Three objections anticipated

There are three key arguments commonly levelled against the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Here are our answers to them.


In arguing for same-sex marriage, people are frequently faced with a number of set piece criticisms, most of which do not stand up to scrutiny. Below are three responses to typical criticisms of same-sex marriage: that it is all about semantics so what is the point, that people are somehow ‘not ready’ and that it would infringe on religious freedom. These are far from the only straw men deployed by the opponents of equality, but they are among the most pervasive.


In the UK, civil partnerships confer the same level of legal rights and obligations as marriage. Just like husbands and wives, civil partners are entitled to inheritance tax exemptions, to insurance and pension benefits, to take parental responsibility, and to be designated next of kin. Furthermore, when we talk of civil partnerships we are more than likely to call them marriages. Even the BBC has described civil partnership ceremonies as ‘weddings’, and spouses in such a union are far more likely to refer to one another as husband or wife, as opposed to civil partner or legally sanctioned companion of the same gender or the like.

Therefore – given that we already have civil partnerships, and given that civil partnerships bring with them the identical set of benefits and responsibilities as ordinary marriages, and given that people already call them marriages in day-to-day life – why the big fuss about gay marriage?

This is best answered with a counterfactual comparison. Before the civil rights movement achieved its hard won victories in the ‘ 60s, especially the case of Loving vs. Virginia in 1967, when the Supreme court struck down Virginia’s miscegenation laws as unconstitutional, all the southern states of the USA had laws banning inter-racial marriage. Mixed-race couples can and did face prosecution for the ’crime’ of miscegenation, much as male homosexual couples faced prosecution for sodomy.

Suppose a solution had been offered that would have given inter-racial couples all the benefits of marriage, including identical legal provisions and protections, but that this fell short of explicitly calling such unions marriage. Would that have been an acceptable solution in the 1960s or today? It would rightly be seen as a humiliation and a gross injustice if people of different racial backgrounds were prohibited from getting married, even if they had the right to engage in a civil partnership. The same holds true for homosexuals.

'My views are evolving'

If you don’t really hold a view on same-sex marriage fear not, most people don’t until they begin to think about it. Even for many people in the gay and lesbian community, civil partnerships have largely been seen as perfectly sufficient, at least at first. Other gay rights issues, such as anti-discrimination legislation and combating homophobic bullying in schools were seen as far more important issues.

But when attention was re-focused on marriage equality, the fact that same-sex couples were still not on an equal footing with heterosexual couples re-entered the national consciousness. And, many people came to the conclusion that this was not fair. Barak Obama put it succinctly in May this year when he said: “I've been going through an evolution on this issue...And I had hesitated on gay marriage - in part, because I thought civil unions would be sufficient.”

It is now clear that a significant number of same-sex couples do not think it is sufficient, and want to express their love in an institution called marriage. But Barak Obama is not the only one whose views have evolved. In fact, most of Britain’s views have been evolving on this subject, as have the views of much of the rest of the world. It would be almost impossible to envisage a serious debate about same-sex marriage taking place in Britain in the 1980s but for the last ten years polls have consistently shown more than half the population supporting the idea. Nor is the UK in this. From Argentina to South Africa, same-sex marriage has been legalised and countries as diverse as Mexico, Australia and Nepal are even now changing their laws. Our politicians should not be afraid to go through a similar evolution.

Religious Freedom

The concern that religious groups opposed to marriage equality most often raise is the idea that, at some unspecified moment down the line, their religious institutions will be forced to perform same sex marriages. It is this concern that led the government, in its recent consultations over the issue, to specify that there will be no changes to religious marriages, which will continue to only be between a man and a woman.

This concern is a canard.

 The idea that the state would force the Catholic Church of England and Wales (for example) to perform gay marriages is about as likely as the idea that the state will force synagogues to serve pork sausages, or that the government will close down mosques that don’t offer christenings. As it is, most people can’t get married at their local church without ingratiating themselves with the vicar, and no one sees the state stepping in to save your special day. Governments around the world have bent over backwards to make clear that the beliefs of religious institutions will not be ignored. A change in the law over religious marriage would stop the state from dictating whether religious institutions are allowed to hold same-sex marriages or not. If such a legislative change were implemented, it would then be up to the religious institution itself to decide whether they wished to hold such services in future.

As it is, most people can’t get married at their local church without ingratiating themselves with the vicar, and no one sees the state stepping in to save your special day.

The great irony is that there are plenty of religious institutions and communities that already offer religious aspects to the civil partnership ceremony. Quakers, some Baptists and liberal synagogues are happy to solemnize the ceremony with religious rites. But according to the proposals under consideration at present they will not be allowed to extend this to same-sex marriages. So if you and your same sex partner want to get married before singing ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ you are out of luck, at least according to the government’s current proposals.

Most people who support same-sex marriage do so out of a sense that all people should be treated fairly and equitably. Fairness also dictates that religious institutions should be free to offer same-sex marriage ceremonies if they wish, and also free to decline to offer them if that is what they prefer.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Should America pay Isis ransom money to free hostages like James Foley?

Kim Sengupta

The Malky Mackay allegations raise the spectre of Britain's casual racism

Chris Maume
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home