Analysis of a Christian’s political opposition to gay marriage in UK

On 19th July 2012 Green Party Councillor Christina Summers outraged her party colleagues and most of the local community by breaking her specific promises to support her party’s policy in favour of same sex marriage. Since then much has been written about her. This blog contains a number of posts on the subject in general. She’s garnered lots of media coverage and is being represented by a disreputable lobbying group called Christian Concern. In two days the first stage in the Green Party’s disciplinary process ~ a Panel of Inquiry ~ will be reporting its findings back to the Green councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council. While we wait for that decision, it may be useful to remind ourselves what she actually said in defence of her lone vote that day.

The vote in question was on an amended Labour motion. The original motion was proposed by Councillor Warren Morgan, which read as follows:

This Council notes the current national consultation on allowing same sex marriage between couples in England and Wales.

This Council also notes the considerable social and economic benefit to the city resulting from the Civil Partnership Act 2004, with Brighton and Hove being the most popular place in the UK for civil partnership ceremonies.

This Council believes that same sex couples should now have equal marriage rights under law, and calls upon the Government to:

  1. Change the law to allow same-sex couples to get married.
  2. Allow religious bodies to conduct same-sex marriages.
  3. End the requirement that transgender people divorce before attaining Gender Recognition.
  4. Enable mixed-sex couples to register a civil partnership.

The Green councillors proposed amendments to the motion. These were accepted by Councillor Morgan (he said he was “more than happy” with them). The amended motion, which was put to the vote, was as follows, with the amendments in bold:

This Council notes the current national consultation on allowing same sex marriage between couples in England and Wales, and the cross-party letter sent to the Government in response.

This Council also notes the considerable social and economic benefit to the city resulting from the Civil Partnership Act 2004, with Brighton and Hove being the most popular place in the UK for civil partnership ceremonies.

This Council believes that same sex couples should now have equal marriage rights under law, and calls upon the Government to:

  1. Change the law to allow same-sex couples to get married.
  2. Allow religious bodies to conduct same-sex marriages where they choose to do so.
  3. End the requirement that transgender people divorce before attaining Gender Recognition.
  4. Retain civil partnerships and enable mixed-sex couples to register a civil partnership.

Here’s Councillor Summers’ speech in full:

All speeches in full meetings of Brighton & Hove City Council are time limited, presumably to prevent filibustering. Let’s look at each of the points that Summers makes in turn.

Party Policy

She accepts that her party’s policy is very clear on this issue. Although time limited on this occasion, Summers has given plenty of media interviews (including to right-wing ‘Christian’ radio stations) where she accepts that this policy is a core issue for the Green Party. In fact, it was a core issue before she joined the party.

When she stood as a candidate she was specifically asked how, in the event of a conflict between her conscience and party policy, she would vote? She declared that she would vote with the party’s policy. Therefore, this vote isn’t just against party policy, it’s hypocritical too. She would not have been selected as a candidate, had she said that she would make this speech and vote against Green Party policy.

When the Brighton & Hove Green Party selected its candidates for the 2011 local elections, every one of them was required to sign a pledge promising to advance equality on every front in keeping with the party’s policy. This pledge was introduced because of specific concerns about Summers’ hardcore religious beliefs. She signed that contract with the party.

What conclusions can we draw from these circumstances? That her religious beliefs entitled her to lie to her friends in the party? That Christians may sign any contract and then escape their part of the bargain because it somehow doesn’t apply to them? That she has changed her mind since standing as a candidate?

The last conclusion seems the most likely. In those circumstances, you would think that she would communicate her change of intention to her immediate colleagues at the earliest opportunity, wouldn’t you? If she did, then she must have changed her mind during the meeting of Green councillors immediately before this council meeting because that was the first time she informed them of her intentions.

Her vote will “jar” with her colleagues

That’s putting it mildly. She voted like this in the full knowledge that she had broken faith with her party. Normally, in political circumstances such as these, the renegade retains some integrity by resigning from their party. However, Summers has remained in the party. She is well aware that there will soon be a petition to expel her. Rather than accept that she has misled both her party and the voters, she prefers to fight on. Why? Is it because that way she will maximise media coverage for her supposedly Christian agenda?

She has no problem with same sex civil partnerships

Although she descibed marriage as a “label“, in effect her argument is that marriage is somehow a concept which is owned by Christians. This is absolute nonsense. There were marriages long before Christianity was even a twinkle in a shepherd’s eye or whatever the biblical story is. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans celebrated marriages. It seems very likely that ancient Britons got married long before St Augustine rocked up in Kent. Incidentally, whilst Kent was the first placed to be Christianised in England, Sussex was the last. However, I digress.

Christian churches have taken various views of marriage ceremonies during their history. At one time, they frowned on such celebrations and refused to host them at all. Other religions take different views of what is permissible. Notably, muslims believe that up to five people can enter marriages. Is Summers’ arguing that should be somehow banned? No, she is not.

Civil marriages in this country are and always have been a product of civil law in England and Wales. The implied argument here is misconceived.

The government’s undemocratic approach

I didn’t read the manifestos from the Liberal Traitors or the thieving Tory bastards but I’m happy to believe her when she says that allowing same sex marriages wasn’t included. Is she now arguing that a government can only change the law to comply with their manifesto commitments? This argument cannot stand up ~ it has no legs. Every government has made laws which it didn’t campaign for prior to an election. However, they do have to get them through the House of Commons and the Lords, which has Church of England bishops in it as of right. I’ve never heard her complain that they shouldn’t be in there. The idea that governments should not introduce laws which they didn’t mention in their manifestos would stymy our civil society to the point of seizure. Is that really what she wants?

She says that the consultation process was flawed on the basis that it didn’t ask what people wanted. Perhaps she’s not very politically experienced? Perhaps she never troubled herself to read the consultation document? The local council and everyone else was free to say whatever they wanted in the consultation. In fact the very first question in the consultation document asked,

“Do you agree or disagree with enabling all couples, regardless of their gender to have a civil marriage ceremony?”

The second question gave an opportunity to explain the reasons for the answer to the first question:

“Please explain the reasons for your answer. Please respond within 1,225 characters (approx. 200 words).”

The views of people already married

This is a completely specious point. Married people were just as entitled to join with the government’s consultation process as anyone else was. Not only is she politically naive, she’s also misrepresented the facts. The government’s own web page explaining the (now finished) consultation process states that the intended audience for the consultation is:

  • members of the public – particularly those currently in a marriage or civil partnership or those wishing to legally register their relationship in future
  • lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organisations
  • religious organisations
  • local authorities, including registrars who are responsible for conducting civil marriage ceremonies
  • organisations with an interest in families and relationships
  • comments from all other interested parties are also welcome

I’ve added the emphasis to the first line. However, there it is plain for all to see: the government specifically asked married people to join in with the consultation.

Besides, allowing a change in who can get married doesn’t affect people who are already married. I’m married. If some of my gay friends want to get married, how on earth does that affect me?

Legal implications

This point is absolute nonsense. It looks like Summers has read it elsewhere (Perhaps in the literature of the Christian Legal Centre, who now represent her?). Whatever she has heard elsewhere, her repetition of it here makes so little sense that she weakens her argument considerably. The trick to making an argument, is to stick to your strong points and let the rest go. By including this, Summers looks like she is grasping at any straw floating past. Let’s remind ourselves what she actually said on this point:

“… and the legal implications are a nightmare, we are trying to unravel 800 years of legislation which would have to be rewritten. There are over 3,000 times in the law that marriage is mentioned and associated words like wife, mother, father that would have to be taken out”

Let’s break this down a little. Firstly, the claim that there is 800 years of relevant legislation is just not true. It is true that the concept of legislation begins with the Magna Carta in 1215. However, there hasn’t been legislation on marriage every year since then and almost all of the laws passed in the intervening centuries have either been repealed or otherwise amended. Whilst students of law do have to learn some of the old stuff (What a pleasure that was!), very little of it is still in force. A book called “Is It In Force?” is a useful tool to working this stuff out. It’s a bit of a dry read, mind.

Secondly, there is the issue of the number of times marriage is mentioned in law. Personally, I haven’t counted the number of times that the word “marriage” is mentioned in our law. Perhaps it is over 3,000 times. It doesn’t really matter if it is 3,000 times, 300, 30 or 3 million times. There’s been plenty of examples in the past when we’ve changed our law so that something has to be read differently. Our civil service employs people called Treasure Counsel. They get paid a pretty good salary to work this stuff out. One method is simply to include clauses in the proposed new law which just say something along the lines of “wherever an Act of Parliament makes a reference to ‘husband and wife’, that phrase shall be read to also include ‘husband and husband’ and/or ‘wife’ and ‘wife’…” or similar such words. They’re our laws. We can make and change them according to how we see fit. We use techniques like the one outlined above to alter other phrases which have been used throughout the centuries. There’s no reason why the word “marriage” attracts any special linguistic difficulties. However, mostly the amendments would only have to be made to the Marriage Act 1949.

Finally, on the legal point, she claims that words like “wife“, “mother” and “father” would “have to be taken out.” Perhaps she isn’t just politically naive? Why should we remove any of these words from our law? Besides, ‘mother’ and ‘father’ are descriptions of biological relationships and nothing to do with marriage at all. There always have been and always will be children born out of wedlock. Listening to her spout this crap is embarrassing. Does she want us to treat children born out of wedlock differently? Probably not. More than likely, she literally doesn’t know what she is talking about.

Schools

The question of who can get married has got nothing to do with schools whatsoever. Without any further explanation from her, it is very difficult to see any cogency in this point. Perhaps she is referring to religious schools? She didn’t say so…

Churches

She claims that churches will not be protected, although she doesn’t say what they need to be protected from? The government’s consultation paper was very clear on this point. The first sentence under the section ‘Proposals’ said they meant that

“in law, marriages conducted by the Church of England, Quakers, Jews and all other religious organisations (who have registered their religious premises to host marriages) would only be legally recognised if they are between a man and a woman.”

Which part of this sentence did Summers not understand? By this point, you’ve got to ask yourself (again) whether she has actually read the consultation document at all? Thus far, every point that she has made with respect to it has been untrue.

Hitting at the very heart of God

As with many public speakers, Summers seems to think that it is best to make the strongest argument last. However, having mismanaged her time that left her little room to explain her point. Perhaps she felt it didn’t need further explanation. Let’s remind ourselves of what she said:

“when you touch marriage, you’re touching family and you’re hitting at the very heart of God and I have an enormous problem with that, so woe betide Brighton and woe betide the UK if it becomes law.”

Firstly, she equates marriage with family as if the two concepts are synonymous. Plainly, that is a matter of opinion. There are many people who agree with her world view that parents should be married. There are many others who do not. Incidentally, I spoke to a psychiatrist about whether there was research on the effects of children as to whether the parents lived together or not. She told me that all the research shows that the children will do well if both parents consistently act in the children’s best interests, regardless of the nature of their relationship. However, Summers opinion is that marriage and family are the same thing.

Perhaps that is fair enough but how does she get from there to the bit about God? We’ve had civil marriages in the UK for well over half a century. I’ve entered into one myself. Both my wife and I are atheists. Is Summers’ suggesting that our marriage is somehow not valid? If she is, she wouldn’t dare say that out loud. She knows that is not an acceptable thing to say in public.

Let’s remind ourselves what the Bible says about marriage. Genesis 2:22-24 claims that the first woman was made out of the first man. Proverbs 5:18-19 advises men to enjoy their wife’s breasts. Proverbs 12:4 says that a wife’s character reflects on her husband. Proverbs 18:22 basically says a man is lucky to get a wife. Proverbs 19:14 says that God gives a man a good wife in much the same way that he might inherit wealth from his parents. Proverbs 20:6-7 advises men to be faithful to their wives. Proverbs 30:18-19 basically says that sex between a man and a virgin is too difficult to understand. Proverbs 31:10 says that virtuous wives are rare. Matthew 19:4-6 says that religious marriages cannot end in divorce. Corinthians 7:1-16 says a couple of things: it insists that sex must only be in marriage and that married couples must have sex unless they have agreed to pray instead but they must have sex again afterwards. It also says that atheists are allowed to get divorced! Ephesians 5:22-23 says the wives must submit to their husbands, as does Colossians 3:18-19. Hebrews 13:4-7 speaks out against adultery (and the love of money). Finally, Mark 10:6-9, says religious people cannot divorce.

That’s it. All the references a religious website found on a search for “marriage”. What conclusions can we draw from this? There are passages from both the Old and the New Testament. There’s quite a lot of agreement throughout all the passages. The Bible is sexist. Beyond that though, there is the (for me) startling conclusion that different rules apply to those who are believers compared to those who are not. Isn’t that much the same as what the government is describing? The government is describing changing the law for civil, not religious marriages. Therefore, what is Summers’ problem?

Woe betide…

Her speech ended with an old fashioned threat. Probably she isn’t used to winning arguments and hasn’t studied rhetoric either. All the same, she ought to realise that threatening people is not persuasive approach. If this proposal becomes law, she wishes ill on the people of Brighton. Hove gets included too because she wishes ill on everyone in the UK too!

This person shouldn’t be in the Green Party. It’s doubtful whether she can find a place in any political party now, although doubtless a number of churches will accept her.

4 responses to “Analysis of a Christian’s political opposition to gay marriage in UK

  1. ‘This is just nasty spite’ – a very helpful summary of your own position. You seem oblivious to the intolerance of your arguments.

  2. Just to fill in the gap on schools, I imagine Christina had in mind the fear that teachers may end up facing the sack if they don’t endorse same-sex marriage.

  3. I

    Hi Scrapper…interesting article.
    Just for the record, was wondering if you could elaborate on your opening comment, and I quote: “on 19/7/12 Green Party Councillor…outraged…most of the local community…”

    How do you know this to be the case or did you just make it up to support your argument?

  4. Pingback: The saga of Christina Summers: the politics of deliberate confusion? | Scrapper Duncan

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