In September 2011, Liberal Democrat/Conservative Coalition Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone announced Cameron administration proposals to legislate for same-sex marriage. David Cameron told the last annual Conservative Party conference in October 2011 that he personally supported gay marriage. The United Kingdom will launch a public consultation on the proposed introduction of civil marriage for same-sex couples in March 2012.
The so-called âCoalition for Marriageâ (C4M) said it had emailed 175,000 people and intended to distribute a petition against the governmentâs planned introduction of gay marriage by 2015. C4Mâs petition reads:
âI support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it.â
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey supported C4M, saying the plan was a âhostile strikeâ on marriage. Ironically enough, Carey had earlier complained that âChristianityâ was being âmarginalisedâ in Great Britain. One can only wonder why he deems it fit to try to marginalise others and preserve discriminatory social institutions. At a Central London media conference, Lord Carey revealed that he had signed the petition against same-sex marriage:
âThe avowed intention to widen the scope of marriage as we see before us is a hostile strike, which rather than strengthening marriage, will destroy its meaning and diminish its importance drastically. âThe legal and theological definition of marriage is that of a man and a woman in a lifelong relationship. The government has many difficult duties to perform on behalf of the nation it is elected to serve. But it is not in its gift to alter such a fundamental relationship.â
It should come as no surprise to learn that C4M appears to be heavily associated with the fundamentalist âChristian Instituteâ, which has strong connections to New Zealandâs Family First, and which has a track record of opposing virtually all the legislative reforms carried out during the Blair and Brown administrations to entrench LGBT rights within statute law. Other signatories of the petition include Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern (patron of the (fundamentalist) âChristian Lawyers Fellowshipâ, Professor Brenda Almond, President of the Philosophical Society of England (a social conservative philosopher), and Fiona Bruce a Conservative MP and religious social conservative.
Veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell condemned the petition plans, arguing that C4Mâs stance on marriage was homophobic and discriminatory:
âThe Coalition for Marriage is intolerant and out of touch. Coalition members are entitled to believe that same-sex marriages are wrong, but they are not entitled to demand that their opposition to such marriages should be imposed on the rest of society and enforced by law.â
Stonewall agrees with Tatchell. Chief executive Ben Summerskill said: âOur strong advice to anyone who disagrees with same-sex marriage is not to get married to someone of the same sex.â
As the issue has heated up, Equalities Minister Featherstone criticised the UK Christian Right, Campaign for Marriage and Lord Carey, arguing that religious institutions did not âownâ marriage, to which Carey accused her in turn of supplying an âunwarranted slantâ on his previous statement.
In the Daily Telegraph, Ms Featherstone had stated that:
âSome believe the government has no right to change it (marriage) , they want to leave tradition alone. I want to challenge that view â it is the governmentâs fundamental job to reflect society and to shape the future, not stay silent where it has the power to act and change things for the better. â(Marriage) is owned by neither the state nor the Church, as the former Archbishop Lord Carey rightly said. It is owned by the people.â
Ominously, Carey then contradicted her on this. Seemingly unaware of British Columbian judicial opinion that opposed decriminalisation of polygamy given that same-sex marriage was still monogamous and non-abusive, he then challenged the right of democratic public opinion to reflect changes in social policy:
âWhen I said that not even the Church owns it (marriage), I meant that the Church has no authority to change the definition of marriage as far as Christian thinking is concerned â there is a givenness to it. Lynneâs logic implies the will of the people is sovereign. So letâs suppose that in 10 yearsâ time it is proposed that, as people are living in multiples of four, we may call that marriage also.â
Thus far, Carey, the UK Christian Right front group âCampaign for Marriageâ and Anglican and Catholic Bishops have opposed government proposals to introduce same-sex civil marriage. It should be noted that not all Anglicans support Lord Carey and his fundamentalist agenda on this issue.
In Scotland, Gay Times provided an intriguing look at divergent stances north of the border. David Torrance noted that the Campaign for Equal Marriage has been going strong since 2005. However, as with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Catholic Church, Episcopal (Anglican) Church and Muslim social conservatives are all opposed. As well as the Catholic Bishops Conference, the Evangelical Alliance and âCentre for Public Christianityâ dominate âScotland for Marriageâ, which opposes same-sex marriage.
Cardinal Keith OâBrien has condemned same-sex marriage as a âgrotesque subversion of a basic human right.â What, like the Catholic Churchâs stance on clergy pedophilia is a grotesque subversion of institutional accountability and transparency, Your Eminence? If I were the Catholic Church, Iâd be very hesitant about bringing child welfare issues into this debate. Former Labour Equalities Minister Harriet Harman, lesbian Conservative MP Margot James (!) and Stonewallâs Ben Summerskill all condemned the latest clerical outburst. Slavery, apples and pears also appeared in homophobe discourse.
Fortunately, theyâre out of step with Scottish public opinion as sixty-two percent of those in recent opinion polls favoured the introduction of same-sex marriage. Within the governing Scottish National Party, Adam Clayton, John Mason and former SNP Leader Gordon Wilson have all declared their opposition, but the SNP leadership seems solidly socially liberal.
As Adrian Tippetts noted in a recent incisive Pinknews article,the fundamentalist "Campaign for Marriage" is a shell group for several UK Christian Right religious lobby groups. Board members of Coalition for Marriage Limited are core members of the Christian Institute, CARE, Family and Youth Concern and Christian Concern, all veteran opponents of LGBT rights within the United Kingdom.
Of these, the Coalitionâs links with the Christian Institute are particularly close. Coalition for Marriage Limited is registered to the Instituteâs Newcastle-upon-Tyne premises. Institute office manager John Errington runs its website and the Institute's founder, Colin Hart, chairs C4M. The fundamentalist Christian Institute has campaigned continually against all LGBT rights legislation within the United Kingdom since it was founded in 1989.
Tippetts also notes that the UK Charities Commission has criticised the charity for producing organ-donor style plastic cards, which read: âIn the event of my death, I do not want my children to be adopted by homosexualsâ. In 2002, the Charity Commission also significantly slated it for one particular publication Bankrolling Gay Proselytism: The case for extending Section 28. The Commission held that this was an exclusively political activity with relation to its supposed aims. This report was one of several positioning papers that frequently used research often criticised by mainstream social scientists and medical practitioners for profound methodological flaws, which often depicted gay people as diseased or psychopathological and more likely to be paedophiles. The latter is not accepted by any mainstream child health or development specialist in the field of child sexual abuse prevention and intervention.
In September 2011, Christian Institute public relations officer Mike Judge (who is also a spokesperson for C4M) appeared on a U.S. fundamentalist Christian news outlet OneNewsNow. He argued against an end to US military service discrimination and claimed that the end of military service discrimination in Great Britain ago had been "disastrous for discipline". In this instance, the Christian Institute seems to be pushing blatant lies without evidential foundation.
In a related sinister development, Tippetts reports that the Christian Institute is willingly associating itself with an extremist US Christian Right organisation known as the American Family Association. This organisation supports recriminalisation of gay male sexuality and absolute prohibition of abortion access.
According to available information, C4M seems to be based at Marshalsea Road in Borough, south-east London. It exists alongside another UK Christian Right organisation, the Christian Medical Fellowship. CMF CEO, Peter Saunders, also supports the Campaign for Marriage. The CMF website denies the existence of genetic influences that might lead to homosexuality.
Other organisations are staples of the UK Christian Right. "Anglican Mainstream" is a vocal fundamentalist internal pressure group within the Church of England (and other Anglican Communion churches) which regularly features articles about corrupt and dictatorial African regimes that determined to maintain colonial era criminal penalties for homosexuality. The organisation also approves of US Christian Right activist clergy that oppose an end to military service discrimination and also propagandises for the 'exgay' movement.
CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) used to be known as Mary Whitehouseâs Festival Of Light, and is known for campaigning against adult erotic media, 'suggestive' broadcast media content and gambling licences, but its antigay record is considerable. In 2009, it co-sponsored an infamous US NARTH 'reparative therapy' conference in the United Kingdom. It actively lobbies at the European Parliament and British House of Commons and Lords, and places interns who share CAREâs beliefs, via internships, within the offices of seventeen UK MPs as well as providing media commentary.
The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Children campaigns for prohibition of abortion and emergency contraception. The so-called "Family Education Trust" links homosexuality to paedophilia and has been inundating British schools with pamphlets that promote inaccurate abstinence-only fundamentalist propaganda in the guise of 'sex education.'
Tippetts notes that many of the C4M frontliners have peculiar beliefs. The UK Evangelical Allianceâs Don Horrocks is a Coalition board member, who appears to believe that gay marriage would lead to human interspecies marriage with horses! Mark Mullins (Lawyersâ Christian Fellowship) was reprimanded for discriminatory conduct against a gay immigrant who sought naturalisation. As former Christian Concern spokesperson, he stated that discrimination should be reinstated within the teaching profession. Christian Concern's Andrea Williams was particularly involved in a failed campaign against passage of UK anti-discrimination legislation that occurred in 2006.
Tippetts also warns that the Christian Institute has expanded its facilities to include a new media and legal training centre. Christian Concern has partnered with the US Alliance Defense Fund, which threatens legal action against schools that try to prevent reparative therapy events.
I might add that the Christian Institute also collaborates on a regular basis with New Zealand Christian Right organisations. In the days of the Civil Union Bill debate, that was the Maxim Institute. During the debate over banning parental corporal punishment of children, it worked alongside our own beloved Family First, whose own media section regularly features media commentaries from that organisation as well as other UK, US and Australian Christian Right presure groups. In the event of same-sex marriage proper or inclusive adoption reform becoming livewire issues here, we would no doubt witness the appearance of their propaganda in our own context, whether imported from their sources or more likely incorporated within Christian Right submissions. Indeed, I suspect that such developments are only a matter of time.
Adrian Tippetts: "Comment: Coalition for Marriage- a creeping rhizome of religious extremism" Pinknews 05.03.2012: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/03/05/comment-the-coalition-for-marriage-a-creeping-rhizome-of-religious-extremism/
âCatholic cardinal Keith OâBrien accused of scaremongering after condemning gay marriage plansâ Scottish Television: 04.03.2012: http://news.stv.tv/politics/299720-cardinal-keith-obrien-accused-of-scaremongering-after-condemning-gay-marriage-plans/
âChristian Coalition petitions to stop gay marriage lawâ BBC News: 20.02.2012: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17102352
âChurch does not own marriageâ Guardian: 25.02.2012: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/feedarticle/10112430
David Torrance: âGay Marriage in Scotlandâ Gay Times 402 (February 2012): 94-97
Stonewall UK: http://www.stonewall.org.uk
Peter Tatchell: http://www.petertatchell.net
Campaign for Equal Marriage: http://www.equalmarriage.org.uk
Equality Network: http://www.equality-network.org
Christian Institute: http://www.christian.org.uk/news/coalition-for-marriage-launched/
Scotland for Marriage: http://www.scotlandformarriage.org