Tuesday 5 February 2013 will be an historic day. It will be the first time in recent years that a 'free vote' bill is debated before a Queens Speech. The first time in living memory that an issue raising such fundamental matters of moral, legal and constitutional significance has been pushed through by a government without an electoral mandate and without the whole House's scrutiny. And it could be the first time a government has less than half of its MPs supporting a government bill.
If it passes the bill will of course be historic, making it lawful for same sex couples to marry. Supporters say colleagues should be on the right side of history in relation to gay rights. I see it differently like Stonewall's chief executive Ben Summerskill did in 2012, when he told me he feared gay marriage would just put us in our trenches and not advance gay rights. There will be MPs from all parties with me voting against the state's attempt to redefine marriage. They are united in supporting the equal value of men and women whatever their sexuality and affirming the distinctive value of marriage being between a man and a woman. They can tell their constituents in 2015 that they supported the social institution of marriage and supported the foundation of a free society.
Phillip Blond and Roger Scruton's paper on marriage published today by Respublica ('Marriage Union for the Future or Contract for the Present') comes in the nick of time to remind us why marriage needs defending not redefining and same sex unions need respecting.
Marriage is a vital heterosexual institution becuase it caters to the unique consequences of heterosexual union - children. It cannot simply be extended to others without this purpose being devalued or lost. For as Blond and Scruton point out what most threatens marriage is an account of marriage that just reduces it to the people involved - making marriage a simple contractual relationship that does not extend beyond the consenting parties themselves. Redefining marriage as more of a partnership than a conjugal relationship fundamentally changes the meaning of marriage and helps to erode its historic and crucial purpose.
Children and parenthood barely get mentioned by supporters of the bill despite the fact that this is the prevailing reason for most couples getting married. You could begin to think that marriage was all about the value of adulthood and not the value of parenthood. Of course same sex couples raise children in loving homes and not all marriages involve children. But over the centuries society and church have had a united view of the essential purpose of marriage, to provide a stable institution for the care of children. Now the state is trying to divide and rule the meaning of marriage.
Blond and Scruton's considered paper is a timely rebuttal to those who pigeonhole opponents of the bill. Tuesday will be the time for all MPs who believe marriage is our most progressive and conservative institution to stand up and be counted.
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