dear Ms Featherstone,
I have read your article This is not gay rights versus religious beliefs in today’s Daily Telegraph.

I can gladly agree with the main thrust of the title. The debate about the meaning of marriage is not to be fought on the narrow grounds of ‘gay rights’ versus ‘religious beliefs’ as you say. I hope in consequence that you will deprecate the kind of abuse that has been poured on men like John Sentamu, Archbishop of York and others who have been reviled as homophobes when they seek to protect the current definition of marriage.

The rest of your article is less easy to agree with. There seems to be a basic inconsistency in your case. You want to retain marriage, yet you do not want it to be exclusively between a man and a woman; but why do you want to tamper with marriage at all? Why not create, or continue (as in ‘civil partnership’) a legal relationship for same sex partnerships? Why the insistence on marriage?

Instead, you are taking what is arguably the most fundamental building block of society and changing its meaning and nature. Why not simply leave marriage alone and allow same sex couples to have something else? You seem to want to eat your cake and have it, but at cost both to those (the vast majority) who are quite happy with marriage as it is now defined, and also (the as yet unseen cost) to the fabric of society.

The government keeps talking about ‘commitment’ and ‘couples who love each other’. But one can be committed to things which are very wrong; commitment in itself does not make anything right; it all depends on what the commitment is to. And would same sex couples be any worse off for having their own form of legalised partnership?

It even looks sometimes as if there is a campaign against the traditional family; Stonewall are suggesting (and the government seems to be peculiarly susceptible to suggestions from this quarter) the deletion of references to husband and wife from legal documents. Is any account taken of the feelings and rights of millions for whom these terms are very precious?

A further misconception is your assertion that marriage, if it does not belong to the church or the state, belongs to the people. Are these the only options? Is there not a case for saying some things are ‘given’? My own conviction is that marriage is God-given; my religion is Christian, but I understand that adherents of some other religions would hold similar views on marriage. Is there not an ‘obviousness’ about marriage being for male and female? Is its widespread acceptance over centuries not strong evidence of its fitness for purpose, despite the many sad failures we witness daily?

If ‘the people’ take it into their heads to say that marriage should be between a man and up to three women, or a woman and a dog, or an adult and a twelve year old, would you be happy to legislate for that?

Finally, you make a mistake in saying that you are not ‘changing religious marriage’. Marriage is marriage, it is not ‘civil’ or ‘religious’ though it may be celebrated with any number of different rites. Marriage is for human beings as human beings; of its very essence is that it is for one male and one female. No government has the right to tamper with such a basic institution of the created order.

Yours sincerely,


  1. I take it that she never replied?

  2. Yes she did reply but in the 'cut and paste' format of prepared paragraphs that appears to be the practice in government departments. For a reply that would have done equally for her, please see my latest reply to David Cameron, in 'Dear Prime Minister - again' - posted a few days ago.