By Catherine Ross
This week, equal marriage was debated for five hours in the House of Commons. The debate culminated in a vote. 400 MPs voted for equal marriage. 127 voted against it. The bill has to be scrutinised by the House of Commons before going to the House of Lords. Equal marriage is not yet a reality, but it certainly seems to be an inevitability.
I have heard equal marriage compared to Henry VIII’s split from Rome as the biggest change in the institution of marriage for hundreds of years. A rare example of the state telling the church what to do.
In fact, another fundamental change came in 1836 when the requirement for a wedding to take place in a religious setting was removed. At the time, the bill was described as a “disgrace to British Legislation”.
Until the Marriage Act of 1836, anyone not married in a Church of England church by a clergyman was deemed not to be married. Catholics, Muslims, Hindus and members of any other religion had to be married in a faith they did not practice. At the time, living in sin was judged a lot more harshly than it is now.
Personally I couldn’t be more supportive of equal marriage. I applaud the MPs voting in favour of the change, including our own MP, Francis Maude.
The most commonly used argument against equal marriage is that religion says no.
In the 2011 Census 33.2 million people identified themselves as Christian. A further 2.7 as Muslim. These are the two most popular religions in the UK. Religious leaders from both faiths oppose equal marriage.
The idea of using religion as a barrier to equality troubles me. If religions cite passages in their holy books to make the case that equal marriage is wrong, then we have a problem. These holy books say a lot of things.
Women should be stoned to death for committing adultery or for not being a virgin when they marry.
Pork is dirty.
Children who disrespect their parents and people who work on a Sunday should be put to death.
Getting married again after divorce is committing adultery and women aren’t allowed to speak in church and should save any questions until they get home and can ask their husbands.
The passage most often quoted in opposition to same-sex marriage is: “thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind, it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:12), In Leviticus 10:11, it describes eating shellfish as an “abomination” too, but I don’t see religious leaders picketing supermarkets for selling prawns.
Hopefully we’ve moved beyond this 2,000-year-old fear of pork and prawns. Society evolves. Expectations change. Treating people equally is more important.