The Blog

Equal Marriage Plans Reveal Government's Deep Unease Over Gay Sex

Does the government think that all same sex partners' sexual morals are so louche that the idea of a monogamous relationship is alien and therefore adultery is not needed to support a divorce petition? Does the government think same sex couples' sexual appetites are so voracious that no same-sex marriage could possibly remain unconsummated?

I am a passionate believer in marriage equality. Why should the state prevent people marrying on the basis of religious objections? Or prevent religious congregations which wish to marry same sex partners from doing so? Thus it was very disappointing to note that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 contains provisions that mean that same sex couples will be prevented from relying on adultery as a ground for divorce, or non- consummation as a ground for annulment.

Reform of the grounds for divorce and annulment of marriage are long overdue and there is a very good argument for saying that these provisions should be revoked across the board. However, by excluding only same sex couples from these provisions the government undermines its commitment to truly equal marriage.

Part 3 of Schedule 4 to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 which was introduced into Parliament today would amend S.1 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which deals with the divorce, so that only 'conduct between the respondent and a person of the opposite sex may constitute adultery'. The Bill would also amend S.12 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, so that the marriage of a same sex couple would not be voidable on the grounds that the marriage has not been consummated due to a spouse's incapacity, or a respondent's wilful refusal to consummate the marriage.

Possible reasons for the government's proposed deviation from the idea of equal civil marriage are unappetising. Does the government think that all same sex partners' sexual morals are so louche that the idea of a monogamous relationship is alien and therefore adultery is not needed to support a divorce petition? Does the government think same sex couples' sexual appetites are so voracious that no same-sex marriage could possibly remain unconsummated? Or perhaps the government just couldn't bring itself to contemplate the idea of a court having to decide what constitutes consummation for a same sex marriage, or hearing the lurid details of an extra marital same sex affair?

In reality these proposals were probably added to the Bill as a result of a combination of these factors and an unwillingness to engage with what the government perceives to be complicated issues. What is telling is that the government has introduced the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 not the Equal Marriage Bill 2013. If the government really can't bring itself to face these issues then it should grasp the nettle of reforming divorce and annulment for all marriages.

Surely supporting a Bill which would create truly equal marriage would be a better position for the government than the current proposals which are likely to anger both supporters of the traditional definition of marriage and some in the gay community.