I have no inside knowledge of course, but I always thought that our two Newham Labour MPs, Stephen Timms (East Ham) and Lyn Brown (West Ham) were good friends. Maybe they still are, but it was with some amusement that I read about their spat over same-sex marriage in the House of Commons.
In his speech during a debate on the same-sex marriage Bill in early February, Stephen claimed rightly that “Children are at the heart of marriage… Children are the reason why marriage has been so important…”
Lyn Brown interrupted him in full flow to remind him that he attended her marriage ceremony (in May 2008). “My right hon. Friend was at my wedding. I was not young when I got married (she was 48) and… it was highly unlikely that I was going to be able to procreate after all that time. Is he telling me that my marriage is less valid than anybody else’s?” (here)
It was a petty point. It is true that some married couples are not able to – or indeed choose not to – have children. It is true also that gay couples can have children even if only by adoption or artificial means.
But it is true too that there are exceptions to every rule. And these specific exceptions do not undermine the fact that real marriage is in essence and in principle about two people coming together, committing exclusively to each other, creating children and providing a stable caring home for the nurture and healthy upbringing of the next generation. It is because marriage is important for the welfare of children and for the future of society that an apparently secular state like ours must take an interest in the defining, ordering and regulation of marriage.
Conversely if children and the future are not an essential part of marriage, then neither is the state. And if now marriage is simply to be about adults (gay or straight) loving and choosing each other as they wish, the state logically and inevitably must back off and allow any consenting adults of any gender and any number the right to marry for as long or short as they choose. For instance a wacky middle-aged couple I know went alone into a field of wheat one sunny summer’s day, frolicked naked and hidden amongst the ripening stalks and when they emerged from the field told friends that they are now ‘married’. This is a recipe for nuptial anarchy and instability of course, but on what basis do we tell them that they are not married?
Lyn Brown is my MP so I thought I’d try to persuade her change her mind ahead of tomorrow’s final Commons vote on same-sex marriage. The local paper, the Newham Recorder, published this letter from me last Wednesday:
The final House of Commons vote on the Same-Sex Marriage Bill will take place later this month, before it then goes on to the House of Lords. Local MP Stephen Timms abstained in the previous vote and has said he will vote against the Bill next time. Can I appeal to my own MP, Lyn Brown, to follow suit?
“Two people who love each other and are committed to each other should be allowed to get married whatever their gender. It’s an equality and human rights issue.” This is the main argument advanced in favour of same-sex marriage.
But it is a selective and specious argument, and in reality the Bill does not create ‘equal marriage’ at all. Rather by changing the time-honoured definition of marriage from that between one man and one woman, it creates new inequalities and discrimination.
It is notable for instance that the Bill will allow two lesbians to marry but not two elderly spinster sisters. Like the lesbians, the sisters may love each other, be committed to each other and live together for many years, but the legislation does not follow its own logic, allow them equally to get married.
And if the Bill is about equality for minorities, why are the polygamous marriages of Muslims and Mormons excluded from it? And what about polyandrous marriages where there is one woman and two or more men?
Further, there is an increasingly vocal minority demand for group marriage with multiple men and multiple women living in one so-called ‘family’. On what grounds are these minority ‘families’ excluded and discriminated against by the legislation?
So the Bill is confused, illogical, irrational, unequal and creates new exclusions and discrimination against minorities. But worse, it completely ignores children. Same-sex marriage is about the interests of gay adults; children are not even mentioned in the legislation. Our children are our future, yet their rights and their welfare in marriages are completely blanked.
Also, same-sex marriage will undermine normal faithful marriage by downgrading marital loyalty, as adultery will no longer be a valid reason for divorce. The right to play the field with even temporary and multiple sex partners is included by the government in this new definition of ‘marriage’.
Finally, there is little demand for same-sex marriage in the gay community and there is no democratic mandate from the wider community. It was not included in any of the manifestos of the three major parties in parliament at the last election.
Stephen Timms is showing courageous leadership by voting to reject the Bill. Lyn Brown, can we ask you to follow him and do likewise?
Yours sincerely, etc
The gay online newspaper Pink News ran the letter under the (deliberately?) untruthful headline claim that I want polygamous marriages to be included in the Bill (here).
I received a hostile email response from ‘AgayBgay’ informing me that “religion is a lie” and that there will be “punishment and justice” for gay rights violators. He also notified me ominously, “You have been warned.”
He claimed further that “homosexual people are born homosexual” – which of course is the scientifically unproven and anecdotally questionable ‘born-gay’ argument. Matthew Parris (here – £) and Peter Tatchell (here) – both gays – would disagree. No gay gene has been discovered and rather than gayness being pre-determined at birth, it seems much more likely that childhood experiences and free-will play the major part.
MPs vote on the same-sex marriage Bill tomorrow. Will Lyn Brown vote against it alongside her Newham colleague?
Thank God for Stephen Timms.