The UK is set to make history this week by ending the legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. The decision from Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone will “upgrade” civil partnerships to full-on marriage, complete with the right to have weddings performed in churches and other religious institutions. Prior to this decision, gay unions were strictly banned from taking place in churches.
Civil unions have been legal in the UK since 2004, but have carried a silver medal stigma with them, even though they grant identical rights to marriages between heterosexual couples, unlike in the United States, where they lack federal recognition.
The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church are, of course, freaking the heck out.
Pope Benedict last year described same-sex marriage as being among ‘the most insidious and dangerous challenges that today confront the common good’. Both the Catholic Church and Islam say marriage can consist only of a union between a man and a woman. But some faiths are in favour of a change in the law. The Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews are expected to apply for permission to use their buildings to host same-sex marriages.
The switch to full marriage equality will debut in England, and possibly spread to Scotland next. Gay Rights groups are already expecting the changed law to lead to lawsuits in the event that churches deny homosexuals the right to marry in their halls.
Herald Scotland reports:
John Deighan, parliamentary officer for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said: “This will never happen in a Catholic church. It attempts to change our entire definition of family life.
“We are getting to the point where the argument is that it will be seen as intolerant not to marry two men in the church.
“But people have to understand that teaching is handed down – it is not something that is malleable and can be changed.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, considered on the left of the Church of England, also expressed concern. Any change could “lead to inconsistencies with civil marriage, have unexplored impacts, and lead to confusion, with a number of difficult and unintended consequences for churches and faiths”, he said.
He warned that the law should not get to a situation where “one right trumps another”.
But isn’t that exactly what the previous law allowed? While gays and lesbians were designated as under full and equal protections of the law in the UK, churches and religious groups were still permitted to discriminate against them. This is the very definition of one right trumping another. Given a choice between the two, we’d rather see the right of all individuals to be treated equally trump the right of churches to practice homophobia.
But hey, that’s just us. What do you think of England’s controversial new marriage equality law?