Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples

Today's news has reported the legal case being taken to the European Court of Human Rights, a case that seeks to allow same-sex couples to marry and which seeks to allow opposite-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership. Whilst respect should be given to the genuine intentions of the eight couples involved in this appeal, the circumstances of the appeal indicate clearly that there is here an attempt, not just for legal change, but for cultural change. The circumstances to which I am referring are the support of the appeal by a campaign called Equal Love. [According to this post on the Equal Love website: "The Equal Love campaign is organised by the LGBT rights group OutRage! and coordinated by the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, with the support of the Peter Tatchell Human Rights Fund."]

It was interesting to catch the interview with one of the opposite-sex couples involved in the case on Radio 4's Today programme this morning. The articulation of why the couple did not wish to marry was informative. The substance of this articulation can also be found in a post on the Equal Love website. The key quotes from this post are respectively from Tim Garret and Lucy Hilken, the couple involved:
“A civil partnership is preferable for me because it is an institution devoid of the patriarchal and religious authoritarianism that goes with marriage.

“We have no desire to enter into a marriage contract. However, we do want legal recognition of our relationship and would prefer a civil partnership because it is free from the negative, orthodox traditions of marriage.

"I also feel strongly that if marriage has evolved in to a modern institution that has moved away from its religious and sexist history, then gay people should have the right to get married if that is what they want."
The ideological antagonism towards the institution of marriage, as that institution is ordinarily understood, which underlies this wish for a civil partnership is very clear. An underlying relativism with regard to the institution of marriage is also apparent. As presented on the Equal Love website, this appears as just a question of equality for same-sex couples who wish to marry and opposite-sex couples who wish to enter in to a civil partnership. The underlying re-defining of what marriage is, however, has a much wider ramification for society as a whole. The organisation of the Equal Love campaign by an LGBT campaigning group suggests that they, too, are aware of the wider implications of this question.

At stake is not just equality for the two categories of people bringing the European Court of Human Rights case but also equality for those who wish to enter in to a marriage that is understood in the sense of a permanent commitment of a man and a woman ordered towards children. Marriage understood in this way has already been undermined by ready access to divorce, and the present campaign only undermines it further.

Pope Benedict XVI's words, at the end of his address to Her Majesty the Queen at Holyrood Palace, indicate a key point (my emphasis added):
Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.
It is a deceptive freedom (equality) that is promised by access to civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples and access to marriage for same-sex couples. As Pope Benedict suggests, our country would do well not to lose sight of the Christian foundation that underpins freedom in this matter as in so many others.

[Fr Tim links to an academic study from the United States that is pertinent to this question.]

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