The ink is not yet dry on David Cameron's gay marriage Bill and already two stories in the news this week show that the Bill's critics have been proved right. A wealthy gay couple say they "have launched" legal action to force gay weddings on the Church of England; and the BBC is cheerleading for polyamory (mutiple-partner relationships).
Barrie Drewitt-Barlow told the Chelmsford Weekly News that he and his civil partner, Tony, have "launched a challenge to the Government's decision to allow some religious groups to opt out of marrying same-sex couples." At the moment, we only have their word for it. It's not known whether they have engaged lawyers, or submitted court papers, or named the respondents (is it the Church of England, or the UK Government they have in their sights?) But they are millionaires with a history of activism, so I'm inclined to take their threat seriously.
From what I've read, many gay people are annoyed with Barrie. They think he and Tony should leave the Church alone. They think a legal action is a big own goal for gay rights, an intrusion into religious freedom, and a publicity-grab by two media-obsessed gay men. But there are others who support them. The Church of England, they say, is there for everyone; it is the state church privileged in law and should not be allowed to discriminate in the provision of weddings.
During the passage of the gay marriage Bill, I was one of those saying that the Church would face litigation. I was accused of scaremongering and of whipping up hysteria. It'll never happen, they said with a straight face. Perhaps they meant it. Perhaps they honestly couldn't see the danger. Perhaps, but I doubt it. The thing is, many people could see the risk, including the Church itself (initially) and leading human rights lawyers.
The Church of England, when the plans to redefine marriage were first announced, said it could be the biggest threat to establishment in 500 years. They secured what they believed to be a suitable protection and, although they still opposed the principle, they felt somewhat reassured. Others, mind you, didn't buy it. Expert human rights lawyer, Aidan O'Neill QC, wrote a legal opinion in which he said the Church of England's opt-out was "eminently challengeable" in court. His legal opinion was given to the Prime Minister, but Mr Cameron carried on regardless.
It all stems from the fact that the Church of England is the established church and, especially in the provision of marriage, an arm of the state. The Church is legally obliged to marry anyone in the parish who is eligible to marry. But, at the request of the Church, the UK Government specifically maintained the ban on the Church from carrying out same-sex weddings. On the face of it, this appears to be sexual orientation discrimination, and that's why Barrie and Tony think they have a case. However, the UK Government will no doubt say it has a duty to safeguard religious freedom and that's why it has given legal protection to the Church of England.
If Barrie and Tony are true to their word, this will all end up in front of civil judges. The Church of England will be at the centre of a civil court action about its practice regarding marriage. The end result could be a significant step towards the disestablishment of the Church. All of this brought on by 'Anglican' Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Meanwhile, the BBC has broadcast a radio show all about polyamory, or multiple-partner relationships. Presenter Jo Fidgen questioned whether there is still room for sexual fidelity in a "society where choice is everything". She suggested that the "taboo" surrounding intimate multi-partner relationships could disappear within the next ten years. After all, why should love be restricted to "just two"? The beeb also published a lengthy online article on the subject. This was quickly followed up by Laurie Penny writing for the Guardian. She said opponents of gay marriage "warned that the next, unthinkable step would be multiple marriage. I can't be the only one who wondered if that'd be such a bad idea."
The "why just two" question has always been one which supporters of gay marriage have never been able to answer. If marriage is about love and devotion between consenting adults, if that's all it is, then there is no reason to restrict marriage to two people. Just google "thruple" to see what I mean. Many times I raised this point, and many times I was told it'll never happen. Funny, I think I've heard that somewhere before.