Peter Smith

What happens when we redefine marriage?

Peter Smith
By Peter Smith

October 10, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - Back in January I set out David Cameron’s proposals for creating same-sex marriage, which he announced at the British Conservative Party’s annual Conference in October 2011, alongside some arguments against those plans.

A year later, the controversy has moved on. There are now two parallel movements for same-sex marriage in the UK, a result of the devolution of powers to the Scottish Government. A consultation in Scotland ended in December 2011 and its results were snuck out shortly before Olympic fever dominated the Isles.

It is notable how divisive same-sex marriage has been north of Hadrian’s Wall: an ‘unprecedented’ 77,508 responses were received in the ‘largest consultation exercise of its type ever held in Scotland’. Over 33,000 responses were submitted via forms amended by organisations with an interest in the two core proposals of same-sex civil marriage and religious civil partnerships. Opponents of same-sex marriage pipped supporters 52:48, but more than two thirds opposed religious civil partnerships. Nonetheless, the Scottish Government intends on continuing to legalise both relationships, and the Catholic Church – numerically and financially the largest single supporter of traditional marriage – has since ceased dialogue with Edinburgh on the matter.

Down south, we are a step behind. The Home Office has also consulted on its plans to create such relationships in England and Wales, but they are effectively limited to same-sex marriages and not religious civil partnerships. After months of campaigning, two umbrella organisations broadly covered the diverse faiths, standpoints and interest groups in the opposing camps. In favour of same-sex marriage stands the Coalition for Equal Marriage, and its slick media campaign, Out4Marriage.org, which publishes clips of well-known proponents of gay marriage such as Boris Johnson and Hugh Grant ‘coming out’ in support of the move. Against liberalisation is the Coalition for Marriage, based out of the Christian Institute’s offices in Newcastle, which has mobilised tens of thousands of Christians to sign petitions and dominate the postbags of Members of Parliament.

The Home Office consultation ended in June, and the results are unlikely to be known this calendar year. It is safe to say that there have been a considerable number of responses from both sides (although, as in Scotland, many will be standard pro-forma that campaign groups have handed out and emailed to supporters). Polls favouring both positions have been published. If, following the publication of the consultation document, the Government in Westminster puts legislation before Parliament in the new year, it is likely to be passed by the second anniversary of Cameron’s speech in 2013. But will that legislation be tabled?

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Opening Pandora’s box

The best hope for opponents of same-sex marriage in England is for the Government to conclude it is too difficult to pass coherent and stable legislation that creates such marriages in the narrow circumstances so far envisaged. Social conservatives should not be too hopeful that such sense will prevail: Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, gave a glimpse of the liberal class’s mindset when his staff trailed a speech in which he described supporters of traditional marriage as “bigots” – a slur he was rapidly forced to retract.

As an example of the radical legal consequences of redefining marriage, the Coalition for Marriage has recently released a précis of a legal opinion by Aidan O’Neil QC, an expert in equality and discrimination law who practises from the same barristers’ chambers as Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie Booth. O’Neil was instructed to consider the implications for religious conscience and religious liberty arising from redefining marriage in England and Wales, and he considers the interplay between the Equality Act 2010 (including the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSEQ)), the European Convention on Human Rights, and case law on point. The PSEQ compels public authorities – including state schools, councils and the National Health Service – to “have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited…” when exercising their public functions. This includes the obligation to “tackle prejudice” and “promote understanding” between homosexual and heterosexual people.

It is a far-reaching obligation on an enormous range of bodies and organisations, and it reduces substantially the lawful opportunities for supporters of traditional marriage to explain – let alone mention – their views. The Coalition for Marriage asked O’Neil to consider some hypothetical situations where religiously-minded people could find themselves in difficulties – and potentially fired from their jobs. Here are elaborations of some of his examples (the précis contains more), which focus on practical positions that readers of MercatorNet might find themselves in, should the prohibition on same-sex marriage be removed. (For brevity, the precise legal reasoning is omitted. What follows is a characterisation of the legal positions, which are necessarily latent or untested propositions.)

The chaplain

A hospital chaplain is also a local Church of England vicar. Suppose he preaches, at a private wedding service in his church, that marriage is between only one man and one woman. If his hospital employers were to hear of this action, they could take into account his conduct outside of the workplace when determining whether the chaplain was acting in accordance with the requirements of his hospital work and the ethos of the hospital. This is true for any chaplain employed with the public sector (e.g. within a university or the Armed Forces) who, in all likelihood, would have a duty to accept only that marriage could be between two people of the same sex, and that any contrary restrictive view would lead to their lawful dismissal as this view would be ‘un-ethical’, ie, against the prevailing ethos.

The teacher

A teacher is told by her head that she must use in class a book recommended by the local council and a gay advocacy charity. This book is about a man who falls in love with a prince and marries him. If the teacher asked to opt out of using the book on the grounds of conscientious objection, she would be refusing to obey the otherwise lawful instructions of her employers, thus constituting grounds for her dismissal. Moreover, it would make no difference if the school was a faith school or any type of school with a religious ethos or none.

The child

A child says in a school assembly that he thinks marriage is only between a man and a woman, on religious grounds. The assembly theme is on marriage and same-sex marriage is discussed. The child is subsequently bullied but the school takes no action. Because the school is under a duty to teach about marriage, and because marriage would mean same-sex marriage, a school which taught marriage equality (same-sex and opposite-sex marriages are the same) would not be discriminating against the child’s religious views. Furthermore, the school is potentially under a duty to ensure that the curriculum it teaches is delivered in a way that discourages and even eliminates the attitudes held by its pupils that involve sexual orientation. This potentially implies that it may brook no dissent from the redefinition.

The parents

Concerned parents learn that their school is planning a gay and lesbian history month, including lessons on ‘the campaign for marriage equality’. The parents insist that they have the right to withdraw their child from these history lessons. In fact, even if the school were a faith school teaching a subject in a manner contrary to the orthodox teachings of that faith, the parents would be completely unable to withdraw their child from these lessons, and the European Convention would not facilitate it.

The foster couple

Couples who apply to become foster carers and, during the interview process, let it be known that they could not support same-sex marriage, could be barred by a local authority or council from continuing with their application. The local authority is under an obligation to investigate the views of potential foster parents, and to consider the extent to which those views might influence and affect the behaviour and treatment of a child in their care. As a public authority, the council is under an obligation to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked-after children and this could be construed to include the prevention of exposure to an environment that is potentially exclusive of same-sex marriage.

The crucial lesson of civil partnerships

It is worth noting again the analogy between same-sex marriage and civil partnerships in England and Wales. When the Civil Partnerships Act was winding its way through Parliament in 2003 and 2004, Tony Blair promised that no religions would be compelled to carry out partnerships. In fact, religious readings, music or symbols were prohibited from the partnership ceremony. However, with only cursory scrutiny by Parliament, this ban was lifted in December 2011. This substantial change in civil partnership policy demonstrates that religious leaders should be very wary of accepting any ‘red line’ promises from ministers (even the Prime Minister) as a way of ameliorating opposition to the current proposals.

In the current proposals, there will be a blanket ban on religious ceremonies in England and Wales. This is effectively a religious exemption and means that churches and ministers cannot host or celebrate same-sex marriages. However, the O’Neill opinion suggests there would be a strong case that a blanket ban would be overturned by European human rights law. The material provision is Article 12 of the European Convention, which establishes a right for two individuals to marry: “men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and found a family…”

O’Neil raises the spectre of a fundamental reinterpretation of this Article, from the right of one man and one woman to marry, to same-sex couples, if redefinition occurs in English law. The consequence of this would be to open up other legal avenues, like human rights law, to support same-sex marriage. This could spell the end of the religious exemption.

Even if churches were allowed to conduct same-sex marriages, it would be mistaken to think that a happy settlement could be reached whereby those vicars who accepted it would be free to do so, whilst supporters of traditional marriage would be free not to. Because of the established identity of the Church of England, granting the Church a unique and privileged place amongst religions in England, once any vicar allows same-sex marriages it becomes untenable in law for the whole Church not to participate. Thus O’Neil concludes:

“Churches might indeed better protect themselves against the possibility of any such litigation by deciding not to provide marriage services at all, since there could be no complaint then of discrimination in their provision of services as between same sex and opposite sex couples.

“And, in principle, the Church of England might be better protected under any such claim if it were disestablished in the sense that its clergy were no longer placed under formal legal obligations by the general law to solemnise the marriages of all and any person otherwise eligible to marry under the general law…”

It isn’t too late, Mr Cameron

Already, MPs are queuing up to remove the hypothetical ban on same-sex marriages in religious places, and Ed Milliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, appears to have outflanked Cameron in the latter’s rush to social liberalism.

If same-sex marriage legislation is pushed into the House of Commons, David Cameron will likely see a back-bench rebellion from his own MPs on the right of the Party, who are vociferously opposed to the measures. He knows that many Tory MPs hold seats where the UK Independence Party and the Liberal Democrats cannot oust the incumbent Conservatives in a fair fight, but they can succeed if the Tory vote is split (over Europe, for instance) or because Conservative voters simply absent themselves on election day because they are angry or disappointed at the Party leadership. Gay marriage is such an issue.

In any event, Cameron will be left in the embarrassing position of relying on Liberal Democrat and Labour support for a majority to be secured (particularly as he is likely to give a free vote), and he will see the Parliamentary Conservative Party split cleanly on this social issue, conservative/liberal, when unity is needed to push through controversial healthcare reforms.

Given the political difficulties of creating same-sex marriage and the legal consequences of doing so, it would suit him well to put the plans back on the shelf and move on to getting Britain out of its slump and recession.

Peter Smith is a lawyer living and working in London. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License from Mercatornet.com

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Julie Ralph

My 7-year-old son found porn on his iPod, even with a filter

Julie Ralph
By Julie Ralph

A few weeks ago an article went viral on my Facebook feed entitled “The Day My 10-Year-Old Discovered Hardcore Porn on his iPhone.”  As one Mom after another shared and commented about how frightening and horrible it was and wondered what do we do to prevent it, I commented on several of those shares (perhaps a little smugly and proudly) that WE had installed an excellent filtering program on all of our devices that even filters YouTube.  I most likely left the impression that WE have no worries in this house, that our kids can watch their iPods and kindles, even those annoying Minecraft how to videos on YouTube, and WE don’t have to worry about them seeing filth. 

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.

I could have entitled this blog post “The Day My 7-Year-Old Discovered Porn on His iPod” but it might look like I’m trying to one-up that other Mom.  Which I’m not.  Because, trust me, this is one Mom competition I’d rather lose. 

This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.

So YES we have this supposedly great and awesome filter on all of our devices and we pay about $70 a year for it.   Look, I’ve been on my computer trying to shop for a swimsuit at Lands End and the filter blocked me.  Annoying, yes.  But assuring.  I remember thinking wow….if I can’t even get on here and see the tummy-sucking-miracle-fat-hiding-mawmaw-swimsuits, my boys will NEVER be able to discover Victoria or her Secret.   And I’ve been on YouTube trying to see how to quickly defrost CHICKEN breasts, and it blocked several videos AND ads that probably had nothing to do with fowl or a thawing method.  Again I remember thinking, good.  This is really good.  Nothing to worry about.

Then last night happened.

My youngest son was visibly shaken as he was getting ready for bed.  I knew something was wrong when I saw he was wearing his flannel pajamas with the mountain bears printed all over them on one of the hottest August nights this month.   He seemed almost disoriented and I asked him if he was sick as he was trying to quickly crawl into bed and pull the covers over his head.   He then reached over to the bedside table, grabbed his little iPod, and tossed it to me saying he doesn’t deserve it anymore because he is bad.  “I’m bad, so bad….I saw bad things.”  My heart started racing and I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  Because I knew where this was going.  Very calmly and quietly I assured him he was not bad and there was nothing in the world he could ever tell me that would make me think he was bad.  “What did you see, sweetheart?” I asked.  After about ten minutes of me coaxing it out of him, with a wobbly still-tiny-smidge-of-baby-left voice he told me he was searching for a word he had heard and he spelled it for me.  T-t-i-s.  (I quickly unscrambled and knew what he meant).  He went on to tell me he searched for this on YouTube (the app is not even on his iPod….he must go through the “filter” app to access it!).   He told me he saw pictures and videos.

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My stomach turned.  I ran through all the “How To” files I’d stored away in my mind.  You know those files….situations you’ve thought about as a Mom and how you’d handle…you file them away for another day.  Usually one you hope will never come.   Turns out I didn’t have a file for this.  Because I honestly thought we had done everything on the front end to keep it from happening. 

I ran my fingers through his hair and pulled him close and started talking to him from my broken heart.  I asked him if he knew what that word meant before he searched for it.  He said no.  I told him it is a very crude and ugly word for something that is not crude and ugly.  I told him what the proper word is and I asked him if he knew why God made them like that on women?  He said no.  I told him it was the miraculous and wonderful way that God made women able to feed their babies.  I told him how every woman who has those is made to feed a baby, and those women in those pictures and videos are either already someone’s Mommy or they will be one day.  And what God meant for a beautiful purpose is twisted and made into something very wrong and ugly by those pictures and videos.

Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.

We continued to talk and then we prayed together and I left him to sleep as I walked back to my room for a sleepless night.  I cried for the ugly, messed up, twisted, and sick world out there that I can’t protect my children from.  I cried for what he had seen that I couldn’t un-see for him.  I cried because I had abdicated MY parenting duties to some stupid computer software that I thought would protect my children.  I cried because I can never get back that bit of innocence he lost way, way too early.  I cried as I went onto YouTube, put in that same search and saw just the thumbnails of what he had to have seen.  I just can’t bring myself to actually click on the videos.  I cried because, when I went in to check on him later, he was curled up with Big Bear in one arm and his little blue and white checked blanket in the other.  He’s still a baby. 

I’m mad now.  And I really hope my anger continues to burn because I need it to fuel my diligence.   I need my guard to be up and to stay up.  This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.  I know there are those who would say I’m being overly dramatic, that I can’t put my children in a bubble, blah blah blah.  I don’t care.  I will do whatever it takes to protect my children until their minds, bodies and emotions are better prepared to grasp, filter, and sort through the warped and ugly parts of our world that are pulling on them.  I will continue to pull back and hold on for dear life.   Don’t do as I did, friends.  Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.  Do as I am doing now.  Uninstall any and all browsers or video apps on your kids’ personal devices and set the restrictions where they can’t install apps anymore without asking you first.   Have one central computer in a public area of your home that they may use, with permission, and still with filter software installed.  But remember that’s not the first line of defense in this war.

You are.

Julie Ralph blogs at Mommy, Esquire, where this piece was originally published.

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Sen. Ted Cruz's wife douses him with water as part of the Ice Bucket challenge for ALS research. Youtube
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Sen. Ted Cruz: Do the ALS challenge, donate to pro-life institute

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By Dustin Siggins

One of the nation's most prominent senators is doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge -- but encouraging donations to a pro-life ALS research institute.

In the last month, the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, sponsored by the ALS Association, has raised tens of millions of dollars for research for the disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. However, in mid-August pro-life leaders raised awareness that the Association supports embryonic stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem-cell research includes the destruction of a human embryo, and is thus condemned by pro-life advocates as an abortion. The Association has said it currently has one project that uses embryonic stem cells, funded by an outside donor.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Cruz -- who took the challenge last week -- said that he and his wife "are proud to personally support the John Paul II Medical Research Institute the Home of Give Cures (http://jp2mri.org), which conducts groundbreaking research into curing this terrible disease, without using embryonic stem cells."

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"The JPII Institute respects human life, and is working to improve the lives of all of us," said Cruz. 

The ALS Association has said donors may specify their dollars not be used to fund embryonic stem-cell research. However, critics note that donated funds are fungible, meaning they potentially free up funds the Association can then direct to illicit research.

At least two Catholic dioceses have encouraged Ice Bucket Challenge participants to donate to the JPII Medical Institute.

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7989 West Virginia Drive, Dallas, where Planned Parenthood is working on secretly opening up a new abortion facility. Google Streetview
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Pro-abortion study: Texas will be down to eight abortion clinics by fall

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By Dustin Siggins

A study by a pro-abortion research group shows that Texas will be down from 41 abortion clinics in July 2013 to eight by this fall.

In July, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that six abortion clinics matched the standards required in HB2, which was signed into law 13 months ago. Those standards include requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of clinics at which they work, a standard already in place, and a requirement that all abortion clinics must upgrade their facilities to the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers.

The study estimates that a total of eight clinics will be able to meet the ambulatory standards, including one that will open in the fall. The standards take effect on September 1. According to the study, this means there will be one abortion clinic for every one million Texans who could become pregnant. An infographic from the study shows that the existing clinics will be located on the eastern half of the state, largely near metropolitan areas.

The study's results, published in the peer-reviewed journal Contraception, have abortion supporters outraged. Andrea Grimes of RH Reality Check writes, "No legal abortion facilities will operate south or west of San Antonio," and that five of the clinics will be operated by Planned Parenthood.

However, the closure of so many clinics is good news to pro-life activists like Karen Garnett, who heads the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in the Diocese of Dallas.

"The closing of abortion facilities in Texas the last few years has been the result of the owners of the facilities themselves not being willing or able to comply with the higher standards of medical safety" required by the Texas legislature, Garnett told LifeSiteNews. "Pro-life activists and leaders in Dallas (and Texas) have been working vigilantly with the members of the Texas legislature the last few years to pass these sensible laws.  There is much to be said for the power of prayer, particularly through the powerful 40 Days for Life campaign and prayer vigils."

While abortion supporters claim Texas is abandoning pregnant women, Garnett said the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in Dallas has "helped more than 7,500 mothers choose life outside the abortion facilities," but "we don't stop there."

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"Our Project Gabriel Ministry takes the next step. For those mothers needing and desiring spiritual, emotional and material help, we offer Gabriel Angels, who are paired with them in a one-on-one mentoring and support relationship. We also have a Gabriel Resource Coordinator on staff to help them with practical needs as their situations stabilize." Life skills classes, adoption counseling, and partnerships with pregnancy centers are also part of the Diocese's work to help pregnant mothers.

Jor-El Godsey of Heartbeat International said that there are 326 pregnancy help organizations across the state, which outnumber abortion clinics by approximately 40 to 1. He estimated that approximately 120,000 pregnant women have come to care centers in 2014.

The Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which is funded by an anonymous donor, is a five-year effort to "analyze the impact of the measures affecting reproductive health passed by the 82nd and 83rd Texas Legislatures." The project's partners include the University of Texas at Austin’s Population Research Center, the pro-abortion Ibis Reproductive Health, and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. One of the project's investigators is Daniel Grossman, whose biography says that "his current research at Ibis includes both clinical and social science studies aimed at improving access to contraception and safe abortion."

The project has also published reports titled "The Public Health Threat of Anti-Abortion Legislation," and "Finding the Twitter Users that Stood With Wendy." The latter examined social media support for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who briefly became a national figure for her support of late-term abortions in 2013.

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