MYTHS ABOUT EQUAL MARRIAGE – SETTING OUT THE TRUTH
MYTH: Allowing same-sex couples to marry will destroy the institution of marriage.
REALITY: Marriage is a hugely important institution in this country. The principles of
long-term commitment and responsibility which underpin it bind society together and
make it stronger. The Government believes that we should not prevent people getting
married unless there are very good reasons – and loving someone of the same sex is
not one of them.
MYTH: Marriage has not changed in hundreds of years.
REALITY: Marriage is not static. It has always been an evolving institution. In the 19th
century inequalities prevented Catholics, atheists, Baptists and many others from
marrying except in the Anglican Church. In the 20th century the law was changed to
recognise married men and married women as equal before law. Opening up marriage
to all couples will strengthen the vital institution of marriage, and help ensure that it
remains an essential building block of society.
MYTH: Religious organisations or minister of religion will be forced to conduct samesex marriages.
REALITY: This is not true. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill makes clear that no
religious organisation or religious minister will be compelled to marry same-sex
couples. A ‘quadruple lock’ of legal protections will ensure that all religious
organisations are free to choose and can act according to their doctrines and beliefs.
MYTH: The European Court of Human Rights will force religious organisations to
conduct same-sex marriages.
REALITY: The case law of the European Court of Human Rights makes it clear that
same-sex marriage is a matter for individual states to decide. Any case before the
Court would be brought against the UK Government, not a religious organisation. The
Court would be bound to give priority to the rights of a religious organisation under
Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to
freedom of religion.
MYTH: The Church of England and Church in Wales have been banned by the
Government from conducting same-sex marriages.
REALITY: This is not true. Like every other religious organisation, the Church of
England and Church in Wales will be able to decide for themselves whether and when
to allow the marrying of same-sex couples according to their rites. The Bill contains
specific measures to deal with the unique legal position of the Church of England and
the Church in Wales. Unlike any other religious body in this country, their clergy have
a specific (common law) legal duty to marry parishioners. The Bill makes clear that
this duty is not extended to marriage of same-sex couples, and will ensure that
Anglican Canon law does not conflict with civil law and can continue to state that for
them marriage is between one man and one woman.
MYTH: The Church of England and Church in Wales are being given extra protections.
REALITY: The Bill contains specific measures to deal with the unique legal position of
the Church of England and the Church in Wales. The clergy of the Church of England
and Church in Wales have a legal duty to marry parishioners. The Bill provides them
with protection to address this point. The Bill also ensures that Church of England
Canon law, which states their belief that marriage is between one man and one
woman, is not affected by this Bill. These provisions are required to take account of
these Churches’ particular legal circumstances – they do not provide more, or less,
protection than is given to other religious organisations.
MYTH: The Church of England and Church in Wales were not consulted properly.
REALITY: During the course of both the consultation and the drafting of the legislation,
the Government has had numerous and detailed discussions with stakeholders about
the provisions within the Bill. These discussions have included a number of religious
organisations including the Church of England, the Catholic Church and the Church in
MYTH: Teachers will have to promote same-sex marriage to pupils in sex and
REALITY: This is not true. No teacher will be required to promote or endorse views
which go against their beliefs. As with any other area of the curriculum teachers will of
course be required to teach the factual position, that under the law marriage can be
between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples. There are many areas within
teaching, particularly within faith schools, where this type of issue already arises and
where subjects such as divorce are taught with sensitivity. The guidance governing
these issues is the same guidance that will govern how same-sex marriage in the
classroom will be approached. Sex and relationships education is categorically not
about the promotion of a particular sexual orientation – that would be inappropriate
MYTH: Teachers who oppose same-sex marriage will be sacked from their jobs.
REALITY: Teachers will continue to have the clear right to express their own beliefs,
or that of their faith in a professional way, such as that marriage should only be
between a man and a woman. No teacher will be required to promote or endorse
views which go against their beliefs.
MYTH: There is no difference between civil partnership and marriage.
REALITY: There are some small legal differences between civil partnerships and
marriage. But for many people there are important differences in the perception of and
responsibilities associated with these separate institutions.
MYTH: You are abolishing the terms ‘husband’, ‘wife’, ‘mother’ and ‘father’.
REALITY: This is not true – these terms will continue to exist. ‘Husband’ will refer to a
male marriage partner and ‘wife’ will refer to a female marriage partner, as now.
MYTH: Not introducing civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples is unfair.
REALITY: This is not true. We believe in the institution of marriage and we do not
believe that opposite-sex couples are disadvantaged by not being able to enter into
civil partnerships. This Bill is designed to remove the unfairness of same-sex couples
being excluded from marriage.
MYTH: This is the thin end of the wedge – further changes to the law to enable other
groups to marry are likely.
REALITY: This is simply not the case – we have absolutely no plans to amend the law
on marriage in any other area.
MYTH: You did not take into account the large number of petitions received opposing
a change in the law.
REALITY: 228,000 individuals and organisations responded to the consultation on
how to open up marriage to same-sex couples. Additionally there were petitions for
and against equal marriage. The largest was from the Coalition for Marriage against
the proposals which contained over 500,000 signatures opposed to the proposals.
The views expressed in the petitions were considered along with all the other
responses received. However, the Government have always been clear that the
consultation was focussed on how to implement a change in the law, rather than
whether to change the law.
MYTH: The Government has no mandate to introduce same-sex marriage.
REALITY: The Conservative Party’s Contract for Equalities, published alongside its
General Election Manifesto in 2010, set out clearly that we would consider the case for
changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage.
Independent surveys, such as the one carried out by the Times in March 2012, show
support by the general public with 65% thinking gay couples should have an equal
right to marry, not just to have civil partnerships.
MYTH: People will be sacked if they criticise same-sex marriage at work.
REALITY: This is not true. We have always been absolutely clear that being able to
follow your faith openly is a vital freedom that we will protect. Everyone is entitled to
express their view about same-sex marriage, at work or elsewhere. No employee will
be required to promote or endorse views about same-sex marriage which go against
their conscience. But it is an entirely different matter to act in an offensive or
discriminatory way because of someone’s sexual orientation and the two issues
should not be confused.
MYTH: The four recent European Court cases show that people are not free to follow
their beliefs at work.
REALITY: On the contrary, Ms Eweida won her right to wear a cross at work. These
cases were not about same-sex marriage. However, we have always been absolutely
clear that being able to follow your faith openly is a vital freedom that we will protect.
We believe people should be able to wear discrete religious symbols, provided it
doesn’t hinder or physically get in the way of their job. In the other cases the Court
found that the needs of health and safety and the requirement not to discriminate
against customers were relevant considerations, on the facts of those particular cases
– it is all about striking a sensible balance, which our legislation does.
MYTH: The Trafford Housing case with Adrian Smith shows that people can be
sacked because of their religious beliefs.
REALITY: Adrian Smith actually won his case in the High Court, a judgment which
shows that expressing views about this type of issue in a measured and non-offensive
manner does not permit an employer to discipline an employee. Any such action by an
employer would be unlawful.
MYTH: Local councils will stop giving religious groups contracts or letting them use
their facilities if they refuse to conduct same-sex marriages.
REALITY: This is not true. The Equality Act 2010 protects people from being
discriminated against because of religious belief. Treating someone in this way
because of their religious opposition to same-sex marriage would be unlawful
discrimination. It would also be a misuse of the council’s powers if it penalised a
religious body for doing something which is lawful.
MYTH: This Bill is being rushed through Parliament and has not been properly thought
REALITY: This is untrue. The Government is committed to introducing same-sex
marriage and published a consultation in March 2012 which resulted in the biggest
ever response to a UK consultation. The Minister for Women and Equalities made a
statement to the house in December 2012 announcing the Government’s intention to
bring forward legislation.
MYTH: Polling shows that the public is not supportive of this policy.
REALITY: This is untrue. Recent polling shows that there are a range of views on this
subject. We know that there are many people who are in favour of and supportive of
this policy, as shown by 53% of people who responded to our consultation.
The first paragraph of this corrective view of what allowing Same-Sex Marriage will do for the Institution of Marriage says a great deal about the misinformation that has been propagated for the purpose of trying to torpedo the proposed legislation. Here is one key factor:
“The Government believes that we should not prevent people getting married unless there are very good reasons – and loving someone of the same sex is not one of them.”
The very fact that Same-Sex Couples may want to seek the benefits of committing themselves to the monogamous bonds of Marriage – when there are heterosexual couples who are raising families without desiring to make this particular commitment – ought to reassure critics of Same-Sex Marriage that, rather than damaging the Marriage ideal, the proposed legislation is seeking to strengthen it – without prejudice based on gender or sexuality. This, surely, can only be good for those who value Marriage as an institution.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand